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Fellowship of the Ring Review

No Spoilers Here

I suppose that everyone who has read The Lord of the Rings has daydreamed about a movie. As early as 1958, Tolkien was approached with a story treatment for a proposed animated movie (whose young author primarily impressed him with his "silliness" and "incompetence"). The first issue of the Mythopoeic Society's journal "Mythlore" in 1969 contained an article considering the possibilities of a live action movie. Fans have always been ambivalent about the possibility. Would it be something resembling Disney's rather free fairy-tale adaptations, with Galadriel singing "bibbity-bobbity-boo"? Could it be done live-action without looking silly? How many hours of film would it take to adapt the story? What would have to be trimmed? What would have to be changed? While everyone imagined would it would be like to see their favorite scene played out on the big screen, they feared that any screen adaptation might be more of an insulting caricature instead.

It is over thirty years since I first read The Lord of the Rings, and I have long been in the pessimist camp. Bakshi's attempt was not as horrible as it was expected to be, and even had some very satisfying moments; but its sense of being rushed (both in terms of slipshod production and in the sense of truncation) seemed to confirm that LotR was unfilmable. "Even George Lucas," I thought, "couldn't do it 'right'."

Now, a quarter century after Bakshi's film and Star Wars, Peter Jackson has attempted this impossible feat. Going into the screening room with the other TORN staffers, having seen so many stills and trailers (but having avoided the TV specials and sound track -- there must be _some_ surprises, I thought), I was cautiously optimistic. I figured that it would be like a competently-made adaptation, and that there would be several moments where I would say, "Why ever did he make *that* change?" accompanied by occasional wailing and gnashing of teeth, balanced by at least as many moments where I would say, "Damn! It's *Lord of the Rings!!!*"

In a sense, I was right, although there were no moments of actual teeth-gnashing. As an adaptation, taken scene by scene and line by line, there are some questionable things, and many wonderful moments. But what I hadn't counted on was that Jackson had gone far beyond merely presenting a series of scenes from the book -- heck, Chris Columbus could have done that. Instead, he created Middle-earth anew on the screen, and it is captivating. By the time the film was halfway finished, I wasn't really paying attention to what was changed, or what clever device is being used to make us think that Elijah Wood is under four feet tall, or whether Moria is a set, or a model, or a CGI screen. I was caught up in the story. I thrilled at Gandalf's escape from Orthanc. I had a sinking feeling when the Nazgul were alerted to the Hobbits' presence at Weathertop. And I was near tears as the Eight Walkers fled the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. I was perfectly aware of the differences from the book (and duly appreciated when something was preserved verbatim), and once everyone has seen the film, we'll talk about all those details endlessly (OK, until The Two Towers comes out), but somehow, in some magical way, all of that just doesn't _matter_. The movie is unmistakably Lord of the Rings -- perhaps not _exactly_ J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, but Lord of the Rings just the same. Throughout the film, it passed my ultimate test for any Tolkien-derived art: it felt like Reading It For The First Time. Not bad after 30+ years.

If the other two films are of this quality, Peter Jackson will have produced the gold standard by which fantasy films will be measured for decades to come.

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