"An Epic Challenge for a Small Creature"
New Line Cinema and director Peter Jackson have taken on a daunting task – how to take one of the longest, most beloved novels of all time, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and turn it into three epic movies that will do Christian author J. R. R. Tolkien’s vision justice? The first of the three movies based on Tolkien’s trilogy, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, arrives in movie theaters this December.
Bottom line? THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is a wonderful “epic” movie that vividly captures most of Tolkien’s vision, including his moral vision.
Take your older children if they are mature enough to handle mystical creatures, frightening monsters and sword fighting. Although there are no curse words, sex or nudity, there is plenty of hacking hideous Orcs (goblin-like creatures) to pieces, along with some very scary moments. There is also a thematic problem in one scene in the movie, a scene that was not in the book.
In the story, Frodo, a hobbit played by Elijah Wood, is a friendly, likeable chap who is thrust into an incredible adventure not of his choosing. Gandalf, played magnificently by Ian McKellen, is a powerful wizard who helps him. Frodo must destroy an ancient evil ring that has the power to unleash a hellish nightmare on relatively peaceful Middle Earth. Middle Earth is a fantasyland populated by a variety of creatures that, though not evil, do not necessarily get along very well. After Frodo and some hobbit friends escape from the mysterious minions of the “Dark Lord” creator of the evil ring who wants the ring back, a fellowship of these beings is cobbled together to help Frodo. They must take the ring into the Enemy’s territory to the fires of Mordor at Mount Doom, where the ring was created, to destroy it. Elves, hobbits, dwarfs, and men must pull together in the face of literally monstrous odds to complete this task.
For those who have never read or who haven’t read in many years Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS and its prequel, THE HOBBIT, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING succeeds as a movie in almost every way. Director Peter Jackson’s art direction is superb. The lands of Mordor (the evil villain’s land) and “The Shire,” as portrayed in this movie, are wondrous. Cities carved into the sides of mountains, giant statues and ruins of civilizations past fill the frame. Clouds and mist, rain and snow add texture and a “reality” that draws the viewer into the story. Though a couple of the characters are spottily drawn, despite the movie’s three hour length, Jackson also manages to convey the spirit of the fantasy characters created by Tolkien.
There is a very necessary, somewhat clunky, opening that tries to bring non-Tolkienites up to speed on the events prior to this movie. However, condensing THE HOBBIT, the prequel to THE LORD OF THE RINGS, into two minutes is a little hard. Nevertheless, the director made a good try, and a non-Tolkienite can catch up fairly soon.
Hardcore “RINGS” fans are never going to be completely happy, though, because film can never capture an individual’s exact interpretation of characters in a book. In several cases, the movie far-eclipsed our memory of certain scenes . . . and that was a thrill. Moreover, the movie will visually “fill out” the books for their fans – adding a new dimension to their experience. The key to the success of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is this: Director Peter Jackson makes the audience like the characters and care what happens to them. The incredible visuals and soundtrack are just icing on the cake.
What can Christians expect to receive from this movie? Well, it is very easy to spot wonderful analogies to the Christian faith. Gandalf the wizard is powerful, yet kind. He dispenses wisdom and has a good sense of humor, not unlike God. He states, “We cannot change what has been. It is what we do with the days we have that matters.” Furthermore, he tells Frodo, “Don’t be so free to deal in death and judgement.” In other words, don’t try to play God, which is the opposite of the “do what thou wilt,” occult philosophy of HARRY POTTER. In fact, in Tolkien’s various explanations of his fantasy world, Gandalf is a being with supernatural powers given to him by the Creator and a mysterious angelic-like figure.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor James Parker notes: “People say, ‘You have wizards in LORD OF THE RINGS and you also have wizards in HARRY POTTER, so what is the difference?’ Gandalf, the wizard in The LORD OF THE RINGS, is an angelic. He is a being created by the One True God who is kind of an arch-angel who is sent to help people accomplish the will of the One True God. So when they do ‘magic,’ it’s not magic at all, but it is instead the angelic being which has certain abilities to do things that non-angelic beings cannot do.”
In contrast, “In HARRY POTTER, the wizard is a human being who is supernaturally empowered to perform magic tricks that may be used for selfish and even evil purposes,” says Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor James Parker. “This is where it could get very serious and very dark,” he said, adding that “a lot of information in Harry Potter” leads him to conclude that Harry himself is buying into the dark side and into the occult.
According to Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Prof. Parker, another profound difference between the two movies is the fact that the setting for Tolkien’s story – the mythical ‘Middle Earth’ – is one that reflects the Christian understanding of reality. In Middle Earth, there is a clear distinction between right and wrong and accountability to a sovereign, holy God who is Lord of the universe. “Unlike in HARRY POTTER, Tolkien’s movie never presents a scenario in which “the end justifies the means,” Parker points out. “That is, morality is never viewed pragmatically. The POTTER movie reflects a more pantheistic and monistic understanding of reality in which the lines of right and wrong are never really asserted,” Parker said.
One of the other important characters helping Frodo on his quest to destroy the evil ring is Aragorn (Strider). Aragorn is a king who has left his throne in search of himself and to avoid the temptation that corrupted his ancestors. He is a bold, brave, kind, and valiant warrior, very much like a King David running from Saul, and his act of humbling himself by rejecting the crown that is rightly his has Christological implications.
