I had the opportunity to view the film more than a week ago, (I’d rather not reveal where, always gotta protection the connection), and have given it a lot of thought. I thought it was very, very good. I will try to be balanced in my critique, but it is difficult not to let enthusiasm froth over, even with a couple of blemishes present.

I am not sure how many were home on Saturday night to see the “Film Stories” on TNT this evening, but it revealed some very decent footage, and we are close enough to the opening that, well, I am ready to spill some beans. It is Saturday night, I have a cold and it is miserable out, so here I sit, wondering how much I can share without spoiling it. I will address it primarily from the perspective of how it may compare with Harry Potter, not because I even believe they are worthy of compare, but because FOTR is a commercial venture – isn’t that the element that causes the most concern of compromise to all who love the books? – and given both the cost of making the movies and the recent box office take of HP, it is perhaps a logical place to begin an analysis. You see, I think the film is very, very good, and I respect enormously the devotion, energy, money, and old fashioned hard work (247 filming days!!) of Peter Jackson, the cast, and Bob Shaye and Mike Lynne at New Line Cinema. There is nothing more I want to see than that this film be a smashing success.

So what are the potential negatives that could interfere with that? Let me get them out of the way first. It is 2hrs 50min long (don’t buy the large coke), but HP was about as long, so that needn’t be an issue in itself. It is much more violent and the monsters much more threatening than HP. Whoever of you recently voted for the Balrog scene in Moria as the footage you’d most like to see, well, you are on to something there. But it is definitely sufficient to disturb the dreams of kids for whom HP was nothing intimidating. The fight scenes are very well executed, with very good sword work as well as impressive use of other weapons, but is it family fare? This would have been music to my ears prior to seeing it, but does it limit the audience?

Another element that may rub some the wrong way is that, as everyone already knows, there are certain liberties taken with the story line. Arwen has an expanded role, for example, stepping into Glorfindel’s shoes at the Ford of Rivendell. Certain dialogue is changed, but there were only a couple of times that it bothered me. Sure, in an ideal world I’d like Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wights included. Yes, it is hard to communicate the mystery and magic of elves without all the detail and subtle innuendo of Tolkien’s narrative. But how long would you make the film?

Which brings up what may be the toughest hurdle for the film to overcome, the complexity of the plotline and the sheer number of characters. It presented no issue for me, having read the books 6 or so times, but how audiences who’ve haven’t read the book will react is tough for me to judge. For anyone reading these words on theonering.net, it is not an issue. I mention it out of my concern to see it do well.

Now, to the film’s strengths, which far outweigh any flaws. Let me tell you that this movie is a must see. It is beautiful beyond compare, its cinematography hard to believe for those not familiar with New Zealand’s geology, (and who is? … apologies to our Kiwi brethren). That country’s insane beauty combine seamlessly with the special effects of the film, to a degree that it becomes almost too much to absorb. I could not distinguish between real and effect generated, and the whole world looks so real that it threatens to inure the senses from one amazing shot to the next. With two exceptions both related to the elves, every site, every location, matched or surpassed how I’d painted them for years in my mind’s eye.

Beyond the scenery, the effects are incredible. The forces of darkness never looked so good. As I mention above, I thought they were not just incredibly realistic, but pretty darn scary. I really want to say more, but will not.

In another sense FOTR shines, particularly relative to HP, which is for kiddies, while FOTR provides much more mature treatment of a couple of themes. One is power, the temptation it presents for human nature, and the price for it that must be paid. This is a theme at the heart of the battle between light and darkness since the beginning of time … from eat of the apple and your eyes will be opened and you will be as God, to just bow down before me and all this will be yours, on to Faust and Mephistopheles, etc. … I read something recently (in the Wall Street Journal, I think) that argued that HP doesn’t address that issue except in the most superficial way, yet the subject of that movie was the goal of all alchemy, the Philosopher’s Stone. That author is right on target there.

You will see a treatment of the One Ring that seemed to me even darker than the books’, and in the makers desire to cultivate that subject you will see a fairly complete development of the lead characters and how they relate to that temptation. Gandalf is excellent, as are the different ways Boromir and Aragorn address their temptations (look for an additional and unlooked for facet in the feelings of the latter toward the Ring).

I am at loss at how much more I can say without stealing the thrill of surprise, so at risk of keeping this too short and superficial I will draw the line here. The bottom line is that the FOTR is an astounding film, unlike anything you have ever seen. Whether you have read the books or not, it must be seen. As for myself, I will be back to see it in the theatre at least twice more, and am even considering coughing up the $250 or even $500 (to be in the same room as the cast, PJ, and New Line bigwigs) at the fundraiser for the 9/11 disaster this Thursday. It seizes the imagination and does not let go.

Best to all,