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Picking back up World War 2, Peter and Susan are with their father in America.  Lucy and Edmund, on the other hand, are stuck with their unpleasant cousin Eustace.  He is a remarkably anti-social kid.  One afternoon he breaks in on a conversation between Lucy and Edmund.  Lucy notices that a painting on the wall of a ship at sea seems to be moving. As Eustace berates them, water starts to poor from the frame of the painting, filling the room.  Suddenly, the children are afloat in the ocean and picked up by a passing ship.

The ship is the Dawn Treader, captained by Prince Caspian. On the ship, Lucy and Edmund are thrilled to see Caspian, Reepicheep and other Narnians.  Eustice is more…stupefied. Especially by things like a giant talking mouse. Who has a sword. Caspian explains that they are on a mission to find the missing seven Lords that were driven into exile by Lord Protector Miraz.  Reepicheep has a separate mission to reach the end of the world and enter Aslan’s land.

The journey brings them to various islands with a variety of obstacles.  Eventually, they find the dark island in their hopes to vanquish a dark force that is attacking Narnians.

This last part is a bit more confusing.  There is the addition of a Green Mist that is not in the books.  It appears to steal Narnian citizens and taken them from beyond the reach of Caspian. The film departs a lot from the book, changing character motivations and emphasizing others.

Disney was not involved in this film, instead, Walden Media teamed with 20th Century Fox for this installment.  The Narnia films have struggled, in part, from inconsistent releasing.  The first film came out in 2005, the second in 2008 and then this film in 2010. Compare this to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, which were consistently a year apart.  Or the Harry Potter films, which had a fairly consistent schedule of every two years.  We are seeing Star Wars films already on a regular yearly schedule. Three films in five years easily disrupts momentum that trying to pull off an adaption like this needs.  Especially when Narnia does not have a variety of other outlets to be kept in the front of people’s minds.

And if the films had been ridiculously high quality, one might forgive the inconsistencies.  But there is the problem.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is easily the best of the three films. Will Pouter is exceptional as Eustace and takes him from being an insufferable brat to a good kid convincingly. Simon Pegg’s Reepicheep (taking over for Eddie Izzard from the previous film) gives a likable performance.

The film’s visual effects are strong, and the Eustace Dragon looks great.  And yet, the film never really manages to feel…urgent.  Edmund envies Peter, Lucy envies Susan…the temptation of the White Witch (again!). It all feels like we have been there before, even though the setting is new.

While better than the prior films, it still never gets to be what it wants, because what it wants is to be something other than the story C.S. Lewis told.

Narnia_002_PosterComing out three years after the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian picks up in Narnia, decades after the rule of the Pevensie family. The children had lived and ruled into adulthood, but returned to our world as children, with almost no time having passed.  But in Narnia, mankind has overrun Narnia.  The mythical creatures seem all but gone.

Lady Protectress Prunaprismia gives birth to a son, delighting her husband Lord Protector Miraz.  He calls to have the rightful heir to the throne, Prince Caspian, killed. Caspian’s tutor Professor Cornelius helps him escape. Cornelius has tried to teach Caspian in the forgotten ways of Narnia and Aslan. He gives him an ancient battle horn.

In his escape, Caspian runs into the original citizens of Narnia, whom he had believed to be myth.  In a fit of panic, he blows the horn, but the horn is not an ordinary artifact.  It actually calls the Pevensie children back to Narnia. They discover the ruins of their old castle, and come across their old weapons.  The children then discover Telmarine (the ruling class of Narnia) soldiers about to kill the dwarf Trumkin.  After saving him, they start to make their way back to the other hiding creatures of Narnia. Throughout the story, Lucy is certain she sees Aslan, but nobody else seems to see him.

Eventually, they reach and meet Caspian.  Caspian has cast in his lots with the citizens of Narnia against their Telmarine oppressors.  With the help of the Pevensies, they go on a mission to overthrow the Telmarines.

This is an okay follow up, though it pretty much has all the same positives and negatives of the previous film.  It is trying hard to be an epic, instead of trusting the story laid out before it.  The film invents a temptation to bring back the White Witch for the Pevensie kids that is entirely pointless and unneeded.

Prince Caspian is not terrible…but it really is just an average film adaption. Not great.  But decent enough.

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The Last Jedi picks up shortly after the Force Awakens. It begins with a bold battle that has powerful repercussions on the characters.