The wonderful way the “Fellowship” bands together to help each other, though they are strangers, is very much an example of the Body of Christ helping one another. When one is wounded, the others rally around to protect him. It is a very powerful illustration of Christians helping their wounded brothers and sisters, and pulling together to conquer the common enemy.
The evil ring itself represents the lure of sin. Anyone within its sphere of influence is tempted by its mysterious pull. A type of hypnotic lust for power is felt by anyone weak of heart. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie, for Christians of all ages, is when the Forest Elf Queen Galadriel is alone with Frodo and is offered the ring. Frodo is tired and weary of constant danger and would be happy to have someone of more substance take it off his hands. Galadriel (who radiates a soft glow) confesses she has always dreamed of possessing it.
As she comes within the ring’s power, almost touching it, she transforms into a ghostly, ghastly, larger version of herself and proclaims loudly, “I could be the Queen of Middle Earth, and all would love and fear me!” (or something close to that). Frodo falls to the ground in fear. As quickly as she changed, she changes back. Now exhausted, she says softly, “I passed the test,” then speaks about being able to continue her current rule. Thus, this beautiful queen has resisted the ultimate temptation – to be a god! Oh, that all men and women could face and conquer their temptations in such a way! An astute parent or teacher could use this movie as a springboard for a month’s worth of good teachings!
There are two problems, however, in this first part of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Both these problems make the movie inappropriate for some, if not many, older children. First, the movie adds a brutal battle at the end that is not in the book. In the book, the battle is only implied, but the movie seems to enjoy depicting the brutality that occurs during that battle. Secondly, in one scene during the middle of the movie, Gandalf and another wizard battle each other with their magical staffs. Although the scenes surrounding this occult battle do indeed take place in the book, this occult battle never takes place in the book. It shows that the filmmakers do not always retain the moral, Christian worldview that permeates Tolkien’s masterpiece.
Finally, those who do not like fantasy, should stay away. Hard-core Tolkien fan should go easy and enjoy director Jackson’s interpretation of a literary masterpiece. He said it best in a magazine interview. “We aren’t burning the books. If you don’t like the movie, just go back to the books.” Furthermore, the movie will encourage this new generation to read the books, which is better than playing video games any day.
FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING comes through as wonderful, exciting entertainment. It is a movie worthy of Christian support.
Below are some media-wise questions for children, including teenagers, and adults who see THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Please note that wisdom involves, in part, understanding the consequences of your actions. These questions are intended to promote wisdom. Please add questions which you find relevant for your child.
1. Why is a humble Hobbit rather than a powerful wizard chosen for this mission?
2. Why is it important that Gandalf says that we cannot change what has been, but “it is what we do with the days we have that matters?”
3. Why is it important that Frodo is told not to be so quick to “deal in death and judgment?”
4. Why is it important to reject the temptation of the ring’s power?
5. Why does Galadriel the Elf Queen reject the ring and say that she “passed the test?”
6. In what ways is selfishness rebuked in the movie?
7. How does the movie show the difference between right and wrong?
8. What happens when Pippin and Merry disobey?
9. How does the ring corrupt people?
10. Why does God want us to have a biblical attitude or a biblical worldview?
11. What is the good news in the story?
(BBB, CC, O, Pa, VVV, A, D, M) Strong moral worldview with redemptive Christian elements allegorically espousing the virtues of sacrifice, unity, kingdom purpose, loyalty, & perseverance; some might see occult elements with “magic” evil ring, elf queen with supernatural powers (but it is implied in other works that such powers are given to such beings by the Creator) & wizards use supernatural, telekinetic powers, which have been added to the movie but which are not in the original book; no foul language; strong violence includes lots of sword fighting combat, a man is ambushed & shot with arrows then floats in a creek, & creatures & monsters of all sorts are shot with arrows, skewered by spears, & hacked with axes & swords; no sex; no nudity; implied alcohol use in visit to tavern; mild pipe smoking; and, good overcomes evil plus oaths & spells spoken by wizards & other fantasy characters.
After a short prologue, part one of THE LORD OF THE RINGS opens in a village in the Shire in Middle Earth. A hobbit named Frodo, played by Elijah Wood, is a friendly, likeable chap who is thrust into an adventure not of his choosing. Gandalf, played magnificently by Ian McKellen, is a powerful wizard who helps him. Good-hearted Frodo must destroy an evil ring that has the power to unleash a hellish nightmare on relatively peaceful Middle Earth. Elves, hobbits, dwarfs, and humans must pull together in the face of monstrous odds to help Frodo complete his task.
Part One of THE LORD OF THE RINGS is a wonderful “epic” fantasy about good and evil with top-notch actors, storyline and special effects. The movie is clean, but there is plenty of sword-fighting violence that is, at times, a bit too strong for children. The movie also includes a brief occult element not in the book. Happily, however, the filmmakers have left in plenty of Christian author J. R. R. Tolkien’s biblical, allegorical references. Take your older children if they are mature enough to handle mystical creatures, scary monsters and sword fighting.