Tall-kien Tales

Tolkien's epic finally hits the big screen. And it's good.

Okay, so I'm a Tolkien-buff, but hey, if you read books and are over 20 and haven't read Tolkien yet, you're a loser. And so I'm going to rave aboput the film, not only because it's a brilliant film, but because it does justice to the book, with just a few minor changes. If you haven't read the book, the story goes thus:

Middle-Earth is a magical world inhabited by Men, Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and powerful wizards. The most powerful and evil of all these is the Dark Lord, Sauron. The greatest and wisest people of all the races possess Rings of Powers. But there is a greater ring created - the One Ring, which gives Sauron power over all the others. The free peoples unite in an attempt to defeat Sauron and in a desperate battle, the human King Isildur manages to cut off the Ring. This destroys Sauron’s spirit, but he lives on, as Isildur does not destroy the Ring but claims it for his own. But the ring is endowed with Sauron’s power and constantly seeks a way to get back to it’s master. This makes it go through a few temporary keepers, until it lands up in the hands of Bilbo Baggins, an unsuspecting Hobbit, a race of little, jovial people with furry feet. Here’s where the film takes off.

Bilbo is aged and gives a grand birthday party, aided by his wizardly friend, Gandalf the Grey. At the party, Bilbo decides to leave his home and go live with the Elves; and thus he leaves the burden of the Ring on his nephew Frodo. Nobody knows the identity of the Ring, but Gandalf does some research and discovers the truth. Unfortunately, Sauron (who has managed to return to his former power) also discovers this fact, through one of its previous owners, a strange creature called Gollum. Sauron dispatches his Nine Riders (aka the Nazgul, or Ringwraiths) to find the Halflings and retrieve his ring.

Meanwhile, Gandalf has dispatched Frodo along with his loyal servant Sam and trouble-prone cousins, Merry and Pippin, in order to save the ring. There follow a series of narrow escapes, as the fearsome Nazgul almost trap Frodo and even injure him once, but due to some friends, the Hobbits escape. They finally reach the house of Elrond, a great Elf, where a Council is held and the decision is taken to destroy the Ring in the fires of the mountain where it was forged. Joining the Hobbits and Gandalf are an Elf, a Dwarf, and two men, Boromir and Aragorn, the latter who happens to be Isildur’s heir.

After this, there are a number of adventures, with the Nine Walkers encountering a host of evil orcs, trolls and goblins and even a Balrog - a demon from the deepest pits. The path akes them from the highest snow-capped peaks to the depths of dwarvish mines, where they are ambushed and where Gandalf is killed. Their path leads them to the realm of the Elf Queen and finally, to the borders of Sauron’s kingdom. This is where the Fellowship is ambushed. Boromir dies, Merry and Pippin are captured, Frodo and Sam hed for Sauron’s lands and Aragorn, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf are left to find their way.

The film is an epic. Which means it’s as long, as melodramatic and as action-packed as an epic always is. There aren’t too many changes from the original book, which is gratifying. However, due to the restraints of cinema, the action sequences seem to be more closely packed than in the book and it feels like they just keep coming and coming and coming. There is no attempt to de-glamourise the film, which means it’s full of shafts of moonlight falling upon a kissing couple or Elf-ladies who glow with an inner beauty or heroic sentiments voiced in a never-say-die tone. But who cares? This is how Tolkien wrote the book, this is how millions of us envisioned it and this is what we must be grateful to Peter Jackson for bringing to life.

The effects are brilliant, without taking too much away from the story (check out the Eye of Sauron). The setting and cinematography takes your breath away and just fills you with awe at times. The pace of the film is well-set, though there may be people who feel it goes on and on and that there are too many events.

The actors hold their own against the pressure of filming such a beloved book and playing characters which generations of people have opinions about. The best of the lot is Ian Mckellan as the grumpy, overburdened Gandalf. Frodo Baggins could not have been better cast than as Elijah Wood, who perfectly fits into the part. Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett have all-too-brief roles, but they manage to show off their allure and aura (literally). The rest are quite good too - the angry Dwarf, the troubled leader of men, the evil wizard.

The film is all that everybody could have ever hoped for. I went to judge it and came out appeased beyond my happiest dreams. All I can say is...onwards to the next one!

This article was first published on 14 Feb 2002.