Rey is trying to get Luke to come back with her to help the rebellion.  But Rey finds herself unsure of her true goals.

This new Star Wars film is building off the questions and set up of the Force Awakens, and yet, it addresses them in very unexpected ways.

Characters you know are the heroes find themselves the ones needing to learn the lesson. Others are trying to come to terms with their celebrity status. Others are trying to come to terms with heroes not living up to their expectations, and in some cases, even face betrayal.

I found Mark Hamill’s performance as Luke to be Hamill’s strongest performance in the entire series.  He is funny, frustrating, heartbreaking and heroic. And the film does this very well.

The film will likely frustrate people who have heavy theories about just how the new trilogy ought to play out, but I found Rian Johnson’s (Brick, Looper) choices to not satisfy those pet theories kind of…well, satisfying.

I appreciated the visual style, there is some genuinely gorgeous action in the film.

I really enjoyed the film, and feel it is one of the stronger films within the Star Wars story.

Narnia_001_PosterDuring World War 2, the four Pevensie children are sent to stay in the remote countryside with Professor Kirke.  A somewhat distant man, the kids try and pass the time by exploring his large home and playing games.  One day, during a game of hide and seek, youngest Lucy hides in a large wardrobe.  She discovers that there is something different with the Wardrobe.  As she pushes through coats, she suddenly finds herself in a snowy forest.

She runs into a Faun (half man and half goat) who timidly introduces himself as Mr. Tumnus.  When he discovers that Lucy is a “daughter of Eve”, he becomes worried and tries to hurry Lucy back to where she came. He explains there world (where there is no Christmas, but a seemingly endless winter) is ruled by a tyrant queen, the White Witch, who demands any member of the line of Adam and Eve should be brought to her.  Upon her return, her siblings do not believe Lucy.  And why would they?

That night, Lucy tries to return, and is unknowingly followed by Edmund.  Edmund meets the White Witch who wants him to bring his sibling to her.  She plays to his ego and desire for fanciful Turkish Delights candy.

Eventually, all the kids enter the wardrobe and find Mr. Tumnus is missing.  They are greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who are…well, talking Beavers.  The kids learn more of the curse upon Narnia, but that many believe the world will be released by the return of King Aslan and the children of Adam and Eve.  And so the children become drawn into a battle to save  the world of Narnia from the cruel White Queen.

The Chronicles of Narnia are the beloved children’s books by noted popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. The series has been adapted in the past.  There was a cartoon of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe from the BBC in 1979.  And four of the books* were adapted for a live action series (also from the BBC) in the late eighties. But the twin successes of the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series made things look viable for more fantasy.

And so, Disney and Walden Media combined forces to bring us the Chronicles of Narnia.  They brought in Andrew Adamson, who was known for Shrek and Shrek 2 before this.

Visually, the effects in the film are quite good.  Aslan looks like a real lion, not just a digital cartoon.  The makeup is effect for the creatures of Narnia.  The cast is good.  And yet…the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels a bit…flat.  It follows the main beats of the story, but it is clear that, rather than looking to the novels for guidance?  They were looking at the success of the Lord of the Rings.  Overwhelmingly so.  The emphasis is on “epic”.  And this is not really something at the heart of the Narnia books.  The books are short, in fact, much shorter than the Tolkien’s books.  I almost wonder if the seven books total more than the three Rings books.

A certain amount of comparison would be inevitable.  Lewis and Tolkien were close friends.  When it came to their work though, they had very different attitudes.  Tolkien had no real use for allegory.  But that is what drives the heart of the Narnia Books.  The allegory is as important as the story.

And the film does not really water down the allegory. Aslan is still clearly a stand in for Jesus. Though, some might feel that Aslan seems to have less bite.  He seems a bit warm and fuzzy and a little less…threatening…even for the minions of evil.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe very much wants to be the Lord of the Rings, and this causes the film to not carve out it’s own identity against the Lord of the Rings films. Instead, it feels like a pale comparison.

 

 

 

*Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader were combined.

The_Hobbit_Battle_PosterThe Battle of the Five Armies is a very long and busy film. From it’s opening moments, it is all about trying to out do Return of the king.  Dragon fights! Giant battles against orcs! Wizard Battles!

Bilbo and the Dwarves had failed to stop Smaug who attacks Lake Town.  As the citizens try and escape his wrath, the Bard seeks to fulfill his family’s promise and slay Smaug. After ending Smaug, the citizens make their way to the ruins outside the the mountain fortress of the Dwarves.

