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In the Baggins

We're off to see the wonderful wizards of The Lord of the Rings

There are many fine nuances from the cast as well. For instance, we discover that Liv Tyler -- as Galadriel's granddaughter and Aragorn's squeeze, Arwen -- can don pointy ears and emanate elfish pathos without eliciting a single chuckle. As her father, Elrond, Hugo Weaving also commands attention, holding court in the enchanted refuge of Rivendell, bemused by the hobbits one minute, racked by painful memories the next.

Stylistically, Fellowship marks a quantum leap for Jackson, proving that working long and hard on a well-told story is more impressive and potentially lucrative than grinding out disposable pap. The director allows himself his trademarks -- wide-lensed close-ups, gory violence -- but this classic tale also affords him a glowing aesthetic (an Alan Lee painting here, a swan boat there) to balance the adventure's requisite grunge (bloody faces, dirty fingernails). Kudos to editor John Gilbert, sound designer David Farmer and the musical talents of Howard Shore and Enya for blending it all together like a fantastic dream.

Hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Frodo (Elijah Wood), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) nip over to Mordor to destroy the evil ring.
Hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Frodo (Elijah Wood), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) nip over to Mordor to destroy the evil ring.

Jackson and company have chosen to discard much of Tolkien's whimsy, focusing primarily on action and atmosphere, but happily the author's philosophies survive, in Frodo's fortitude, Gandalf's fatefulness and the self-tests of all who confront the ring. Even Saruman's mad command to his orcs to tear out all surrounding trees speaks to an increasingly rootless postindustrial society. Seen from a world of similarly insane felling, The Lord of the Rings becomes utterly vital.

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