Saturday, August 31, 2013

#1,111. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Directed By: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

Tag line: "Its power corrupts all who desire it. Only one has the will to resist it"

Trivia: In August 2002 the DVD/ video release of this film set a UK record when it chalked up sales of 2.4 million

When it was first announced that Peter Jackson was bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to the big screen, I admit I had my doubts. I remember discussing it with a co-worker of mine, who was as amazed as I was that the director was going to turn Tolkien’s classic tale into a live-action film. We agreed the story was far too intricate, too epic in scope and imagination to be anything other than an animated movie (like Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 version). Simply put, we both assumed Peter Jackson had lost his mind.

Obviously, we didn’t know what we were talking about. By way of some of the most advanced CGI available at the time, Jackson created a series of movies that went beyond anything I had seen before. The Fellowship of the Ring was truly an eye-opening experience.

Based on the 1st book in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring kicks off with the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) preparing to attend a 111th birthday celebration for his beloved uncle, Bilbo (Ian Holm). Hobbits from all around the Shire will be there, as will Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellan), a powerful Wizard and an old friend of Bilbo’s. At the party, Bilbo makes a surprise announcement: he’s leaving the Shire, and heading out into the world to bring a little adventure to his life. It’s then that Gandalf realizes Bilbo has in his possession a very dangerous ring, forged in the fires of Mount Doom by the evil Lord Sauron. This ring, which gives its bearer the power of invisibility, has a mind of its own, and as long as it exists, so does Sauron himself, which puts the whole of Middle Earth in peril. Bilbo, who’s under the ring’s spell, doesn’t want to give it up, but reluctantly agrees, leaving it behind before setting off. Soon after, young Frodo learns the truth about the ring from Gandalf, including the fact that the Shire itself is in great danger as long as it remains there.

Joined by his good friend, Samwise (Sean Astin) and two other Hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippen (Billy Boyd), Frodo leaves the shire and, under the protection of the mysterious Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), faces off against some of Sauron’s agents. Despite the danger lurking around every corner, the group eventually makes its way to Rivendell, the home of the elves, where a fellowship is assembled consisting of the Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Aragorn (whose actually the descendant of a king), another human named Boromir (Sean Bean), and Gandalf, all of whom vow to ensure that the ring is dropped into the fires of Mount Doom and destroyed. To everyone’s surprise, Frodo also volunteers to accompany them, taking on the all-important task of carrying the ring. With the other Hobbits also in tow, this fellowship of nine sets off to complete their mission, knowing full well that failure will result in the end of civilization as they know it.

Let’s see… where to begin? Well, for starters, the entire cast of The Fellowship of the Ring does an amazing job. Elijah Wood is superb as Frodo, conveying all the fear and confusion his poor Hobbit feels when he’s swept up into something much bigger than he ever imagined. As his close friend and sidekick, Samwise, Sean Astin is flawless, as is everyone else in the cast (the effect of taking 6-ft tall actor John Rhys-Davies and, by way of CGI and cinematic trickery, transforming him into a dwarf standing about 4 feet tall was a gimmick that worked to perfection). The standout performance, however, is delivered by Sir Ian McKellan as the wise and battle-ready wizard, Gandalf. The perfect embodiment of one of the book’s most fascinating characters, McKellan is simply awesome in the part. The Fellowship of the Ring also looks great; the opening scene, where Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel narrates the history of the ring, is breathtaking (the first time I saw this, my jaw just about hit the floor). Along with its excellent characters and top-notch story (which, in all honesty, have as much to do with J.R.R. Tolkien as anyone else), the film also has its share of exceptional scenes, the best being the sequence set in Moria, the underground city of the dwarfs, where the Fellowship goes up against thousands of Orcs and one very pissed-off Balrog. Featuring plenty of action and a moment or two of high drama, it’s not only my favorite sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring, it's the best in the entire series.

Like many fans, my initial viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring had me chomping at the bit for the next installment, and I was none too happy that I had to wait 12 months to see it (All 3 films were initially released a year apart from each other). And even though both sequels, The Two Towers and Return of the King, are just as impressive, The Fellowship of the Ring will always be my favorite of the series. More than an extraordinary movie, it opened my eyes to what was possible, and this alone made it a film, and an experience, I will never forget.

1 comment:

Anthony Lee Collins said...

This was indeed exciting when it came out. Like you, I had my doubts, but it was amazing.

That being said, my favorite of the trilogy is The Two Towers. The Battle of Helms Deep is my favorite sequence, partly because it shows Jackson's greatest strength, which is not the battles but the quiet moments before and after and during the battles.

One thing about The Fellowship, though, which is that I'm acrophobic, and the scenes in the mines of Moria made me want to hide under my seat. I do feel sorry for people who never got to see these movies in a theater. It was a tradition for my then-girlfriend and I to see each one on New Year's Day.

But my objection (in some ways my only objection to the entire series) is that Jackson obviously doesn't love the Shire as Tolkien did. The buffoonery of the hobbits at the beginning is overdone, IMHO. And, Jackson's lack of appreciation is why he didn't realize that The Scouring of the Shire is absolutely essential to the story. Eliminate Tom Bombadil, fine, but not the Scouring.

Anyway, one minor complaint about a great achievement. And (heresy to some, I know), some of the changes he made are actually improvements.

Damn, now I need to watch the whole thing again. :-)