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The Not-So Flawless Fellowship


The Lord of the Rings:

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Not-So Flawless Fellowship

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

staff Writer

Directed by Peter Jackson

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens

Based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett

Disclaimer: throughout this review, I shall never make a single comparison between “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and the J.R.R. Tolkien novel of the same name. Nor shall I offer a summary of the events, since readers don’t need them and non-readers shouldn’t read a mere summary. I can’t promise not to make any comparisons with “The Matrix,” though. Consider yourself warned.

There might be a reason why grand epic movies should not be made by auteurs. This reason quite likely is that whatever the auteur in question (here, director/co-writer/general creative force Peter Jackson) finds grand, some other person, including your faithful servant, might find either likewise grand, or just rather silly.

Jackson’s film really only has one ambition: to paraphrase the old TV commercial, this is your jaw; this is the floor; this is your jaw on the floor. Any questions? Just one, really. For how much of the three-hour running time is the aforementioned jaw indeed in the designated position? I’d say for about three-fourths of the film; the three out of four stars rating is more or less directly derived from this proportion.

Nearly the entire world Jackson creates, from the hillsides with cozy round doors where the story starts to the barren ruins on the impossibly foreboding mountaintops, is simply dazzling. The sets are at the same time immense and lovingly detailed -- the fellowship’s passage through the Mines of Moria (unquestionably the film’s highlight) is the stuff of primal nightmares. Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (“Babe”) should just get his lifetime achievement Oscar right away. The way the actors play characters of different sizes is utterly seamless and convincing.

Unfortunately, the movie’s grandeur is somewhat diminished by some silly things that are small but not quite ignorable. The first occurs roughly half a minute into the movie with the glimpse of titular Lord, Sauron. He really should have been left unglimpsed, since he looks like an escapee from the “Transformers” television series. The wand duel that the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) wages in the first hour is more similar to breakdancing than any kind of serious conflict. And I swear I am not making this up, but the tentacled creature that comes from the lake to attack our brave heroes looks like a computer-generated cross between a jellyfish and Albert Einstein.

The disappointing performance by Liv Tyler as Arwen is probably not her fault, given that Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), the only other female character to speak of, crashes and burns almost as miserably. In all honesty, what was Jackson thinking when directing these two women? Admittedly, they are not only women, but also elves -- and yet the fellowship’s representative elf, Legolas, is allowed to speak in normal voice, without CGI glow washing all over him. Blanchett at least tries; Tyler is simply miscast, and the same goes for Hugo Weaving as the elves’ leader, Elrond. Since he looks, and even more importantly, speaks exactly like his evil Agent Smith from “The Matrix” (I warned you), I had no recourse but to snicker every time he spoke in the film.

The thing is, all of this doesn’t quite matter, for fans of the book surely saw it already. I guess I’m left talking to the people who haven’t read “The Lord of the Rings”. Well, if you don’t ever plan to read it, then by all means see the movie. But if you do plan to read it, then I’d say ignore the film. Also ignore such trivialities as work and sleep, and read it, starting with “The Hobbit.” As for me, I envy you, for I shall never again read it for the first time.