by Kevin Williamson
Back in November, I barely knew an orc from a muggle.
But on Dec. 6, after a media screening of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring — the much-ballyhooed adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary book — the gulf between the two became as obvious as the fur on a hobbit’s feet.
Lord of the Rings, folks, rules.
And while perhaps Harry Potter’s spell will grow stronger as later episodes of the planned marathon of Potter flicks unfold, for now anyway, Lord of the Rings stands the taller of the two — a mythic, sprawling fable with a palpable sense of doom.
Frankly, it just makes Harry seem less than magical — and makes the buzz surrounding Rings, including possible Oscar nominations for best picture and best supporting actor for Ian McKellen, seem very real indeed.
Such recognition would be truimph enough for any film, but for a movie in a genre that doesn’t exactly grant much opportunity for Oscar-needy actorly grandstanding, it would be especially sweet for New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson.
Jackson, who made Heavenly Creatures, has spent the last three years working on Fellowship of the Rings, which opens Dec. 19, and its sequels, The Two Towers and Return of the King, due for Christmas 2002 and 2003.
In November in a Rings story in the Sun, it mistakeningly referred to the dark lord Sauron as Saruman (who is, in fact, an white-clad wizard with, let’s just say, divided loyalities, for all the non-Tolkienians reading this).
Needless to say, bloodthirsty Tolkienians swiftly expressed their wrath in a series of corrective e-mails, lamenting how the blundering, nonfan mainstream — sure to discover Rings now — was going to trudge through their private paradise.
So you can imagine that Jackson probably has a very unlisted number these days — any change to the book in this film is sure to be dissected and debated in Internet chat forums the world over by gee — er, fans.
(And before you all mistake me for one of those guys in school who used the Dungeons & Dragons crowd to swab toilet bowls with their heads, I know, too, the tactile pleasures of geekdom — but for whatever reason, I cannot categorize myself as a diehard Tolkienian. Of course, having just seen Rings, it begins to fully dawn how much George Lucas, um, “borrowed” from J.R.R. and therefore, maybe I was a Tolkienian all along — I just didn’t know it.)
Visually, Fellowship of the Rings is pure dynamite — even if Jackson sometimes seems a little too smitten with Matrix-y moves — but, really, thrilling eye-candy is probably the easiest blockbuster element to pull off these days (Phantom Menace, anyone? Pearl Harbor?)
What Jackson has made, however, is a film that earns its epic stripes honestly — taking its time to develop character and soul, and in the process, making the audience care about what happens to Tolkien’s assorted band of dwarves, elves, wise wizards and hobbits.
Talk Potter pros and cons with others and you’re likely to find that the people who enjoyed the film the most are also longtime J.K. Rowling readers.
While that may be true of Rings as well, the movie — considering the size and scope of the Middle-earth — is surprisingly nonfan-friendly.
The real test for the trilogy — which cost $300 million US — will be if it pleases those casual moviegoers.
So great the pressure is on the studio financing Rings — New Line — that there’s speculation it will be folded into sister studio Warner Bros. if Fellowship is anything short of a smash.
Uh, guys? I think you can stop worrying.