Movie Review - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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Peter Jackson
New Line Cinema
for epic battle sequences and some scary images

I think I was about fourteen when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring. Some days that seems like a long time ago; some days it feels like just a little while. Back then, and for a couple of years afterward, I really loved it—the book, movie and mindset of The Lord of the Rings. The book was epic, the movie was epic, and the mindset was that Tolkien had been perfectly at liberty to toy with the universe God created. But I love different things now than I did when I was fourteen, and I have some different thoughts about what is or isn’t a good idea in epic fantasy.

I still don’t believe that The Lord of the Rings should be dismissed on account of the wizards, or because hobbits and elves don’t really exist. Hobbits, I don’t have a problem with. Dwarves, I don’t have a problem with. Elves… well, maybe a little problem there. Admittedly, I’m going a little deep with my critique of the worldview in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. While I’m not saying that this series is just another Harry Potter, and I’m not even saying you should never see the movie again, I would at least like to see if I can make my review of The Fellowship of the Ring unique from anyone else’s.

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks:
I could start by mentioning that there is more drinking in this movie than what goes on in the tavern scene. If your family holds the position that all consumption of alcohol is morally reprehensible, you might want to try tallying the references to ale, the pint mugs and the occurrences of slurring and staggering, if you decide to watch the movie again—likewise on the tobacco issue.

Sexual Content:

My attempt to be unique also fits well into this category. Strange, but no one else seems to have caught that there are unmarried couples dancing in this movie. Well, I’m not so much offended by that, either. Unmarried couples meeting alone at night, kissing, caressing? That really should make it into a conservative review. There are a couple of note-worthy necklines, too—low enough that the gentleman probably should not have touched that pendant of hers—the one hanging just above that neckline.

Violent and Intense Content:

I’m not so exceptional in my confidence that I could write an accurate list of the violence in The Fellowship of the Ring, because I took notes on all of it just like other reviewers have. I did not, however, see it all happen… this time around. Images stick, you know. When I would watch the movie in my early teens, I watched the entire thing—gore, hacking, beheading and all. It’s not that I’ve lost the stomach for it since then, and it’s not that I don’t think I could handle it. It’s just that at some point I noticed that being hardened to the violence and death in the movies is not conducive to innocence, femininity, compassion, a spirit of gentleness, or even godliness if it gets too far out of hand. I’ve learned since then that looking away for just those few seconds during the especially graphic parts (for instance, during the scene at the beginning, of the drowned man floating down the river with all the arrows sticking in him, or the one at the end when first the orc’s arm and then his head go flying through the air, leaving the rest of him behind… Images stick, you know) is wisest for me, even if I have seen them before.

All that about the gore, and I have to say that I think the emotional intensity is a bigger deal. There are parts of this movie that are meant to scare people. Black Riders are creepy things. They ride about at night on the kind of horses young girls don’t sigh over, generally accompanied by mist, moonlight and an eerie soundtrack, and they carry long swords. They trample gatekeepers to death and slash the heads off unsuspecting hobbits just as the camera cuts away.
In other scenes there are skeletons, sea monsters, and man-eating orcs. The chase scenes are more intense than the battles, although there are a couple of those, too, that might affect the spine more than they do the eyes. The death count is easy to ignore, but that’s strictly operator error. And, in case all this still seems like something you’d want to hand to children, I’ll just mention that it’s more intense when you’re actually watching it.

Before I get to the worldview that is pretty much unique to the genre, or even this particular film, a word needs to be said about the feminism. Before you even get past the prologue, a “ring of power” is given to a female elf, conferring on her the obligation to govern her entire race—including her husband, presumably. She lives with this husband in her realm, exercising her authority, and fancies herself “alone” because she is the one with the ring… and perhaps because her husband, poor thing, still has to go around asking questions—questions she doesn’t have to ask, because she can read people’s minds (more on that later).
The other elf maid we meet is more potentially dangerous, because she’s a lot less creepy. This fine lady rides about on the kind of horses young girls do sigh over—alone—in the wilderness—“for two days”. And the reason she’s been out riding under those circumstances is because the aforementioned Black Riders (long swords and all) are out there, too, trying to get the soldier she loves. Her playful taunt about catching her soldier off his guard, her claim to be the faster rider, her assurance that she has no fear of the bad guys, and her defiance when the bad guys finally catch up with her… None of it comes across like a “hear me roar” in the movie. With the long, flowing dress, it comes across a lot like a “let me have my cake and eat it, too.” But more on that in the next review… and the one after that.

You’ll have to humor me for the rest of this. Some of it is stuff I know everybody would catch, but I’m going to mention it anyhow; some of it is stuff about the magic, and I’m going to maybe go a little overboard with my critique, by some viewers’ standards; and the rest of it is about things like elves and evil, and I’m going to get close to overboard with that part, too. But—my review will be unique.

I’ll start with the simplest problems. Characters act according to what their heart tells them. The elf queen is a false prophetess. The music has New Age influences at times, as do a couple of lines (“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth,” etc.).
Then there is the magic. There are objects in the story that look rather like crystal balls, and they serve about the same purpose. There is a magic mirror, and there are magic spells. Perhaps in that world the God of creation has set up the order of things such that moths can take and send messages, and rivers can be called upon for help in time of need. Let all that be okay, if it can, but I still don’t quite like the mind reading, or the telepathy, in this world, that world, or any other. If this kind of long-distance communication had only been going on between creatures who were created with that ability, I might have been able to overlook it, but the elf queen was not created with it, and yet she got it somehow.
Concerning wizards, I don’t have too much to say, except that I, personally, am no more persuaded that they are angelic than that they are related to Harry Potter. Angels don’t get to lose their temper or make excuses and still be on the good side. Wizards in The Lord of the Rings do. Explain them another way, if you like; I don’t mind; but let’s not get so carried away with trying to account for fictional creatures that we end up distorting our doctrines concerning the real ones. The same thing applies to the “demons” in The Lord of the Rings. The fictional demons are the counterparts of animals; the real ones, of angels.

