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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson) 2001 

I read Tolkienís trilogy back in the 9th grade, and I thought it made no lasting impression. It was a great time spent reading, but I didnít think the books had much impact. I could carp about the tons of niggling issues that I had with Peter Jacksonís The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, but mostly it leaves me with an impression that my experience reading the book was far more potent than I recall. As I watched Jacksonís adaptations, I was able to recall more detail, plot, and specific dialogue than I would have thought possible. The filmed version of the novel evoked the spirit of the novel to such a degree that it almost seemed to unlock a part of my mind that I had left dormant, making the novelís mythic qualities feel that much stronger. 

The other great reaction I had to the film was a feeling that my 9th grade imagination was somewhat unable to do the books any sort of justice. Jacksonís vision of the film contains such visual opulence and obsessive detail that it almost becomes an overload. I was able to imagine, while reading the book, a rough idea of what something like the Balrog looked like, but I donít think it ever occurred to me that as it was descending upon Gandalf its nostrils were flaring. Itís true to a degree that this lapse on my part is the result of me spending two minutes reading a passage, whereas a team of digital artists can spend months animating a character or creating a landscape. Nonetheless, Fellowship is one of the rare films to truly harness the potential of digital effects to create something that would be impossible without computers. Jacksonís impossible crane shots and frightening creatures could not possibly have been accomplished without CGI. If the seams show occasionally, so be it. The film seems boundless most of the time because of these technological advances. 

Jacksonís offbeat sensibility is relatively muted here, but it doesnít hurt the film much, nor does the film feel at all impersonal. The filmís direction is alarmingly good sometimes, and even if every time we have to watch a montage of the hobbits trudging across yet another landscape the whole thing threatens to fall apart, it never does. The fight scenes feature incredible choreography. Itís ironic that only last year Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonís immaculately graceful fight scenes seemed to deliver the final nail in the coffin for Western style battles, since Fellowshipís quality conflicts easily deserve to trade punches with Tigerís. In Fellowship, however, there seems more chance that the participants might lose their lives, which manages to make the brawls more intense, if not as gorgeous. Like Tiger, this is one of the great fantasy films (though that doesn't make it one of the great films period). Though it came out two days ago, it feels timeless. It manages to transport the audience to a stunning degree without using any sort of ironic distance or pop culture driven humor. Only raw storytelling and filmmaking prowess is needed here. There are occasionally the briefest moments that break the illusion, but they are rare. The technical staff and the cast deliver the elements of the film with such a sense of conviction and awe that the audience canít help but be convinced and awed. Thereís no doubt that Jacksonís version of Fellowship could have been better, but considering the current state of epic moviemaking, thereís absolutely no reason that any of us should have expected it to be. 

**** 

12-21-01 

Jeremy Heilman