The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Reviewed by Kathryn A, Christmas Day 2002
- an adaption of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
- directed by Peter Jackson
- starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm...
- Webpage at http://www.lordoftherings.net
Today is the last day I can actually comment on this movie without it being influenced by my impressions of The Two Towers, which I am seeing on its opening day tomorrow. (Yeah, it opens a week later in Australia, go figure.) This review is going to be full of spoilers, because I assume that anyone who's going to see it has already done so. Besides, you basically know what's going to happen if you've read the book.
First of all, I have to say that this has got to be one of the Classic movies, irrelevant of what it was based on. This is going to stand the test of time, and I say this because (a) despite it being three hours long, which is twice as long as most modern movies, the time sped almost unnoticed, it didn't feel like three hours at all; and (b) every time I've seen it (and it would have to be at least five times now) I've gotten something more out of it, noticed something new.
Whenever someone adapts a book into a movie, things have to be cut out, because there is simply not enough time -- even in three hours -- to cover everything that happened in the 400 or so pages of volume one of the LoTR trilogy. Even the BBC radio series, which was longer, still had to cut things out. What was notable about this was that, for the most part, the cuts, compressions and rearrangements made sense, in the light of conveying the general events and emphasising the chosen theme of the novel. The reason I say "emphasising the chosen theme" is that while it is true that in the book, the One Ring is a temptation and a corrupter, and Frodo does offer it to more than one person in order to try to rid himself of this burden, it isn't emphasized as much, nor does the trial of temptation occur with all the major characters.
Things that were changed from the book were done so for the most part, for three reasons:\ a) pace\ b) theme\ c) explanation
For pace, we had all the section with Tom Bombadil and the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs cut out. But we could lose that without much problem, since Tom Bombadil never appears in the rest of the book, apart from a mention at the Council of Elrond. And I guess we can live with the Hobbits' swords being given to them by Strider with no explanation, rather than taken from the Barrows. We also missed out on the wolf-attack near Moria, but as I'd completely forgotten about it, I certainly didn't miss it.
We also had twenty or so years cut out, since in the book, Frodo is actually 50 when he sets out, not 33 (the Hobbit equivalent of 21) as he is in the movie. The pace doesn't let up from the moment Gandalf comes to visit Frodo at night and tells him to leave at once (while in the book the leaving is much more long drawn out). The Black Riders practically chase Frodo all the way to Rivendell. The pace is much faster than in the book, while still allowing breathing spaces for characterisation.
For theme, we have most notably the extra scene between Aragorn and Frodo near the end, where Aragorn rejects the temptation of the Ring, and sends Frodo on his way. This didn't occur in the book, but it was plainly put in so that we could see all the major powerful Good Guys be tempted by and reject the Ring -- or maybe it was the power of threes, since there were three of them: Gandalf, Galadriel and Aragorn.
For explanation, the largest departure from the book was the substitution of Arwen for Glorfindel, but since Glorfindel, like Tom Bombadil, doesn't really appear again, he can be missed out with little loss, and considering that Aragorn actually marries Arwen in the end, it would really be rather confusing for the viewers to have this woman come out of seemingly nowhere and marry one of the leads. Better to bring her in and give her some reasonable screen time.
One extra scene that I liked was the one where Sam says that if he takes one more step, it will be the furthest away from home he's ever been. That wasn't in the book, but it was really true to the character of Sam; it was the kind of thing he might have said, and showed what he was like in a poignant way.
Another extra bit was the scene where Boromir is doing practice sword-fighting with Merry and Pippin. That achieves two good things: 1. it explains a bit where how they learnt sword-fighting (something which is completely glossed over in the book) 2. it shows briefly them all working as a team, and how Boromir has become somewhat fond of Merry and Pippin -- and how plucky Merry and Pippin are, really.
The changes of plot that I didn't like were * that Frodo missed out on his line "You shall have neither the ring nor me!" and it was it was replaced by the rather lame line of Arwen saying "If you want him, come and claim him!" * Merry and Pippin missed out on being clever conspirators determined that Frodo would not travel alone, for his own good; instead they literally stumble into the adventure, and just keep on going and we never really get to see why. * It's a pity we didn't get to hear Boromir reciting his rhyme. * We didn't actually need the collapsing-staircase scene in Moria; it was just there for a dramatic action scene.
