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Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The first film I saw in 2002, exactly on New Year’s Day no less, was THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

I never read the RINGS books. Maybe they get more interesting as they go along, but I tried the opening couple pages of FELLOWSHIP once when I was a teenager and I found it too dry to continue. Regardless, I was very excited to see the film because it’s directed by New Zealand visionary Peter Jackson, a filmmaker I greatly admire.

Jackson previously directed one of my favorite films, HEAVENLY CREATURES, a demented murder drama about two teenage girls who conspire to kill one of their mothers, and which also instigated my intense lusting after Kate Winslet.

Jackson has also made some throwaway genre pictures, like DEAD ALIVE and THE FRIGHTENERS, and while the most noticeable aspect of his movies is his unique visual style — innovative special effects and creative framing — I also think he, along with his partner Frances Walsh, is an amazing writer who really knows how to tell a good story.

So, that to me was what I found so impressive about FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. To me, this movie does right what I think so many big special-effect Hollywood movies do wrong these days.

My main problem with most modern special-effect movies is that they’re almost always about just the special effects, usually along the lines of the main characters having to get away from and/or catch the special effects, whether they’re ghosts, dinosaurs, aliens or whatever.

Granted, Jackson and Walsh didn’t originate the plot to FELLOWSHIP, but, as far as I know since I didn’t read the book, the two screenwriters knew what to take out of the original source material to keep the film moving along. Thus, FELLOWSHIP has an intensive, complex and incredibly involving plot. It’s the kind of story that you feel like you got your money’s worth when the film is over rather than the shallow mess most “thrill ride” movies are.

What’s also great about FELLOWSHIP is that even though there’s at least a dozen main characters, each one of them has a distinct, believable personality and the characters we’re supposed to care about we really do actually care about. All the characters have a personal investment in their adventures so the audience can make the emotional journey with them.

But what engaged me the most about FELLOWSHIP was the journey. The film is very much the mythological “hero’s journey,” the kind of journey that boring pop culture academics, the kind of theorist who invokes the name of Joseph Campbell so they themselves can sound noble and deep, love to use to explain the motivations of characters from Luke Skywalker to Batman to Huckleberry Finn.

The hero of FELLOWSHIP, the hobbit Frodo Baggins, has a specific destination to get to and a specific job to fulfill — and, really, I know FELLOWSHIP is the first movie of a trilogy but my only gripe of the film is that it just seemed to kind of stop in anticipation for the sequel rather than end on its own — but I was really moved by movie’s metaphor about leaving behind the safe and comfortable to enjoy life’s grand adventure.

The year 2001 was a long journey, and a not very comfortable one for a lot of people. Living in New York City, I could directly see the negative effects of the bad economy and the 9/11 disasters. I know a few people who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers came down and I also have a good deal of friends who lost their job in 2001 and are still out of work and some friends whose major plans for the year got crushed as a result of both issues.

However, and I say this with some real guilt, I had a great year in 2001. So good in fact, I could call it almost a banner year of my life, most of it due to me doing some major, wickedly out-of-the-ordinary things for me.

I tried acupuncture for the first time and have been going every couple weeks for the past several months. I’ve been going for sinus trouble and while I’m not 100% cured yet, I don’t suffer as frequently from debilitating headaches, which has had a radical improvement on my moods. And while I started meditating back in 2000, I didn’t get too serious about it until 2001, which has also had a tremendous effect on my attitude.

Also in 2001, I got somewhat politically active and joined my Green Party local. I’ve met some tremendous people who consistently amaze me with their tireless activism work. Mainly I just go to the meetings and listen to what everybody else is working on, but I did volunteer some time in the fall to campaign for my local Green city council candidate. Unfortunately, he didn’t win, but the experience was a very rich and fulfilling one.

2001 was also the year I became a filmmaker again, not having made a movie since I graduated film school in 1992. After my brother set up my computer so I could edit digital video, I finished THE LAST CONCERT VIDEO and began work on my second project, a semi-documentary/fictional piece, which I hope to finish early this year.

And, oddly enough, this was a tremendous year for the Underground Film Journal. I had some filmmakers submit films for review and I traveled to Chicago to cover the Underground Film Festival for the site, making me feel like a genuine film journalist and energizing me to push the site further in the months to come.

Most importantly, too, the Underground Film Journal was instrumental in me snagging the most incredible girlfriend. In light of any other good news or bad news of the year, this event overshadows all others. However, I won’t go on about this because there’s nothing more boring than listening to some sappy jerk gushing over his woman.

My heart really goes out to everyone who had a rough 2001 and I sincerely hope this year goes by much easier. 2001 was a wild ride for me and, while it’s still too early to call, 2002 looks like it’s going to be just as intense.