Originally created 01/01/02

'Rings' casts a spell over audience



'THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING'

MPAA RATING: PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some frightening imagery

CAST: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, 51 minutes

From the time it was published in 1954, The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, has drawn numerous readers. Tolkien's world of Middle Earth became a second home to many.

The intensity of that devotion made a movie version a perilous assignment. But a long-time fan of the trilogy, director Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles, Heavenly Creatures), decided to take on the challenge of turning this fantastical work into a live-action film. And the 16 long months spent in New Zealand to film all three installments have paid off.

In the first film of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring (the second and third installments will be released in 2002 and 2003), Mr. Jackson was able to create the mythical Middle Earth almost flawlessly - with the exception of the elf realm of Lothlorien. I had hoped for a golden Lothlorien, as it appears in the book.

In this vivid world, a ring of power has been created by the Dark Lord Sauron to rule over all creatures of Middle Earth. Armies of elves and men meet Sauron and his army of orcs in an epic battle. When the ring is cut off his hand, Sauron is diminished to a spirit. Years pass before the ring comes into the hands of Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), a hobbit of The Shire. On Bilbo's 111th birthday, he is persuaded by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to leave the ring to his cousin Frodo (Elijah Wood).

When Frodo learns of the evil source behind the ring - and the danger of Sauron returning to power - he volunteers to take the ring to the dark land of Mordor and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom, the only place it can be destroyed. Even in early scenes with Gandalf, as Frodo discovers the ring's power, Mr. Wood resonates with the innocence that makes Frodo a likable hero we all can root for. The look in his eyes shows the fear he feels toward the ring.

Accompanied by fellow hobbits - the loyal Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) and troublemakers Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) - Frodo finds himself on a perilous journey. Along the way he meets Strider the Ranger (Viggo Mortensen) - who is more than he appears - and is joined by a fellowship appointed to travel with the ringbearer on the journey to Mordor. The fellowship represents the major races of Middle Earth: the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) of the dwarves, men Strider and Boromir (Sean Bean), wizard Gandalf and Frodo's hobbit friends.

As they are repeatedly attacked on their dangerous journey, the actors play out the growing bond among the fellowship's different races. Characters' feelings are so well played that the audience cries for Frodo along with Sam and laughs when Pippin complains about not getting "second breakfast," a common meal among the well-fed hobbits.

It's the complex combination of character flaws and internal struggles that makes Fellowship such a great movie. While the visual effects are amazing and the scenery breathtaking, the characters and the troubles they face make up the core of the film - and these actors pull it off.

Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler also hold their own as the only women in the movie. Although Ms. Tyler's character, the elf-princess Arwen, is expanded from the one in the book - one of the few parts that troubled me - the change fits in well with the movie and doesn't hinder any key elements.

All in all, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring holds true to its source and ultimately should claim the precious title of "classic."

Teen board member Chelsey Willis, 16, is a junior at Lincoln County High School.