Balrogs! Cave trolls! Hobbits! - Critics get to see a 25-minute preview of December's much-anticipated "Lord of the Rings" movie.
In the preview, viewers see three major scenes, and then a five-minute collage of other footage. In the first one, we see Gandalf visit Bilbo, the title character in the Ring prequel, The Hobbit. We see a merry hobbit celebration and watch as Bilbo disappears on his journey to Rivendell, and Frodo, his hobbit nephew, gathers a band together and goes off with Gandalf. It's all very nice, and after a few seconds of slightly unnatural footage you don't even notice how the filmmakers have the towering Gandalf sharing screen space with the diminutive hobbits.
The two middle sequences, however, make a strong case for the film's high-toned special effects and distinctive vision. The two scenes are from the book's battles in the Mines of Moria, an old abandoned dwarf kingdom.
In the first, Gandalf, Frodo and their cohort of hobbits and humans battle a horde of monsters in an underground dungeon. While it's edited frenetically in the modern style, the sequence has terrific production values and is breathlessly exciting. When a blunt-headed cave troll rushes in and starts whirling a mace around the room, with sonic shreds of concrete flying about the theater, viewers duck their heads in alarm.
The second set piece finds the group chased into a towering cave and then forced to rush down a crumbling concrete stairway hundreds of feet tall, which begins shaking apart as a new and gigantic monster -- a balrog, to be precise -- comes after them. The running heroes on the crumbling bridge scene is an action-adventure staple, of course, but it has seldom been done with such jittery vision.
Beyond that we see a collage of other scenes, snowy mountaintops and fog-strewn marshes, portentous utterances and teeming CGI battlegrounds.
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