December 14, 2001
It's Hotter Than
Potter, Say Critics
"It's hotter than Potter," declared the Mirror, of the Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, the first in the $650 million trilogy to hit the screens.
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone was expected to give the Rings movie a serious run for its considerable money, but other papers shared the Mirror's enthusiasm.
"The Rings lords it over poor Harry," said the Sun, while the Daily Express showbusiness correspondent warned: "Harry Potter, prepare to fall on your broomstick."
The Daily Mail's Christopher Tookey was similarly impressed: "Critics who gave five-star ratings to Chris Columbus' competent but uninspired Harry Potter movie are going to have to find 10 if they are to do justice to The Fellowship Of The Ring."
Even the conservative Times got into the act with: "Trilogy could become a hard hobbit to break".
The Times predicted Oscar nominations for Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, and Christopher Lee (Saruman), while the Daily Mail said the film should score Oscars for acting, directing and technical achievement.
The Sun even dared to suggest the film could top box office behemoth Star Wars.
Just as filmgoers have been talking about Star Wars for 25 years, it said, so would The Fellowship Of The Ring enter movie folklore.
A few, however, took an opposite view.
Phil Williams of BBC Five Live, predominantly a sports station, stuck his neck out on breakfast radio.
"It was three hours - the first two bored me rigid. It got going in hour three," Williams said.
"Full marks to the scenery and to the way that they've created this imaginary world. But it's for people who had imaginary friends when they were 13."
The Independent newspaper, too, was less than impressed. "As fable it's likely to satisfy only those who are easily satisfied: either children, or grown-ups who seek a refuge from the more ambiguous moral battles of life," wrote Thomas Sutcliffe.
Yet, given that this is a release timed to cash in during the Christmas holidays, their reviewer is perhaps overestimating the needs of the filmgoing public.
The release is timely, coming in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the war on terror. After all, J R R Tolkien wrote the books as many were still coming to terms with the horrors and upheavals of the Second World War.
On one point, all the critics were unanimous - that it looks truly magnificent.
And despite an unseemly fuss brewing in Britain over what exactly constitutes Tolkien country (rival counties lay claim to inspiring the author), the decision to shoot in New Zealand got the thumbs-up - even from that bastion of middle England, the Daily Mail.
"Here is landscape photography of grandeur and emotional resonance that we haven't witnessed in the cinema since John Ford revolutionised the western or David Lean took to the desert for Lawrence of Arabia," wrote Tookey.
On the BBC's breakfast news programme, presenter Jeremy Bowen waxed equally enthusiastic.
"One thing I predict is that New Zealand as a tourist destination will be very popular because the scenery is fantastic. It's hard sometimes to tell where the computer helps out and where it's natural."