Thranduil arrives with an elven army to reclaim what he feels the elves are owed by the dwarves.  However, Thorin becomes obsessed with finding the Arkenstone.  To make matters worse, he seems to be falling pray to paranoia.  Unknown to the dwarves, Bilbo has found the stone. Concerned that Thorin is being spiritually poisoned by his obsession, he slips out to give the stone to the Bard as a bargaining chip.   This only makes matters worse.

Eventually, the armies must unite against the armies of orcs and other evil that sets upon the mountain. This culminates in a battle royale between Oakenshield and Azog.

The Battle of the Five Armies is really a culmination of the desire to recreate the Lord of the Rings.  The changes of the first Hobbit were not really needed, but mostly harmless.  But the snowball started in the Desolation of Smaug. And here, the battle is the focus.  And everything is gigantic. It consumes a large part of the time, and it gets kind of confusing.  And everybody starts to blur together.

So many things feel like calls back to the Lord of the Rings.  And granted, this is a prequel to those films.  The book the Hobbit came before the Lord of the Rings books. But the films are a prequel.  And it is expected to see some loose connections.  But here, it feels like nothing can stand as it’s own.

This all makes for a rather disappointing final.  I did not hate the movie, but I don’t think it comes close to, say, Jackson’s very flawed but still well done King King. The flaws make the good stuff harder to enjoy here.

I don’t hate these movies quite as much as some.  This may in part be due to the fact that I don’t have a real tight connection to the series.  I did not read the Lord of the Rings books until after I saw the films, as I was nearing thirty.  I did not read the Hobbit until after I started watching the films in 2012. So, I never entered the films with presumptions of what I would see, beyond vague memories of the Rankin Bass cartoon from the late 1970’s.

But unlike the Lord of the Rings films, I do not feel the strengths overcome the flaws.  And so the Hobbit trilogy is nowhere near as satisfying a watch as the Lord of the Rings films.

The_Hobbit_Desolation_PosterThe film picks up with Bilbo, Thorin and their band of Dwarves on the run from Azog’s orcs.  They find themselves appearing to be hunted by a very large bear.  Gandalf promises they are near the home of a man who might help them with safety.  They rush, chased by the bear until they reach a remote home.

Once inside, Gandalf explains that the bear is actually the man they are trying to reach.  Beorn is a shapeshifter who is also mistrustful of dwarves, so Gandalf cooks up a plan to slowly reveal them to Beorn.

Once on their way, they find themselves facing giant spiders and elves, eventually reaching Laketown, near the mountain fortress they seek. Initially, Laketown presents an obstacle, but Thorin promises to share the riches of the mountain if they allow them passage and provide some weapons.  Of course, most of the citizens being poor and desperate, it is not a hard sell.  And the mayor is a greedy man who figures if they succeed he reaps the reward and if they get eaten by Smaug they are out of his hair.

Meanwhile, Gandalf has gone to find and confront the Necromancer, a dark being that is an impending threat to Middle Earth.

Once they reach the mountain and find the secret entrance, it falls to Bilbo to slip inside and see if he can locate the Arkenstone.  This turns out to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, as there are jewels and gold coins everywhere. Bilbo must outwit Smaug, who is wakened by the presence of Bilbo.

The Desolation of Smaug is the first of the three films to start really padding on story.  And this drags the film as a whole down.  There are some great sequences, and the Smaug sequence itself is pretty nicely done.  But the film also adds in completely unnecessary subplots like a love triangle. The film includes Legolas, whose father is the Elvenking Thranduil, as a link to the Lord of the Rings films.  Legolas did not appear in the book, though as he is the son of Thranduil, it is not an unreasonable addition.

The filmmakers felt it would be good to add a female cast member in some of the action scenes.  They created Tauriel, a young and skilled elven warrior.  Portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, she is a tough adventurer. Even as additions go, the character herself is not a problem.  I like Tauriel. However, Lilly agreed to take the role as long as her character was not in a love triangle. She was assured this was not going to be the case.  So the film has her being sought by both Legolas and the dwarf  Kili. It feels like they really wanted the Kili and Tauriel aspect be a callback to Aragorn and Arwen.  And while they introduce it as a love triangle, it is entirely pointless.  It is not a source of real conflict.  Legolas could have gone to her side simply as a friend, not out of romantic desire.  It is clear the film wants to focus on her and Kili.  And that is perfectly fine, and would have improved the sub-plot had they dumped the “triangle” part.