Another interesting thing is that, now that I've been re-reading the book, I keep noticing lines that were moved around; said by the same characters, but at a different point, or sometimes not even said by the same characters, or said with a slightly different emphasis. I didn't notice that in my initial viewings, because things still fit for the most part, and the changes were often done as part of the pacing, or to emphasize theme or character.
Some examples: * In the book it was Aragorn who was reluctant to go into Moria, and Gandalf who suggested it; in the movie it is Gimli who suggests it, and Gandalf who is reluctant. This is done for a few reasons: since we didn't get the full Council of Elrond, the viewer had not been told about Balin's venture into Moria nor of the long silence. To therefore have Gimli talk about the welcome that "my cousin Balin" would give them, makes the discovery of the Tomb of Balin all the more poignant. To have Aragorn but into this with reluctance would make this a three-way conversation, something more awkward. The important one in this is Gandalf, because he is going to his doom. While in the book, his doom-saying was said by Aragorn, it almost works as well to have Gandalf know that there is something in Moria which he knows about, and is not sure he can endure against. * In both the movie and the book, Aragorn is said to be "Isildur's heir, not Isildur himself". But the meanings of the phrase were quite opposite in book and in movie. In the book, it is said by Aragorn to Boromir, because Aragorn, the weatherbeaten Strider, didn't much resemble the glorious legend of Isildur-who-defeated-Sauron. While in the movie, it is said by Arwen to Aragorn, to reassure him because Aragorn is thinking of Isildur as a failure, because he did not resist the lure of the Ring. * in the book, it was Boromir who threw a stone in the lake outside Moria, not Pippin. This was presumably done to put emphasis on the irresponsibility/thoughtlessness of Pippin. * in the movie, the events in the Chamber of Mazarbul are compressed and rearranged somewhat to make them more dramatic.
Mind you, there were also little details that they did keep in that I appreciated -- like when they were trying the pass at the Redhorn Gate, Legolas was walking on top of the snow while everyone else sunk down in it.
The characterisation here is what I hesitate to call "deeper", but shall we say, thrown into sharper relief. Some of the characters are just as I imagined them, like Gandalf (though I think Ian McKellan has also managed to give him, with his facial expressions, a bit of subtle humour and gentle love not quite seen in the books).
Aragorn is portrayed as "more human"; that is, he isn't just the strong hero without any doubts, but rather someone who is burdened with a secret fear of failure, that he will fail like Isildur his ancestor failed, and that he has to overcome this fear and prevail. That makes one like Aragorn more, because instead of him being uniformly an unshakeable leader, we see him with challenges to be overcome. We also get to see him torn about Arwen, because he loves her and he doesn't want her to give up her immortality to marry him.
The characters that I think miss out the most are Merry and Pippin, who are shown as irresponsible youths out for a lark, which they weren't like in the book at all.
Frodo and Sam shine, though. The faithful friends; I love that scene at the end at the river.
What can I say? Blown away time! From the superb scenery, the blending of scenery and artifice, the sets, down to the craftsmanship of Legolas's quivver full of arrows, this was just superb. The scene with the Aroganath just blew me away, those towering statues between the Great River. And Hobbiton was just Hobbiton. And the Art Neuvo style of the Elven works was very fitting. Though it was a pity we didn't see Lothlorien by day.
And not just visually -- the music was great too; unobtrusively setting the mood.
The Extended Edition
All of the bits that were added for the Extended Edition were good, and added well to the movie. The most notable is that we actually got the Gifts of Galadriel scene, though even that was slightly altered, since Sam was explicitly given rope rather than the Mallorn seed. A pity, but I can see why; the rope is going to be used pretty soon, while the Mallorn seed doesn't happen until the very end.
We also get to see explititly how the Ring betrayed Isildur to his death, and we get an extended introduction to Hobbiton with Bilbo musing over his book, the section Concerning Hobbits. That was fun. We see a glimpse of elves leaving for the Havens. We also get to see a little of Lothlorien during the day. There is more in Rivendell, including a scene between Elrond and Aragorn at the grave of Aragorn's mother.
There were other things, but I can't remember what else.