a movie review

"Lord of the Rings: One Film to Rule Them All"
By Teddy Durgin

Do not trust any film critic who does not heap lavish, over-the-top, unabashed praise on Peter Jackson's brilliant big-screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's"The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" (new in theaters, Wednesday, Dec. 19). Vivid, powerful, refreshing, daring, beautiful, terrifying, thrilling, unforgettable ... there are not enough adjectives to describe it. "Rings" is pure cinematic dynamite. Finally ... yes, my friends, FINALLY ... we have a movie--a big-budget, fantasy adventure, special effects extravaganza--that is truly thrilling, truly entertaining, truly worth every penny spent on it by filmmakers and audiences alike. I loved, loved, loved this movie, and I will love, love, love it until the day I die.

Gee, uh ... so, Ted. How do ya really feel?!

I love this film. "Lord of the Rings" represents everything that we go to the movies for. It announces its presence and its brilliance in the first 10 minutes, giving audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with Middle Earth a crash course in Tolkien lore. I had not read "Fellowship of the Ring," the first book in the three-book "Rings" trilogy, since I was 13. That was 18 years ago. So, I didn't remember everything going into it. I remembered thrilling to the exploits of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), the diminutive Hobbit charged with destroying the Ring of Power forged by the Dark Lord Sauron for control over all Middle Earth. I recalled the wisdom of Gandalf (Ian McKellan), the all-knowing wizard who helps Frodo on his journey. And I kind of recalled Frodo's hodgepodge of companions, among them: his best friend, Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin); Gimli, the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies); and Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the elfin archer who can fire arrows from his bow with supernatural speed and precision.

I remembered them in the way any adult remembers stories he/she read as a child. They were sort of half-memories. Thanks to Peter Jackson, I will never, ever forget them! Jackson has brought the entire world of Middle Earth to life in vivid, breathtaking realism thanks to stunning New Zealand locations and some of the best CGI special effects ever. But he has done more than just reproduce images from a page. He has made this fantasy world real. He has made it urgent. He has made it a place you come to care about, a place you want to see more of, a place that makes you curious each and every time a character turns a corner, goes over a hill, crosses a bridge, or enters a home or a castle or a tavern or a cave.

"The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" is the best film of the year. It is three hours long, but every single second of screen time is meaningful. Every single second resonates. Every single second is pure movie magic. When this movie ended, I wanted the projectionist to run it again immediately. I can't wait to see it again. I will probably spend 12 to 15 hours of my life over the next month or so watching this movie.

He did it! Peter Jackson freaking did it! He has made a film that has fulfilled the dreams and soothed the fears of every rabid Tolkien fan, while turning out a movie that will delight both casual fans and non-fans. PLUS, he will have the critics raving. I saw this movie at a private press screening in Baltimore. At the end, to a person, every single member of the media applauded this film as the final credits rolled.

That NEVER happens!

We all sat there mouths agape. There are scenes to thrill to in this movie like you haven't seen since the glory years of Lucas and Spielberg. There is a gargantuan opening battle that just whets your appetite for the wars that will be waged in the next two films ("The Two Towers" will be released next Christmas, while "The Return of the King" will be released Christmas 2003). There is a battle royale in the Mines of Moria between the Fellowship and hundreds of Orcs and a vicious cave troll. And there is a final stand against the forces of evil in which loyalties are tested, fates are sealed, and true strength is measured.

But the most thrilling moment for me personally was Gandalf facing down a fire-breathing creature known as a Balrog. Now, when I say fire-breathing, I don't mean some flame-throwing Puff the Magic Dragon knock-off. I'm talking about a gigantic creature whose every exhale is pure searing, deadly hellfire. McKellan is just perfect as Gandalf. Until this point in the film, he inhabits the part as perfectly as the late Alec Guinness inhabited Obi-Wan Kenobi. Then, he has this completely bad-ass moment of truth, where he ceases being the standard all-knowing, all-seeing wizard and becomes ... well, MY HERO!

It's him and the Balrog on a bridge. The creature is set to attack, and Gandalf just slams down his staff and screams: "YOU .. SHALL ... NOT ... PASS!!!!!" Man, oh, man! When he says that, when he screams that, and when you see what happens next .. Lord, Almighty, it's everything! It's the Visigoths coming over the wall! It's Babe Ruth pointing to center field, and then launching the ball over the fence. It's Ahab screaming, "From Hell's heart, I stabbeth thee!"

But here is the real brilliance of this movie. It's not the big scenes. In truth, most big-budget special effects blockbusters get the big moments right. They really do. They deliver time and again the spectacle, the fireworks show, the big bang. "The Lord of the Rings" delivers the small moments. It has the humanity and intimacy necessary for true and lasting greatness. It has strength of story, and Jackson takes the time to tell the story. No rapid-fire jump cuts. No throbbing techno soundtrack. No ending or running time dictated by test screenings and audience surveys. He makes Frodo Baggins a real person with doubts and yearnings and weaknesses and strengths. He gets the size of all the characters right. How DID they make the Hobbits so small and everyone else so big?! Ian McKellan towers over Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit who originally comes to possess Sauron's ring.

"Fellowship of the Ring" is full of "How did they do that" moments. It's also filled with moments where you don't even question: "Is that a digital effect? Or, a real place? Or a model? Or a matte painting?" It all blends together seamlessly, thanks to the Herculean efforts of Jackson's put-together-from scratch Weta Workshop.

Mr. Jackson! Academy Awards and Cheetos for all your men!

And, to think. There are two more of these babies on the way!

Boy, I sure could go on for another 12 or 14 paragraphs detailing each and every thing I loved about this movie. I haven't even talked about the pitch-perfect performances of Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, and Hugo Weaving. I haven't even touched on the delicious malevolence Christopher Lee brings to the role of Saruman, the turncoat wizard who aids in the resurrection of evil. Most great movies have dozens of things memorable about them. "The Lord of the Rings" has hundreds!

One final point, and I'll end this. I really must regret to inform the parents out there that "Fellowship of the Ring" is not for little children. There are some really, REALLY scary parts to this movie. The orcs alone will frighten kids under 10 right out of their seats. Orcs are the hellspawn of Mordor, and they are vicious in their attacks. Then, there are the urak-hai, an unholy hybrid of orc and human that Saruman harvests from the Earth to become Sauron's fighting legions. Most creepy of all are the Ring Wraiths, hooded black horsemen who pursue Frodo and his companions early in the film in search of the Ring of Power. As they ride, they emit these high-pitched screams at all times. One particular moment was so intense, that with all apologies to Senator Theater owner Tom Kiefaber, I actually gripped the seat of my theater chair so hard, I broke it!

Parents, you know your young 'uns better than I do. See this movie first, then decide if your particular kid can take it. Teenagers will have no problem. But the very little ones may need to stick to "Harry Potter."

For the rest of us, Peter Jackson has made a film not just for our time, but for all time. Here is the highest praise I can give a movie:

It could not have been better!
"Lord of the Rings" is rated PG-13 for largely bloodless violence and intensity. .

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