Monday, January 05, 2004

Kicking the Hobbit

Has there been a more well cast or better-adapted movie in the last couple of years than The Fellowship of the Ring? I've never read Tolkien, and I managed to make it through junior high having played Dungeons & Dragons only a handful of times, so I can stake no special claim as to what Middle Earth and its inhabitants should look like. But the first entry in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy sure seemed to get it right.

The production design is immaculate; the actors are all spot-on, each and every one of them; and Jackson paces his film nicely, so that its nearly three hours feel rather trim. Fellowship is a sweeping epic, cinematically gorgeous and benefiting from state-of-the-art effects, but its characters' humanity gives you something more substantial to root for besides the mayhem and destruction of the next big battle scene. As Shallow Center's Washington correspondent noted on the phone yesterday, George Lucas could learn a lesson here.

Then again, Jackson is working with some pretty good source material. (Or so I'm told.) Regardless, he deserves much, much credit for eliciting such sterling performances out of his diverse cast and for providing such a stunning visual outlet for Tolkien's vision. I'm eagerly awaiting a Netflix delivery of The Two Towers, and look forward to completing the trilogy by catching The Return of the King on the big screen, where pictures such as these should be seen.

Part II of last week's movie watching was a viewing of the breezy soccer picture Bend it Like Beckham. Pleasant if insubstantial, Beckham is less about European football, actually, than about teenagers' attempts to forge their own identities in life. Such an approach likely would have dragged the film down into After School Special territory if not for the considerable charms if its two leads, Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley. As Jess, the Indian girl whose hyper-traditional parents can't understand her fascination with sports, Nagra offers just the right mix of teenage rebellion and trying to please her folks, while the adorable Knightley, as her friend Jules, sprints through the movie with a lanky exuberance.

There are other, lesser issues -- a forbidden romance, misconceptions of lesbianism, teammates' jealousy -- and of course the whole thing is tied up in a ridiculously neat bow at the end, but that seems something like quibbling. Bend It Like Beckham has been rather overpraised -- a 2004 Golden Globe nomination for best musical/comedy, among other nods -- but it has a sweet, big heart and doesn't try to be something it's not. It is, in other words, the perfect rental.


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