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A masterpiece of a masterpiece

Review: Dazzling, flawless 'Rings' a classic

The Lord of the Rings
Sean Astin and Elijah Wood star in "The Lord of the Rings."  

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is a flawless adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece. Director Peter Jackson and his brilliant ensemble cast have created a spectacular holiday gift for the whole world.

It was a huge gamble to make all three movies which make up the "Ring" trilogy at the same time, and it has paid off. Shot in New Zealand over 18 months, these three films ("Fellowship" is the first) are sure to become instant classics.

Adapting Tolkien's amazingly detailed novels, he created an alternate universe, and putting it on celluloid effectively would have been virtually impossible only a few years ago. But now technology has advanced to the point where Middle-earth, complete with wizards, elves, hobbits, orcs, dwarves and humans can be properly reproduced on the big screen.

The power to rule the world

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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  • Gallery: 'The Lord of the Rings' 
  • Glossary: Ten things to know about 'Lord of the Rings' 
  • Timeline: 'Ring' leader -- J.R.R. Tolkien through time 
  • The secret of Tolkien's 'Rings' 
  • Behind the scenes at 'The Lord of the Rings' 
  • Official movie site: 'The Lord of the Rings' 
  • Houghton Mifflin: 'The Lord of the Rings' 
  • HarperCollins UK: J.R.R. Tolkien 
  • 'The Hobbit' - Chapter 1 
  • 'The Fellowship of the Ring' - Chapter 1 
  • 'The Silmarillion' - Chapter 1  * All excerpts courtesy of HarperCollins UK

    Since the first book's publication in 1954, millions of readers have fallen under Tolkien's spell. But for the uninitiated, the premise is as follows: a hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) has inherited a mysterious golden ring from his cousin Bilbo (Ian Holm). Unbeknownst to Frodo, the ring has evil powers; in fact, the future of civilization rests in the fate of this one ring, which has been missing for hundreds of years. Forces of evil, led by Sauron, the dark Lord of Mordor, are searching for the ring, because whoever owns it will have the power to rule the world.

    A good wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), contacts Frodo, explains the legend of the ring, and informs him it must be destroyed in order to save the world. So, Frodo becomes the reluctant ring-bearer, with the mission to deliver the ring to far-off Mount Doom, where it was forged -- the only place where it can be destroyed.

    But Frodo doesn't leave the Shire (where hobbits dwell) alone. He's accompanied by three other hobbits, the ever-loyal Sam (Sean Astin), the bumbling Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and the well-intentioned but scatterbrained Pippin (Billy Boyd). This little band is soon joined by the courageous human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who becomes the first outsider to enter into the Fellowship of the Ring.

    The group faces many challenges, and they are nearly killed numerous times. Eventually, the Fellowship grows to nine members, the four hobbits as well as dwarves, elves, and humans. Many obstacles are placed in their path as the forces of evil haunt their every step.

    This first film of the trilogy ends with the Fellowship still on its journey, which will continue into the second movie, "The Two Towers," and the third, "The Return of the King." The movies are due to open at Christmas 2002 and Christmas 2003, respectively.

    A movie for everybody

    Jackson has created nothing less then a cinematic miracle by making a film that will not only satisfy avid fans of the books ("avid" is perhaps too weak a word for the Tolkien's rabid followers), and people unfamiliar with the trilogy. Despite their complexities, you don't have to have read the books in order to be carried away by the magic.

    Shooting amidst the incredibly rich vistas of New Zealand was half the reason. Perhaps nowhere else on earth could Tolkien's vision -- albeit digitally enhanced -- come to life with such amazing majesty. The sets, scenic design, costumes, and props are spellbinding in their authenticity to the book, right down to the smallest details, and took a team of more than 2,400 people to achieve.

    The screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens is remarkable, given how much material they had to discard or condense in order to make the transition to the screen, while still remaining true to the heart and soul of the original.

    Cate Blanchett
    Cate Blanchett plays Galadriel in "The Lord of the Rings."  

    The aforementioned special effects were also needed of course, and they are here in abundance. But to Jackson's credit, many of the effects are simply due to visual perspective, such as oversized wagon wheels to make the hobbits look little in comparison to their surroundings. Jackson keeps a steady hand blending the real and unreal together into an amazing tapestry of visual delights.

    The "Rings" trilogy is also a monument to ensemble acting of the highest order. McKellen is sheer perfection as Gandalf, and Wood is remarkable as Frodo, the heart and soul of the story. Others, including Orlando Bloom as the warrior Elve Legolas, John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, and Hugo Weaving as Elrond, are excellent in their roles and vital to the story. The book and film provide few female roles, but Liv Tyler as Arwen and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel are both marvelous.

    In short, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is cinematic history. Not since "Gone With The Wind" more than 60 years ago has a movie held up as well to the original book.

    "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" opens nationwide on Wednesday, December 19.


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