Honestly, the inclusion of the Necromancer stuff (none of which comes from the Hobbit, it is referenced in the Lord of the Rings appendices) is more to make the audience get those “Lord of the Rings” vibes. It does not enhance the story or threat…and it feels wholly unconnected to the main story.

Smaug looks great, and Cumberbacht’s voice performance is good stuff. The visuals are great.  I still enjoy the performances, I actually like a lot of the charcters…and yet?

Story suffers from bloat. When it drags along? It reaaaaally drags.

The_Hobbit_Unexpected_PosterWhile the Hobbit was released first, it’s road to the big screen was a bit rougher. There had been a couple prior attempts, most notably the Rankin Bass animated film.

After the success of the Lord or the Rings, the Hobbit was a no-brainer to the Studio.  At the time, Peter Jackson was suffering burnout on the series.  He was set on producing, but giving the director reigns to someone else.  At first, Guillermo Del Toro was connected, but eventually he stepped down.

Eventually, it fell back to Peter Jackson.  And so, nine years later, we received this prequel trilogy.

The Hobbit is a pretty short book. it is probably just long enough to be more than a single movie../but it is short enough to make a two parter troubling.  So, of course, they landed on making a trilogy, so as to match up with the Lord of the Rings.

As the film opens, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood return as Bolbo and Frodo.  They are prepping for the party from the open of the Fellowship of the Ring.  Bilbo starts to recount the story of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor. There, King Thror becomes enthralled by the Arkenstone his dwarves discovered deep in the mines of their mountain. His relationships with the Dwarves and men of the region become poisoned. When the dragon Smaug arrives and drives all from the mountain (as dragons have a lust for gold), the Dwarves of Erebor were forced into a nomadic life.

Now, Thror’s grandson Thorin Okenshield is leading a group of dwarves to trying and take the mountain back.  Gandalf has come to the Shire to recruit Bilbo Baggins as their thief.  And after some hesitating, Bilbo agrees and joins the mission.

On their way, they run into trolls, Radagast the Brown (a wizard same as Gandalf of the region with a rabbit (?!) drawn sleigh(?!)), stone giants and goblins. And of course, Bilbo meets Gollum.

While this covers a large portion of the book, it still is set as only the beginning of a trilogy of films. As noted, the original book is not that long.

Which means…well… a lot would have to be done to stretch the story.  An Unexpected Journey primarily does this by giving Thorin Oakenshield a primary Orc Nemesis named Azog. Short on personality, long on artistic design, Azog is big with a hook in place of one of his arms.  He desires to kill Thorin. Now, Azog is not a complete invention.  He is referenced in the book, but it was assumed he was dead.

They also use characters the books only reference.  We never meet Radagast the Brown in the Hobbit.  He is really built wholly fresh by the film-makers to rather mixed results for the film.

One of the problems the film had in theaters was a higher frame rate.  The higher the frame rate, the less your movie looks like it  was shot on film.  In spite of being a crisper picture, it creates an off-putting effect, almost like watching a home movie.  They appear to have fixed that for the blu-rays.

Visually, it is pretty neat to return to the environment of Middle Earth. The New Zealand  landscape was a huge part of the character of the Lord of the Rings films, and they are a welcome sight here.

The dedication to costumes and set design and the CGI effects are certainly on point.  And the casting is great.  Martin Freeman is a terrific young Bilbo Baggins. For the most part, while it is not nearly as strong as the Fellowship of the Ring, I did enjoy the An Unexpected Journey.

LOTR_Return_PosterAll stories must conclude.  Some just take longer than others.  A lot longer. But more on that later. Sauroman is defeated, Aragorn and the people of Rohan have defended Helms Deep and Frodo, Sam and Gollum are at the door of Mordor.

Te film actually opens by jumping back several hundred years before the story we have been watching where we see hobbits Sméagol and Déagol fishing in a small boat.  After being pulled into the water, Déagol finds… The Ring. Both are gripped by obsession for the ring, resulting in murder.

Aragon and the others make their way to Gondor to unite the armies of men against Mordor and it’s seemingly endless forces.  We see most of our characters reunited.  Sam and Frodo’s relationship is tested by the duplicitous nature of Gollum.

Without question, the visual effects, costume and set design are top notch.  There really is not much to say here that I have not recognized in my previous reviews.  Sure, there are minor slip-ups (hobbits that are clearly height doubles wearing masks of the actors) and a few of the “Legolas being amazing” sequences in battles are surely CGI.

