I think it’s safe to say that The Lord of the Rings is easily one of the most important trilogies of my generation. While the baby-boomer had the original Star Wars trilogy, us early 90’s kids had The Lord of the Rings. True, The Phantom Menace came out a few years before The Fellowship of the Ring, but even as a child something about Episode I rang hollow to me. It wasn’t until 2001 when I, a scrawny nine year old child, sat down at my local theater to watch what would turn out to be one of the most awe-inspiring films of my short life. I vividly remember holding back the incessant urge to pee, and the pain of my numbing butt, in order to continue watching the three hours of pure epicness unfolding before me. I remember fervently waiting all year for the next Lord of the Rings to come out, constantly imagining what was going to happen next. The entire series captured my imagination like nothing ever had before, to the point where I couldn’t get enough Lord of the Rings – I bought all the videogames, all the Legos, and constantly daydreamed about adventures in Middle-Earth with Aragorn and Gandalf, killing Orcs and Uruk-hai. For years, almost all I could think about was Lord of the Rings and Middle-Earth. More than anything, however, I remember tearing up as the credits began to roll in The Return of the King, as I finally came to the realization that The Lord of the Rings was over.
So, as you might imagine, I was ecstatic to hear that Peter Jackson was returning to Middle-Earth for The Hobbit. The idea of more Middle-Earth and more Gandalf was exciting enough, but the fact that I was finally going to be able to see Bilbo’s grand adventure on the big screen made me feel like that nine year old child all over again. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to revisit one of my favorite trilogies of all time in preparation for The Hobbit. For the next week or so, I am going to re-watch all three of The Lord of the Rings films and see if they’re as amazing as I remember, or if I am simply fond of them due to my nostalgia for my childhood. I’m not necessarily going to review each film, but rather discuss how the films hold up today over a decade later.
First up: The Fellowship of the Ring
While I always loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety, I continuously placed The Fellowship of the Ring as my least favorite of the series. While it was a perfect introduction to Middle-Earth and the story of Frodo and the ring, the film lacked the grand, epic battles that were prevalent in the latter two films, and for a pre-teen boy nothing was better than battle scenes. So it was to my surprise just how much I adored the film on my re-watch and how many classic scenes the film contained.
When I initially started the film last night, I was a bit skeptical, worried, and apprehensive that I had constructed this aura around these films that nothing could ever match; that I was simply setting myself up for disappointment and was going to ruin many happy childhood memories of adventures in Middle-Earth. So I am happy to declare that my trepidation was unnecessary, because The Fellowship of the Ring is just as fantastic as its ever been, if not even better.
As a child, I was a huge fan of fantasy as a genre, I loved epic quests to save the world, with badasses wielding swords and bows & arrows, and the all-powerful wizard guiding the unlikely hero on his journey to fulfill his destiny. So it was no surprise that I loved Lord of the Rings as a child, as it is high-fantasy at its best and most original. However, I was never able to truly appreciate the filmmaking craft and time that went into this ambitious series. I simply took the films at face value, and only absorbed the story. Now, however, as a twenty year old on the precipice of adulthood, I’m truly able to appreciate the unbelievable amount of dedication, hard work, and pure genius that it took to craft these films.
Peter Jackson is simply brilliant. He took one of the most beloved series of books and translated its entire world and lore onto the big screen. The task of designing and building an entire fantasy world must have been extremely daunting, but Jackson somehow managed to pull it off. You can feel the love and care that Jackson and his team put into every little part of the movie, from the designs of the swords and armor to the prosthetic hobbit feet, the fantastic set designs of places like The Shire and Rivendale, and more. Everything in this film feels real, even when it’s something as unbelievable as a creature like an Orc. A big part of this is the fact that Jackson felt confident enough in the team he assembled to rely primarily on practical effects. While CGI was still relatively new at the time, many lesser directors would have used an abundance of CGI as a crutch. However, Jackson seems to understand that the CGI route wouldn’t have done the source material justice, that the world needed to feel grounded in reality rather than computer images, so he chose the more difficult path with practical effects, and the decision paid off in spades. The makeup and effects are simply amazing, with a particular standout being the monstrous Uruk-hai, who were just as threatening and menacing today as they were a decade ago. It’s astounding the amount of time and dedication it must have taken to simply design the thousand different aspects of this magical world. It’s apparent on screen the amount of effort and care Jackson and his crew put into building this world and that’s not even mentioning the actual filmmaking.