More significant, to me, than the nature of wizards, is the problem of the elves—and I do see it as a problem. I know, it’s only fiction, and it’s another world, after all, but just let me go a little deep for a moment. I have a few things to say, touching elves. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And, to expound upon that, “since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”*
Go along with me, for a moment. Here’s a syllogism: It is only a good thing to find God in The Lord of the Rings if that God is the true God. Jesus Christ is the true God. Therefore, it is only a good thing to find God in The Lord of the Rings if that God is Jesus Christ. Agreed? Take Jesus Christ out of The Lord of the Rings, and you leave a false god. So, we’ll say that Jesus Christ is in The Lord of the Rings. If he’s not, we have no more business enjoying it than we would Harry Potter, with or without the differences. God is just. He doesn’t let sin go unpunished. The wages of sin is death, right? (Right). Immortality and sin don’t mix. In order for these elves (in this fictional story about another world) to live forever, they would either have to never sin, or be forgiven their sin. They do sin, so we’re left with Plan B. The basis of the forgiveness they need? It would have to be Jesus Christ’s Atonement, right? (Right). Catch: Jesus Christ was not an elf, and unless the elves died in Adam, they can’t be made alive in the Second Adam. Yes, I know, The Lord of the Rings is just fiction and… it’s… just fiction. Tolkien wasn’t a Spirit-inspired writer, so if you want to circumvent his ideas on the subject, and say that elves are really just humans with terrific longevity, who (even if they are fictional) can enter paradise through Christ and Christ alone, I’ll go for that. Unfortunately, as I see it, you have to change one book or the Other, and I would really rather not start adapting spiritual realities like the sin/death link, and the necessity of the Atonement. That gets a little too close to theological error, even in that world.
The Black Riders, too, have managed to get a special, unbiblical status: “neither living nor dead,” as they say. Again, there are certain spiritual realities that just can’t be changed, even in fiction.

After what I’ve already said, I don’t suppose anyone’s shocked that I have something to say about the ring. The Lord of the Rings is supposed to be Satan, we understand. Very good. The problem is that his life-force is supposedly bound in this ring, into which “he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life.” All that, into an inanimate object. The next problem is that this ring isn’t exactly what you’d call inanimate. The other magic rings out there had unusual power, to be sure, such as the ability to communicate to the person wearing them things like “strength and will.” As mystic as that already was, we now have characters saying things like, “They are one—the ring and the Dark Lord.” “The ring has awoken. It has heard its master’s call.” “The ring is trying to get back to its master. It wants to be found.” “The ring yearns above all else to return to its master.” “The ring had a will of its own.” “But something happened the ring did not intend.” So… maybe the ring is Satan. Will, intentionality, waking up—are not characteristic of things. And in the Christian worldview, things don’t have a corrupting “power” like the ring apparently does. Like the telepathy, the personhood and power of the ring may be things that can be explained away with the other-worldliness of the story, but I’m afraid I’m too much fixed to the reality of this world to be entirely comfortable with them any more.

Okay, last objection. And it’s not even really an objection. It’s just an observation. I have noticed that there is an endeavor out there to find God in The Lord of the Rings (and I went through too much explanation about that in the elf paragraphs to say that he isn’t there now). I only want to caution readers and viewers not to get so caught up in finding God in The Lord of the Rings that they could find him just as easily in other fiction books like the Koran and the Book of Mormon. Pay attention to the attributes. Our God isn’t the only one who could be referred to as “other forces at work, besides the will of evil,” and “secret fire” isn’t a title he’s chosen in this world, anyway. Let’s just be very, very careful not to assign attributes to God that he doesn’t have, or take away the ones that he does, in order to accommodate our movie preferences.

It may surprise you, after all that, to learn that I am not going to say that you should never watch The Fellowship of the Ring again. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I will most likely never see it again, myself.

I don’t like giving up movies. I don’t like reviewing ten hours of epic story and wonderful special effects, knowing that when the credits roll, I’m finished with the movie quite possibly forever. But I don’t like feminism, either; and I don’t like the pagan idea that demon spirits can dwell in inanimate objects, and corrupt people from the outside in, whether they like it or not. I don’t like worldviews, men or gods that ignore Jesus Christ, whether in fiction or real life. I believe with all my heart that every one of us is commanded to reject all those things. I don’t know, though, about a universal command to reject The Lord of the Rings, because I don’t think that the bad elements necessarily overwhelm the movie to the point of making The Fellowship of the Ring a synonym for bad worldview. I will say this, though: don’t let your children watch this without previewing it first, and point out to them the areas that are unbiblical. The age I have in mind for the audience is around fifteen and up, and that isn’t necessarily taking into account factors like natural sensitivity to violence and intensity or the extra caution young women need to have (in my experience) in order to avoid desensitization or over-exposure.

Read the review, and then, if you can still do it after that, have a good time watching the movie.

* Romans 6:23 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

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