Faramir and the hobbits all get better deals here. Both Merry and Pippin get to be more than comic relief, with downright heroic moments and emotional moments.  There is a scene between Pippin and Gandalf where they say nothing, but share a look of great heart break from across the room, as if Gandalf knows Pippin is about to face some truly unfair tests.

Gimli, unfortunately, has never recovered from the Two Towers and remains embarrassingly frustrating comic relief.

Elijah Wood tells the story of how Jack Nicholson told him he left after the first ending. And this film has, like the book, several endings.  Though, most lamented is the scouring of the Shire, which the extended edition and theatrical cuts never included (the first film paid tribute to it in a vision with Galadriel). Here, the extended cut moves the unceremonious end of Sauroman from the scourging to earlier in the story.

But the frustrating part is that each “ending” feels somewhat necessary. Each gives a certain sense of closure to the tale. For all their flaws, the trilogy comes together and has far more to love than hate.  The strengths of the performances, the overall writing, the effects, the set design, the costumes…brings together one great epic.

LOTR_Two_Towers_PosterPicking up in the aftermath that split the fellowship apart, the Two Towers has a lot on it’s shoulders. Frodo and Sam are now on their own, making their way for Mount Doom to destroy the ring.  Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are trying to rescue Merry and Pippin, who are believed to have been kidnapped by Orcs.

We quickly learn that Merry and Pippin found escape from the orcs on their own.  Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are diverted by Gandalf who directs them to Rohan.  Gandalf realizes the time has come to prepare the armies of men for an epic battle against Sauron and his forces.

Rohan is under the influence of the Wizard Sauroman.  Their king is in a sickly trance, poisoned by Wormtongue, the agent of Sauroman.  Upon arrival, Gandalf excises the presence of Sauroman and chase out Wormtongue.  They warn the people there of the coming danger, and all agree they must make their way to an old fortress to protect everyone.

Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin discover the ancient race of Ents.  The Ents are ancient and sentient trees.  Pippin becomes determined to convince Treebeard and his fellow Ents to fight against the advancement of Sauroman and his orc army before it can join Sauron’s army.

And of course, there is Frodo and Sam.  Theirs is a somewhat less exciting route, as they are trying to avoid being seen.  Frodo confronts Gollum, who has been shadowing he and Sam in his attempt to get the ring back. Frodo takes pity Gollum, and chooses to take him along as a guide.

In the first film, we only had glimpses of Gollum.  This character presented a huge challenge and still stands as a monumental achievement in CGI effects.  Coupled with a terrific performance by Andy Serkis, Gollum comes to tragic and frightening life.  Serkis takes on a voice that can seem almost painfully childish and monstrous…sometimes at the same moment.  The film has a great moment using reflections and camera angles in which Gollum argues with himself over serving Frodo faithfully versus betraying him and stealing the ring back.

In the book, the stories are separated into two parts.  The first half follows Frodo and Sam and the second half follows the other characters. In one way, this does allow some interesting storytelling moments.  Frodo and Sam’s story will reference them seeing stuff we only see played out in the second half of the book.  But it also can make the Two Towers a tough read.  It does not break up the story enough.

Gimli continues his slide into little more than comic relief and Legolas even ends up having plenty of his swashbuckling antics coming off as comedic and cheesy (using a shield as a surfboard).

The film also undermines the character of Farimir, brother of Boromir.  In the book he is not tempted by the ring in any way.  He is a strong and confident man in ways his older brother was not.  Unlike Tom Bombadil, this not being tempted is an effective statement of Farimir’s character.  The film makes him much less sure of himself.  He is haunted by the ghost of his brother and his father’s greater love for Boromir. He does, of course, make the choice he makes in the book, but the overly wrought drama of giving him severe daddy issues works against the character in frustrating ways.  Yes, it allows Sam to be a dramatic voice of reason…but it really is an unnecessary detour that also makes Farimir come off as needlessly cruel at times.

The Two Towers does start to feel a bit meandering at times.  The extended cut suffers from this even more, though some of the additional scenes are quite entertaining.  While not quite an Empire Strikes Back (which is a bit leaner storytelling) it still is a pretty impressive film.

