REVIEW: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Peter Jackson’s monumental trilogy based on J.R.R.Tolkien’s epic work of fiction began with ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. At the time of release, in 2001, I was relatively unfamiliar with ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or its mythology; I was very much into the ‘Harry Potter’ series instead. However, I remember the trailer really excited me. The film was released a month or so after ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, an adaptation that did not tickle my fancy. I found the approach to that film cheesy and old fashioned and I was looking for something much more grown up. Boy, did I find it.
‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ tells the story of Frodo Baggins after he inherits the One Ring; an all powerful ring with the power to destroy Middle Earth if it falls into the wrong hands. With the help of Gandalf the wizard and seven other companions, Frodo sets off on an epic, wondrous and dangerous journey that spans three films.
The film opens with the back story; a prologue that expertly tells the tale of how previous events had led up to where the film begins. It is a brilliantly constructed sequence, perfectly balancing between being informative to Tolkien non-experts whilst not being patronising to the more clued-up section of the audience. In fact, the story telling in this opening sequence is an illustration of how well the overall story is told.
Also the brief but spectacular battle sequence in this opening movement is indicative of the epic battles audiences experience later in the trilogy, battles for which the films are probably most famous for, but which aren’t really present in this entry to the trilogy. However, to overlook ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ would be a disservice to the expert storytelling, profound themes of friendship and corruption and magnificent special effects that support the story. This is a film that is dark, brooding and tells a story that feels both relevant and important. This is not airy-fairy childish fantasy; this is an epic war movie.
The performances are universally terrific, in particular, Sir Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood who play Gandalf and Frodo respectively. I should also mention Viggo Mortensen who plays the steely Aragorn; a performance that grows in parallel to the character’s development. The chemistry between the four hobbits, especially Frodo and Sam (Sean Austin) is absolutely key in the success of the film. Without this, the film would fall flat; we would not care as much about their fates nor the eventual profound love they have for each other. It is casting of the highest order and brilliant direction from Jackson that allows these friendships to develop.
The film’s length could bother some, but for me, there are few films that justify a length like this film does. I loved every single moment of this film and the running time only allowed me to revel in the glory of Jackson’s envisioned world for a perfect period of time. Tolkien fans have been quick to criticise the series of films for deviating too far from the original narrative. I would counter by saying this is a film, not the novel. It is an interpretation of the novel but is different and should be viewed as such. Does the film work on its own merits? Absolutely, and more importantly, it captures the spirit of the novel perfectly.
Of course there are slight flaws in the film; some of the CGI is starting to show it’s age. Thank goodness then that most of the film is shot on location (in the wonderful New Zealand) and the effects elevate the beautiful cinematography that has already exhibited so much magic. By shooting much of the movie on location, with nature’s own special effects providing the true beauty to the film, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ has stood the test of time.
Unlike many other franchises (The Hobbit trilogy being an example) this first instalment does not feel unfinished. The film feels complete; a rounded story in itself despite there being more to tell later on in the following films. The achievement of Peter Jackson’s movie is unprecedented. He, along with fellow writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, have produced a screenplay based on a seemingly unfilmable novel and unlike ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy, it is completely justified to split ‘The Lord of the Rings’ into three movies. The success of the film is heavily reliant on its massive beating heart at its core. The film is moving, exhilarating and intense; no other film has blown me away quite like ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ did. Jackson’s first feature in the mega trilogy is a resounding success and for me, and is one of the finest films ever made.
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Austin