Video of the Week: 'Lord of the Rings'

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent
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LOS ANGELES, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- A century ago, fueled by Richard Wagner's operas, Northern European mythology was world conquering in high culture. Then, Germany literally tried to conquer the world. Following Hitler's Gotterdammerung, Teutonic and Nordic themes slowly disappeared from contemporary prestige culture.

Yet, these time-tested Northern myths still appeal broadly, especially to shy and obsessive young men. So, they've kept popping up in what were for decades the hinterlands of entertainment, but are now becoming the mainstream of popular culture: comic books, computer gaming, electric guitar rock, and, most of all, in Oxford scholar J.R.R. Tolkien's extraordinary "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.


On Tuesday, "The Fellowship of the Ring," the splendid first installment of director Peter Jackson's three-part "Lord of the Rings" films, will be released on a two-disc DVD set for a $29.99 list price, for which you also get a wide selection of movie-related features. On VHS tape, it goes for $22.94 list.


"Lord of the Rings" fanatics will want to bear in mind that on Nov. 12 a pompously entitled "Platinum Series Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set" will be released for $79.99. This four-disc DVD box will include a half-hour longer version of the film, plus even more featurettes. The extended version of the film will also be released on VHS on that date for a mere $24.99.

"The Fellowship" was nominated for 13 Academy Awards (only one short of the record number), and won four well-deserved Oscars for visual effects, makeup, Howard Shore's superb musical score, and Andrew Lesnie's cinematography.

And if there had been an Oscar for best location, New Zealand no doubt would have won it. The former British colony's very English rural valleys stood in beautifully for the Hobbits' Shire during the bucolic opening sequence, while New Zealand's Southern Alps and other dramatic landscapes provided perfect backdrops for the sturm und drang of the rest of the movie.

"The Fellowship" earned $313 million at the domestic box office, finishing just behind "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" ($318 million) in the race for 2001's top moneymaker.

Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien works well as a paranoid allegory about how Northern European man has so often been tempted to use his mastery of technology for conquest. He delivers a brutal sword and sorcery action epic.


Overall, the film deserves its raves, but let me suggest a few caveats for balance.

"Rings" is definitely not for everybody. For adults who have gone their entire lives without becoming fascinated by this hugely complicated alternative universe, three hours of battles mixed with complex exposition can make for a grueling experience.

This is especially true because there's not much of a plot payoff at the abrupt ending. There's obviously six more hours to go in the story.

Some of the popularity of this version is due to Jackson stripping away much of Tolkien's gentle proto-hippie side -- back in 1976 I used to buy organic sprout sandwiches at a ramshackle restaurant in Houston called the "Hobbit Hole" -- leaving merely the fights and adventures.

Hippies are vastly out of fashion these days, but the movie covers up Tolkien's large influence on the '60s. "After reading Tolkien, I knew I had to move to the country," said Robert Plant, singer and lyricist for Led Zeppelin.

Indeed, Zeppelin's overtly Tolkien-influenced 1969 tune "Ramble On" -- the song with the references to "Gollum" and "the darkest depth of Mordor" -- seems more true to Tolkien with its alteration of medieval English folk verses and slashing heavy metal guitar choruses.


In contrast, Jackson's heart doesn't seem to be in the pastoral opening in the Shire. The movie never really gets going until it turns ferocious.

Finally, the film is far too intense and violent for small children. It's rated PG-13. There's absolutely nothing vulgar about it, but parents should take this rating seriously.

My 9-year-old had been looking forward to the movie. He had just finished reading Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and was part way through reading "The Fellowship of the Ring." Unfortunately, the film disturbed him so much that he's never picked up the book again.

That said, the fact that this admirable movie has the same PG-13 rating as Vin Diesel's upcoming "XXX" or Mike Myers' "Austin Powers" trilogy suggests there is something seriously wrong with the rating system.

Perhaps PG-13 should be reserved for honorable movies like this one or "K-19: The Widowmaker" that are simply too strong for many pre-pubescent children. Meanwhile, a new R-13 rating could be created for tawdry films that intentionally skirt the financially damaging R rating.

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