Apr 08

Oft hope is born when all is forlorn

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The Fellowship of the Ring

I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings > The Fellowship of the Ring for the sixth time. I was driven to see the movie this last time, in large part due to the four minute trailer for the Two Towers that has been added at the end.

The following passages assumes you have seen or are familiar with The Fellowship of the Rings and includes spoilers.

The first time I saw the movie I was rather under whelmed. But I’ve grown to like the movie an awful lot. It is a flawed movie, but that shouldn’t be too surprising given it has tremendous scope. And the ways in which this movie could have failed, far and away outnumber the ways in which it could be made to work. Perhaps that is too general of a statement, a statement that would be true of many movies and many things. I only mean to imply that, given the breadth, depth and complexity of The Lord of the Rings, it was highly improbable that the movie would work. And yet it does. That being said, it is more than noteworthy that the movie has a distinctly different feel than much of the book and takes great liberties with the original source. In no way do I feel that the movie is more enjoyable than the book. It is a very good movie that echoes much of the book. I feel bad for people who saw the movie before (or instead of) reading the book.

Here are some random thoughts on the movie:

Gandalf suffered from the Worf phenomenon. (Two Towers Spoiler Alert in this paragraph, skip if if you don’t want anything about The Two Towers spoiled for you.)

Worf was the Klingon, security officer from the Next Generation Star Trek. Worf was suppose to be a scary bad ass, tough guy. But in an attempt to prove how scary any given alien was, that alien was shown kicking Worf’s ass. After a while, you never actually saw Worf do anything tough, you only saw him getting beat up.

Similarly, Gandalf is shown getting his ass kicked or failing in almost every conceivable way in this first movie.

  • Gandalf is shown old and klutzy, he bangs his head twice in Bags End.
  • Saruman is literally show wiping the floor with him.
  • Unlike in the book, Frodo solves the riddle of the doors of Moira, Gandalf doesn’t even get to look clever.
  • Gandalf is no where to be seen during the fight against the watcher in the water.
  • Gandalf is not shown actually killing anything in the Balin’s tomb scene.
  • Gandalf is shown fighting and at least partially defeating the Balrog but is then shown simply slipping over the edge instead of being pulled directly into the abyss by the Balrog.

Now the reason Peter Jackson did this is almost certainly to juxtapose Gandalf the Gray from Gandalf the White. But it wasn’t necessary. It should be relatively easy to show the strength of Gandalf the White without making the Gray look inept. Hence: the Worf phenomenon.

Many people have raved about Ian McKellen’s role as Gandalf. It has taken me several viewings before I’ve come to appreciate it. I suspect that I wasn’t doing a very good job of viewing McKellen’s acting outside of the wimpy characterization of Gandalf.

But the highlight of his acting can be found in the scene were Gandalf and Frodo discuss Gollum and the “Pity of Bilbo” in Moria.

Although Elijah Wood who played Frodo wasn’t exactly bad, he wasn’t exactly good. His acting didn’t keep me from enjoying the movie but his characterization of Frodo was rather “simpering”. Some of this might not be Mr. Woods fault, because Frodo seemed to have much of his strength of character watered down in the screenplay. The most notable of these disappointments included Frodo quickly cowering from the Ring Wraiths on Weahtertop, Arwen standing against the Ring Wraiths at the Ford of Bruinen instead of Frodo and his being “let go” by Aragorn even as the Fellowship was being attacked by Orcs. By removing these acts of bravery and will power, Frodo’s eventual loss of control will be significantly impacted. Ah well, at least Frodo got to be more clever than Gandalf at the doors to Moria (sigh).

Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn) and Sean Bean (Borimer) are my hands down favorites in the movie. Aragorn is shown with a kingly demeanor and Borimer as a complicated, tempted but ultimately good man. I found I was virtually spellbound when either was the center of attention. Their scenes together are probably the best in the entire movie. Of course, unlike in the book, Aragorn is shown as less than decisive about his mantel of leadership but it seems a forgivable alteration.

Orlando Bloom (Legolas) does a great job at the very difficult task of playing an ageless, ethereal Elvin prince.

Gimli is adequately played by John Rys-davies. The two things I didn’t like about Gimi were his plastic looking makeup and the line, “No one tosses a Dwarf!”. (I can here Tolkien spinning now).

Samwise Gamgee is played rather poorly half the time and very well the other half. Strangely, Sean Astin never seemed to get the more “yokel” characteristics of Sam down very well. While on the other hand he did a very nice job playing the stout, straight and narrow, ‘hope personified’ aspects of Sam. I simply love the scene at the end of the Fellowship were Sam and Frodo are surveying Morder as Frodo comments that they aren’t likely to ever see the others again. Sam looks at him with this wonderful expression and says, “We might yet Mr. Frodo, we might…”

Most of us could use a little more Sam Gamgee in us.

Merry Brandibuck (Dominic Monaghan) and Peregrin Took (Billy Boyd) are played for too may laughs, they are ninety percent of the comic relief. Their acting is the most cartoonish but they both still seem to have some presence that makes you care for them. One of my least favorite scenes in the movie is at the end of the Council of Elrond where Merry and Pippin race into the council and announce that they want to join this “quest, mission, thing…”

(Tolkien is on spin cycle at this point) while the music swells pompously as Elrond (Hugo Weaving) pretentiously announces, “You are the Fellowship of the Ring”.

The council of Elrond in general failed to capture much of the important back story and robbed many of the characters of their motivation. Why was Legolas there? Gimli? Borimer? It was also a shame that Merry and Pippin joined the Fellowship in such an obnoxious way.

The Balrog was cool. Okay, he was hot. What a great depiction of “fire and shadow”. Still, it is a shame that future readers of the book who see the movie first are likely to have their own imaginations hijacked by the movie Balrog. Tolkien purposefully kept the details to a minimum any may places appealing to the imagination through evocative atmosphere instead.

There are hundreds of other details that I won’t go into now but overall the movie captured much that is good in the book and has been the most enjoyable film I’ve seen in some time.

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