FOTR Review: They Get it! They Actually Get it! - A Review after after three years of worrying, hand wringing, and cautiously holding out hope
When we launched the site in April, 1999, it didn't take long for people to start coming by the site who knew more about Tolkien's world then I did. At that point I decided that I would read as many of his works as I could. I read as much as I could get my hands on and as details surrounding Peter Jackson's films started to come out I started to become what many would an expert in all matters Tolkien.
After two and a half years, I look to several friends of mine who did not follow me into the depths of Tolkien fandom. I spoke with them before I departed for New York and I started to become concerned that my emersion into the fandom would aversely effect my enjoyment of these movies. I held out some hope that I might enjoy the movies if I held an open mind and adopted a more revisionist view on everything. I didn't want to do that because I felt that a revisionist's view of Tolkien's works didn't jive with my understanding of Tolkien's ideas on literary interpretation.
I was also aware that for this movie to be made, the transitions from a literary work to a dramatic work would require changes to the story, characters, and plot elements. There were examples in the past when this had been tried. There are several BBC attempts, the famous Zimmerman attempt which Tolkien addressed in his letters, there are also several plays, as well as several readings which are available.
The quality of each of these translations range from despicable, to questionable, to acceptable and to be honest, the first rumors about this production had me worried. These first rumors included changing Sam's character into a female. But over the years and as more and more information came out, things started to look better until the casting description for Arwen appeared.
This one change to the story line became the lightening rod for all future rumors and changes. I personally feel very sorry for any hurt feelings which may have been perpetrated by me personally or my site. After seeing the first movie, our fears seem to be a bit unfounded in regards to her character as they are currently being presented in this film.
One question which has been asked of me several times now by reporters is if I think as a fan that everyone on the production "Got it." My answer to that was always a wishy-washy "well, it sure seems like it." I would then relate the story above about how I loved Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, but before starting the site, I had no deep knowledge on the subject, and that it only took a year or so of personal time and energy to "get it." I would then tell the person that I felt that Jackson and company had the time and it seems like they had done their homework. I hoped they got it, but it was still a concern.
Sunday evening December 2nd finally rolled around and I found myself at the designated theatre in New York. It was an unexpected surprise to see that Joram from Ringbearer.org had also made the trip. We were the first two into the theatre. As the hour passed people from other news outlets started to make their way into the theatre, some seemed excited, and a couple seemed a bit burned out. It turns out that Ali was also screening across town and they had just come from that showing.
The film was introduced, and the lights dimmed and the New Line Logo appeared. After two and a half years of waiting it had finally begun.
Three hours later after cheering, laughing, crying, and being pulled in just about every emotional direction our trip was done. This movie ends in a very similar way that book one ends. It was madding. I wanted to stay another three hours and watch the Two Towers. Heck sign me up for the next six hours and watch the whole thing back-to-back-to-back.
I started to analyze my experience. This wasn't anything like Episode 1, where I left the theatre and felt cheated and under whelmed. I will not be seeing this a second time because I need to find a reason to like it, I will be seeing this a second time because I love it! Jackson has not just created Middle-earth; he, like Tolkien, has established the fantasy film as a viable genre.
I can hear the cynics and purists right now saying "Sure, you are just saying that." I really have no answer to you. We can debate the issue, and complain about the finer points of Tolkien lore and the importance of your favorite scene and why it should be in the movie. But, all of that is meaningless and pointless, you have not seen the movie and I suspect most of you are going to really love it.
To all of you who are still not going to see this film for whatever reason, I offer you this one challenge. Sit through the first 10 minutes of it. I dare you to!
Tuesday was interview day. We were placed in a room with a bunch of reporters from around the world, and they ushered in guests. While we waited for each group to arrive we talked about the film. I was surprised to hear the reactions they were having to the films. It was fun to see their reactions and how they were going through the same things which I went through when I was first introduced to the books. I overheard one conversation about who was Sauron and who was Saruman and it brought back fond memories of me trying to keep the two straight as a Tolkien newbie. They were also quite maddened by the ending because it leaves you on such a cliff hanger. Some who had read the book years ago didn't remember that Borimer died or how Gandalf comes back. I think many were shocked to see evil treated as evil and to see good treated as good. I also suspect many were surprised to see how willing Tolkien was to kill of characters. If this is the reaction that Peter has been able to elicit from people who have not been following the minutia for the past three years and those who are relatively new to the story, then I can firmly say without any reservation that Peter Jackson gets it!
I know that some of you will still doubt me, tell me that I have taken leave of my senses or that some madness has come upon me. Ok, perhaps it has. But, I will emphasize, go see the movie before your judgment is complete. Granted your favorite scene might not have made the final cut, or even the script; but after watching this movie you will see that Peter Jackson understands Middle-earth much better than Lucas ever understood the Star Wars Universe in Episode 1.
I guess in closing this "review" I need to provide you with some scale on how it measures up. I think that this interpretation is better than the BBC adaptation. I personally think it is better than most of the Hildebrandt brothers paintings. I think the best way to describe this is a moving, living, breathing John Howe/Alan Lee painting.
I don't know how to comment on the acting. It is hard to point out a bad job, everything is superb. I have been asked several times now if anyone will be up for an Academy Award. My answer is, I don't know. Yes the acting deserves awards, and I think it will receive many, but I am not willing to wager a bet on it until the rest of this year's movies are released. The problem with trying to second guess the Academy is that it is not only a talent show but a popularity contest. This movie will definitely win the talent contest, but I don't know if it will win the popularity contest. I hope Fellowship will garner some acting awards because it sure deserves it. I would give the acting 9 out of 10, it is a work of art.
The story; I think the story is perhaps the weakest part of the whole presentation. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being perfect and 5 being average, I would rate the story at an 8 to 8½. I am doing this because there is no real good way to adapt Tolkien's story to another medium without cutting some parts out. I feel the adaptation is well above average and bordering on excellent, but it falls a bit short from perfect. As the story stands right now there are essentially four stories in one here. The first is the long expected party and how Frodo receives the ring. The second is the journey to Imladris. The third is the Mines of Moria sequence and the last is the Breaking of the Fellowship. Each subsection has its own strengths and weaknesses. But all in all they range in quality from bordering on excellent to near perfect.
The photography, cinematography, sets, costumes and special effects are excellent. Everything from the panoramic scenes to Bag End, to Moria is exceptional. I now understand Sir Ian McKellen's comment about how he saw Hobbiton and he believed. This ingredient of the movie is perfect. I don't see how it could be improved. I would give it a 10! Peter has achieved his goal of making people believe they traveled to Middle-earth to film this movie.
The movie as a whole is almost perfect. The reason I say almost is that I know they shot other scenes and I would love to see them. I am personally not averse to sitting through a 4 hour movie, but I suspect that 4 hour movies do not make for profitable movies; and as was pointed out, in the end this is a business. I suspect that if an extended version ever made its way to the screen, I would give it a 10. It will be a long time before we see anything new that gets this close to capturing Tolkien's world.
If I was to sum the whole experience up in one phrase, I would say, "They get it, they actually get it!" After three years of worrying, hand wringing, and cautiously holding out hope, I can say with enthusiasm that that people everywhere, hard core Tolkien fans included, need to see this movie!