They saved the best for last

I am, I admit, an unlikely convert to the religion of Tolkienism. I have never read the books, having, I thought, been put off them for life by the sort of obsessive freaks who read them when I was at school. (One classmate, then aged about sixteen, told me with great pride that he had read the whole of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at least fifty times). I also have never been a great admirer of the ‘sword and sorcery’ school of fantasy writing or film-making; indeed, some of this genre (mostly those starring the current governor of California) struck me as being among the worst films ever made. I was, however, persuaded to see the first in the trilogy, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, by its overwhelmingly positive reception from the critics, and was quickly won over by the scope of Peter Jackson’s vision. I had been expecting some twee tale of elves, gnomes and fairies; what I experienced was a genuine epic (in the true sense of that overused word). Ever since December 2001, I have been waiting for parts two and three of the trilogy to be released. Neither has disappointed me. The story of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is too complex to be told in a review such as this. Suffice it to say that it revolves around a magic ring which will give its possessor immense power. The power-hungry Dark Lord Sauron (a figure who is never actually seen on screen) desires to obtain the ring in order to dominate Middle Earth. His enemies, led by the wizard Gandalf, are seeking to destroy the ring, which can only be used for evil purposes, not for good. At the beginning of the final part of the trilogy, Sauron’s forces are massing for an attack on the kingdom of Gondor. The film relates the story of the conflict which follows, and this leads to some of the most spectacular battle sequences I have seen, even more impressive than those in ‘The Two Towers’. Inevitably, the film makes much use of computer-generated effects, but unlike many films dominated by special effects, plot and character are not neglected. The acting is uniformly good, and in some cases outstanding. Special mentions must also go to the camera-work, which made the best possible use of the magnificent New Zealand scenery, and to Howard Shore’s memorable musical score. So, looking forward to the Oscar ceremony, I have no doubt that this should be the best film and that Peter Jackson, who has amply fulfilled the promise shown in the excellent ‘Heavenly Creatures’, should be best director. Best Actor? I would find it difficult to decide between the competing claims of Sir Ian McKellen, who brings wisdom, kindliness and the required touch of steel to his portrait of Gandalf, and of Elijah Wood, who plays the brave and resourceful hobbit Frodo to whom falls the dangerous task of ensuring the ring’s destruction. Best Supporting Actor? My own nomination would be for Sean Astin, as Frodo’s loyal companion Sam, but several others might have claims, notably Viggo Mortensen or Bernard Hill. Is this the best movie ever made, as some of its admirers have claimed? Possibly not- that is, after all, a very large claim to make. I have no doubt, however, that the trilogy as a whole is the first great cinematic masterpiece of the twenty-first century. It has certainly inspired me to start reading Tolkien’s original novels. 10/10.