Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The rest of the world is only now beginning to feel the tremors. J.R.R. Tolkien fans, however, have been feeling them for a while. The buzz has been building for more than a year, and last Friday even industry naysayers became enthusiastic about director Peter Jackson's three-movie adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
A select audience at France's Cannes Film Festival was treated to a 26-minute preview of footage from the still-unfinished film trilogy. The scenes presented were reportedly so astonishing that Rings has eclipsed dozens of finished films competing for the Palme D'Or award. "The best movie at Cannes isn't in competition," says a report at Mr. Showbiz. The Age, an Australian newspaper, reported, "Coming out of the cinema, back to the real world of Cannes cafes, the same line was repeated everywhere: 'I can't wait to see more.'" The wait won't last long; the first of three installments—The Fellowship of the Ring—reaches theatres this Christmas.
It must be a great relief for the folks at New Line Pictures, who have watched the cost of the trilogy climb to $270 million dollars. Robert Shaye, founder of New Line and CEO, personally presented the preview. A seven-minute summary came first, introducing Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin), and other major characters. Then came a 14-minute action sequence in which the heroes journey through the Mines of Moria, assailed by terrifying armies of orcs and, finally, a winged devil called a Balrog. The preview concluded with a three-minute collage of moments from the second and third chapter. (For further information on the preview's screening, visit TheOneRing.net's Cannes Festival page. The official movie Web site is www.lordoftherings.net.)
Even if the movies are as profound a cinematic achievement as optimists predict, perhaps their greatest influence will be to draw a new generation to the books themselves. Tolkien's storytelling, like that of C.S. Lewis, does not last merely because it offers frightening conflicts, memorable characters, and dazzling settings. Dozens of fantasy novels are compared to the works of Tolkien every year, and very few remain popular a decade later. What sets The Lord of the Rings apart?
This is a question I'd encourage readers to ponder as they read the trilogy before the film arrives in December. And yes, I'd encourage you to read it before December. The films may be spectacular, but Tolkien's language, something that can only be distantly echoed by a movie, is one of the great delights of his work. Reading The Lord of the Rings won't spoil it for you any more than reading the Bible can spoil The Ten Commandments or The Greatest Story Ever Told. Tolkien wrote for the love of what he called "co-creating with God," using his imagination for the sheer pleasure of it. Like a traveler returning from another world, he was compelled to share, in excruciating detail, what he beheld there. If the movies do succeed, Peter Jackson's achievement will be a signpost pointing the way to some of literature's finest mirrors of God's truth.