LOTR_Fellowship_PosterJohn Rogers, one of the writers of the abysmal Catwoman film once also wrote “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

And the Lord of the Rings is definitely one of those book series that had legions of admirers.  Ralph Bakshi has adapted the three books into two animated films in 1978 and 1980. And there were a lot of false starts until the late 90’s.  The first plan was to try and make one film…then they thought they could convince a studio to do two…but somehow, Peter Jackson convinced New Line the only proper way to do the film was to adapt each novel and film them back to back.  They then took it a step further and released the special edition DVDs.  These sets were expanded to include many scenes not used in the theatrical releases.  My reviews will be of the Expanded Editions.

The story of the Lord of the Rings is that long ago the evil Lord Sauron tricked the leaders of the Elves, the Dwarves, and Man, creating powerful rings for them all…secretly creating the one ring that would rule them all.  In a battle between Sauron and the final alliance of men, dwarves, and elves, Sauron was defeated.  Instead of destroying the ring, Isildur keeps it for himself. He is eventually killed.  The ring was then lost to time.  It was found by a creature who hid with it in the mountains.  It eventually fell into the hands of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. He has had it ever since.  The Fellowship of the Ring is the beginning of the final push to destroy the ring.

The wizard Gandalf the Gray calls upon Frodo, nephew of Bilbo for this task. He sends Frodo on, promising to meet in a small town.  Frodo is accompanied by his friend Samwise (or more simply, Sam).  Soon after leaving, they are joined by fellow Hobbits Merry and Pippin.  As they go on their journey, they pick up help from the mysterious ranger Strider (Revealed to be Aragorn, a descendant of Isildur).

When Frodo is wounded by a Ringwraith (the souls of the original nine kings of men who were enslaved to Sauron), he is whisked away to the Elvish city of Rivendell. There they meet up with what are to be the final members of the Fellowship of the ring, the Elf Legolas, the Dwarf Gimli and Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor.

They find themselves constantly under attack, primarily from Sauroman, a wizard like Gandalf, but having chosen to serve Sauron. Using magic and a new generation of Super Orcs he tries to stop them at every turn.

Filmed in New Zealand, almost every shot of this film is awe-inspiringly beautiful. The Hobbit Shire has been carefully created bringing the environments of the book to life in a vibrant way.

Along with the sets, the film’s costumes are incredible.  Everything has power and weight.  The craftsmanship of the weapons and costumes immerses you into this world.

The visual effects have withstood the test of time.  A lot of Weta Workshop’s work is a combination of digital and practical.  But unlike far too many movies, the digital is groundbreaking and almost never distracting (except in it’s dedication to looking natural).  The Fellowship of the Ring broke new ground in its digital work to create massive armies that seemed to move without being duplicated.

The film also uses a lot of practical tricks to create the illusion of different heights.  Both Hobbits and Dwarves are supposed to be significantly smaller than the rest of the cast, and in spite of actors who are as tall as anyone else in the cast, using perspective tricks, smaller actors as stand-ins they manage to create a nearly seamless illusion.

And then there is the cast.  Some scoffed when Elijah Wood was cast as Frodo.  The books describe Hobbits in a fashion that insinuates, they are naturally a bit hairy and pudgy.  But Wood (and really the other hobbit actors) are rather attractive.  But They all do quite well.  And Wood and Sean Astin really sell the deep and heartfelt friendship between Frodo and Sam.  Frankly, I love the fact that the films capture this love.  Films featuring male relationships can often be quite superficial.

Ian McKellen, so compelling as Magneto in the X-Men films carries great weight here as the wizard Gandalf.  He is warm, yet can seem stern and menacing when necessary.  And he brings a sense of grandeur so necessary for such a character.  Viggo Mortenson brings a quiet nobility to Aragorn.  And Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel as an unearthly and elegant beauty.

This is not to suggest there are no flaws.  While not as large of an issue here, Gimli can often be reduced to comic relief (the same with Pippin and Merry). On the other hand, the storytelling is more expedient than the books. Often, Tolkien can seem a bit obsessive in his world-building, with sudden diversions into poetry and legends and language of Middle Earth.  The filmmakers wisely cut the Tom Bombadil sequence.  While this is a fairly loved section of the book, the screenwriters are correct that it undercuts the narrative of the Ring to suddenly have a character who is not impacted at all by it.  Especially so early in the story.  Personally speaking? I don’t care for that section of the book, and so I did not miss it within the film.

The Fellowship of the Ring is s very strong adaption of the book, full of epic adventure. It was a risky venture that paid off quite well for the filmmakers and the studio.