Another aspect of the film I didn’t appreciate enough as a kid was the cinematography by Andrew Lesnie. Again, as a child I took things at face value so I wasn’t really able to understand the different aspects of a film, like lighting and camera movement. However, now that I am (somewhat) more educated I was able to grasp just how incredible the cinematography is in The Fellowship of the Ring. The way that Lesnie and Jackson use the camera’s perspective to make the actors playing the hobbits appear shorter than the men is brilliant and completely fluid. While I noticed a few oddities in the beginning, by the end of the film I stopped noticing the ways they trick the audience with the camera. Also the lighting in the film is breathtaking, with Lesnie’s ability shinning in both the merry and light-hearted Shire scenes and the more horrific and frightening Mines of Moria scenes. It’s amazing how quickly the lighting shifts from scene to scene and location to location, but it consistently remains fantastic.
Now enough about the technical side, lets explore how the story stood up to the test of time. The answer is a resounding yes. The story of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring is a timeless one that is still relevant and emotionally resonant. There are countless classic movie moments contained within this one epic three-hour story, including the initial meeting at Rivendale, Boromir’s death, and the entirety of the Mines of Moria. There were more than a few times throughout the film that I audibly proclaimed, “Oh this is a great scene!” or “This is easily the best scene, wait no! This is the best scene!” While the story may seem too straightforward compared to the more complex and mature fantasy of today, the simple story of good vs. evil and our struggles to overcome our own faults still resonates today. No matter what decade your in, the struggle between light and dark, and good and evil, will always be relevant because humans are constantly stuck in this struggle. The story is a fantastic metaphor for the power and corruptibility of the human soul, but also our ability to overcome the “evil” aspects of ourselves, and Jackson translates this onto the big screen beautifully, with the help of some truly gifted actors.
I simply do not understand how I never recognized the brilliance that is Ian McKellan as Gandalf. McKellan was born for this role, and he plays Gandalf with a so much nuance and grace that I finally understand why he was nominated for the role. He can instantly go from the kind, wise old man, to a frighteningly powerful and dominant wizard. His fight against the Balrog and his apparent death is one of the best scenes in the movie, as he is able to convey both awe-inspiring power and great sadness at his knowledge of the necessity of his sacrifice. Meanwhile, Sean Bean almost matches McKellan for the best performance of the film, as he fantastically makes you like the conflicted and sometimes spiteful Boromir. Boromir could have easily been perceived as a power-hungry and selfish character, but Bean manages to perfectly convey the desperation and pressure that Boromir has to deal with. He’s extremely conflicted because the ring tempts him, but he’s trying his best to fight off these evil thoughts. I remember as a child, his death didn’t affect me much, as I was too young to pick up on the nuances of his character, but on this viewing, his death was one of the most powerful scenes. He was simply trying to do what he thought was best, and he had one major slip up that he immediately regretted and it ended up costing him his life. This time I realized how tragic of a character he is and how great Sean Bean played him. He will be sorely missed in the next two films, but at least Ian McKellan will be back.
However, not all the performances are up to the standard of McKellan and Bean. Even as a child, I always found Orlando Bloom to be a terrible actor. While he’s been in great films like Lord of the Rings and the original Pirates of the Caribbean, I always found him wooden and unlikeable. So it was unsurprising that my opinion of him hasn’t changed a bit after re-watching Fellowship of the Ring. It’s disappointing because Legolas is such a badass character with easily one of the biggest body counts of the entire series, and while Bloom does a good job with the physicality of the action scenes, every time he opens his mouth I couldn’t help but cringe. It seems that he is incapable of showing emotion, which was particularly frustrating in the post-Gandalf death scene where everyone is reacting to the loss of his or her paternal mentor. Every other actor really sells the grief of loosing his or her good friend, but I kept getting distracted by the stupid look on Legolas’ face.
Besides that one cravat, I am extremely happy with my re-watch of The Fellowship of the Ring. I was nervous that I was too nostalgic for the films and they wouldn’t live up to my preconceived opinions, but thankfully that wasn’t the case at all. The Fellowship of the Ring is a fantastic film that has easily stood the test of time. Peter Jackson did the impossible and translated J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic story into a wonderful first film. Now onto The Two Towers!
Article by James Hausman