Cover Story: The magic of Middle Earth
by Catherine Sheehan
News Weekly, January 26, 2002
The first thing to be said about the new film The Fellowship of the Ring is that it will not satisfy Tolkien purists. Those fans, however, who are a little lenient, taking into consideration the rubrics of making such an ambitious movie, will find this offering by director Peter Jackson a sheer delight, as the beloved world of Tolkien with its myriad of characters finally takes shape on the big screen.
As a film, it is both entertaining and engrossing with impressive digital effects, magnificent scenery, brilliant casting and amazing attention to detail.
Those who have not read the books are sure to enjoy it for its own sake as much as those who have. Despite the fact that some liberties have been taken with the storyline and many of the endearing incidents that occur in the book have been left out, the film does still manage to capture the spirit of the book and brings to life Tolkiens Middle Earth with great mastery.
Jackson himself admitted that he wanted to make Middle Earth feel as real as possible. Hence, the swords they use are real swords made from scratch and the costumes made from exquisite materials with great attention to detail. The epic battle scenes and the spectacular landscapes of New Zealand, where it was filmed, are quite breathtaking.
The characters on the whole are superbly cast, notably Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf, Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins and Christopher Lee as the corrupt wizard Saruman. Woods performance as the hobbit, who is the central character, is particularly memorable.
For those not familiar with the books, the basic storyline centres around a magical ring which has come into the possession of a hobbit named Frodo Baggins (a hobbit being a human-like creature about half the size of a man). Frodo is informed by his friend Gandalf, who is a great wizard, that the ring is in fact extremely powerful and is being sought by the dark lord Sauron (a Satanic figure) who wishes to use it himself to rule over the whole earth.
A council composed of representatives of all the free peoples of Middle Earth - elves, men and dwarves - come to the consensus that the ring must be destroyed by casting it into the cracks of Mount Doom in the heart of Mordor, the realm of the Dark Lord. A fellowship of nine companions is formed and they set out on this perilous journey to destroy the ring.
It is unfortunate that some of the great passages in the book have to be sped through just to fit in the bare essentials, and many of the comical sequences are lost and also some of the character development.
Another deviation from the book is the slightly greater role given to the female characters. The most obvious one being the Lady Arwen (played by Liv Tyler), an elf who has a romantic involvement with one of the main characters, Aragorn, who is a mortal. In the book she is mainly in the background as a beauty who does not get directly involved with the troubles happening around her in Middle Earth. In the film, however, she takes a more active role as perhaps it was thought that Tolkiens story does not contain enough strong female characters for the modern day audience.
Due to some violence and the frightening nature of some of the characters especially the orcs and the Ring Wraiths - the dreaded servants of the Dark Lord - the film is certainly not suitable for young children.
The fact that the movies are being released 12 months apart means that, at the end of this first instalment, the viewer may be left feeling a little unsatisfied. Each book of the trilogy is not a complete story in itself and the end of "The Fellowship of the Ring" leaves the story very much up in the air.
Nevertheless, ones gets the feeling that this film has been created by someone who has a deep affection for the books and who has put his heart and soul into bringing the magic of this story to the screen.
The central themes of good struggling against evil, self-sacrifice, courage, friendship, loyalty, the temptation of pride and the corrupting influence of power are strongly portrayed.
In fact, as with the books, the story feels more like a myth or legend than science fiction or fantasy.
It contains many messages that we might ponder in reality. In one scene, Gandalf cautions Frodo, "Many who live deserve death and many who die deserve life. Can you give it to them?"
As Tolkien biographer, Joseph Pearce, asserted in an interview for Zenit News (November 15, 2001), The Lord of the Rings is a Christian myth.
The very fact that the main character Frodo takes on the self-sacrificial task of destroying the ring himself to save the whole of middle earth is indeed a very Christian notion.
The corrupting influence of absolute power, which the one ring seems to represent, is also a message which could be applicable to our own world.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a powerful portrayal of J.R.R. Tolkiens classic book. If Peter Jacksons film introduces more people to the world of Tolkien then it is a good thing, not only because it is a marvellous story but also because it contains more positive messages than many other modern films.
- Catherine Sheehan is the Manager of the News Weekly Bookstore