Friday, September 30, 2011

2002 Hugo Dramatic and 2001 Saturn Fantasy – THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

I’ve speculated a few times on this blog about fantasy’s recent dominion over science fiction, both commercially (as reflected in sales) and critically (as reflected in these awards).  Is it less confidence of science, more pessimism about the future, or that fantasy is a genre that is – for whatever reason – more welcoming to female readers?  Today I feel like offering an alternative hypothesis: in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, fantasy just got really good.  Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman give us great, popular urban fantasy works.  George R. R. Martin creates a new, beloved fantasy world, and J. K. Rowling does the same on another order of magnitude.  And, of course, Peter Jackson skillfully adapts the greatest fantasy book series of all time into the greatest fantasy film series of all time. Of course fans are going to have fantasy on the brain.

I feel silly recounting the plot.  What sf fan hasn’t read the books, or at least seen the films, probably several hundred times apiece? There’s a powerful, evil magic ring.  Some peaceful little people have to take it to a volcano and throw it in, and various wizards, dwarves, elves, and knights try to escort them, while really ugly things try to kill them.  It starts as an epic, takes a few quiet moments in the shire, then gets even epic-ier.

Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson is such a perfect pairing of director and subject – it elevates both.  Peter Jackson’s other films just don’t measure up to this one (don’t get me started on his King Kong), and, I’m sure this is some sort of heresy, I prefer this version of Tolkien’s masterpiece to the original.  Tolkien, like all of the fantasy writers who’ve followed him, can be a bit dry and effected.  Jackson is bombastic, over-the-top, and painfully sincere (the last is an odd trait for someone with roots in low-budget horror).  Put the two together, and you get movie magic.

Jackson’s most important trait is his love of the material.  I’m not sure any other director would have lobbied so hard to film The Lord of the Rings simultaneously then release it as three big budget films; he got New Line to put a lot on the line for these films (though it more than paid off for them).  I don’t know if any other director would have micromanaged the effects house WETA to create such a rich and detailed world for these characters to inhabit. It's a nice parallel to Tolkien's obsession with creating languages and mythologies for Middle Earth.  Furthermore, Jackson does, especially in this film, remain amazingly close to the material.  Sorry Tom Bambadil fans, those scenes weren’t necessary and wouldn’t have played well.  Pretty much everything else is in here.

The result is amazing.  It manages to capture everything that makes fantasy a beloved genre: the sense of scale, the creation of a foreign, yet familiar, world with its own sense of a deep history, the action, the morality.  And there's that extra fine touch, that not enough of Tolkien's many copycats have followed, of centering his story around very humble protagonists.  Everything looks great and the movie moves quickly through a lot of exposition.  The sequence in the Mines of Moria is one of the most exciting in sf movie history.  And, with focuses on male friendship, the film manages to be fun, AND be about something.  Jackson really gets the series off on the right foot.

Grade: A

No comments:

Post a Comment