"We know that the road to freedom has always been stalked by death." ---HL Staff that went to Rome---

BIASES: mid 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors action, comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks, kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare

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Lord Of The Rings

MOVIE BIASES: Loved "The Hobbit" as a kid.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Elijah Wood (Black and White), Sean Astin (The Goonies), Viggo Mortensen (Crimson Tide), Ian McKellen (X-Men), author J.R.R. Tolkien, and director Peter Jackson (The Frighteners).

Someone once said that there are only three stories ever told. Boy gets girl. Girl gets boy. In the most ambitious screen adaptation to date of J.R.R. Tolkien's literary trilogy "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring," "Fellowship" is an ambitious, dazzling paean to that last, most basic of all stories - good versus evil.

After his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm) pulls off an astonishing disappearing act at his 111th birthday party, hobbit Frodo Baggins (Wood) is left with his entire estate, plus one oddly alluring ring. This ring just so happens to be the object of desire of just about everyone in Middle Earth, including the spirit of the dark lord Sauron, who wants to enslave all other races with the power of the ring. Because of this ring's darkly seductive power of invisibility and invincibility, it must be destroyed. Frodo, armed with his fellow hobbit friends and a fellowship formed from races of dwarves, elves, and men, begins his march into the heart of Mordor to destroy the ring in the fires from which it was born at Mt. Doom. Just from the sound of it, you know this will be no easy task as everyone and their momma wants to separate the ring from the ringbearer.

Central casting, pure and simple. Everyone plays their roles with a natural aplomb that creates a whole new world, a world where elves and hobbits live among men. As the diminuative Frodo Baggins, Elijah Wood has the boyish wonder of a young hobbit unspoiled by life in the placid, pristine land of the shire. And it is his slipping between reluctance and fear of the unknown before his eventual maturation into bravery and duty that is fascinating to watch. He grows up with us on screen, as the fellowship endures test after test. Viggo Mortensen, as usual, is Hollywood's best kept secret, a swarthy, rugged man's man, who has no problem with cracking skulls, charming the (elf) ladies, or portraying the difficulty of the temptation of self. On that note, Sean Bean is an excellent barometer for us as a man warrior who wishes to do the right thing by the ring, but also by his race. Cate Blanchett's ethereal elegance is more than just special effects, too.

If anyone deserves an Oscar, it should be the location scout. Filmed in New Zealand, "Fellowship" has vast, sweeping vistas, wide open plains, ruggedly wintry mountains, and a natural beauty that seems preternaturally Middle-Earthy. But credit Peter Jackson for knowing how best to use it, matching a thrilling, continuous musical score to his dynamic (wide-angle lensed) visual storytelling. State of the art special effects aid his cause, but I dare you to find more consistently exciting action sequences in any other movie of 2001. That comes from direction, and surprisingly assured, surehanded direction at that.

But the Lord of All Things has to be J.R.R. Tolkien. His fantasy world written in the mid 20th century has set the stage for Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, and just about every major fantasy world there is. The thoroughness and completeness of his world is capably translated to the screen with such confidence that you don't doubt that Middle Earth exists, at least on screen for three hours, anyway. And if it's anything, it's a testament to Tolkien that not only has his trilogy stood the test of time but also that he has proven to be a master of storytelling. The battle between good and evil is so clear yet complex, it exists even within the human heart, causing you to wonder if you would be strong enough to carry the burden of the all-powerful ring. While the ending leaves most people saying "What?!?" you're left wanting for more. The story, continues, one of the three most ever told. It's good versus evil.

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