“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
In my ongoing journey to review the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, there are a few things about the book that make this task a bit more difficult. One such issue is trilogies. In an attempt to squeeze in as many important films as possible, we see the Lord of the Rings and the Toy Story trilogies as one entry, one “film,” in the book. This is also the case for a few other multi-part films, actually making this task 1007 films long. This isn’t as catchy of a number, however, so we’ll stick with the notion that we’re working with 1001. All this really means is that I don’t get to check this film off the counter until I’ve reviewed the whole trilogy. If you’re just reading to see if I liked The Fellowship of the Ring, I apologize for this digression, and I’d like you to know that I liked the movie very much. If you were interested in the composition of the 1001 List, then I hope you found this interesting, and I hope to elicit some of your sympathy as I trudge my way through 12 hours of hobbits and monsters to check one movie off my list.
This being said, I suppose “trudge” isn’t the word for this movie. If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there’s no denying the fantastic feat which these movies accomplish. It’s one of the most ambitious projects of the 21st century in terms of adaptation, and director Peter Jackson builds a fantasy world that manages to satisfy hoards of devoted Tolkien fans while standing alone as a breathtaking piece of film. The visuals, the story, the artistic passion in every scene – this is a film that takes its source material and treats it with care and respect, maintaining the sense of wonder and adventure present in a story of this scale (which I have regretfully never read). Even watching the 4 hour extended edition, the only high quality version that the depths of the Internet would throw my way, I was impressed by the energy and pacing that the Fellowship of the Ring brings to the screen for the first in a beautiful sequence of films.
The visuals are likely the proper place to begin this discussion. Famously shot in beautiful New Zealand landscapes, every frame of the Fellowship of the Ring feels like a fantastic work of art. Just the mention of the film’s title conjures up images of the Shire, a lush green wonderland where Hobbits make their way through peaceful agrarian life. We also see snowy mountaintops, ominous cave systems, a wondrous Elven city, and various other bright, powerful locations that keep the screen brimming with color. There’s also the bleak, desolate fields of Mordor, of which we get a sufficient glimpse in the film. It looms over the story as the final challenge yet to come. The image of Sauron, the all-powerful antagonist, repeats itself throughout the film in the form of a horrendous orange eye, always watching our heroes as they make their way through the journey.
While we’re on the subject of heroes, the film seems to offer an exploration of what it means to be a hero. Frodo is unquestionably our central hero, a young Hobbit who takes on the burden of carrying the One Ring to be cast into the flames of Mordor to save the lands from the evil schemes of Sauron. He is played with a youthful, charming energy by Elijah Wood, and this energy is reflected in his Hobbit friends Merry, Pippin, and Samwise who join him on the journey. We’re also presented with a medley of other heroes who come in various forms. There’s the wise mystical figure Gandalf, the cunning Elven archer Legolas, and the rugged swordsman Aragorn, among several other leading figures. The various races coming together for a common goal is an inspiring image from the film, suggesting the epic scale of the quest itself. While their comradery isn’t too impressive at times, the combined efforts of the fellowship to complete their objective at any cost makes for a great adventure film. It’s a real treat to see the varying degrees of skill these characters possess in various fields, and the film seems to suggest that they’re all heroes regardless of how strong or smart they are. Where one hero falls short, another hero has their specialty, and it brings a really important dynamic to the fellowship that recurs frequently throughout the journey.
There are countless other elements to the Lord of the Rings universe that make this film special, both for fans of the franchise and common film-goers such as myself. The obsessive nature of the One Ring, which corrupts just about every character who comes near the thing, is a powerful plot device that certainly lays the groundwork for some strong conflict in future films. The impending subplot of Aragorn’s rightful place as king, despite his reluctance, also makes for an interesting narrative to follow. Fellowship of the Ring manages to keep its audience captivated with an unrelenting sense of adventure and wonder while also setting up important plot points for future films. The careful construction of the story is testament to the trust that Peter Jackson (among other screenwriters) had in Tolkien’s text. By allowing the story to blossom as it was originally written, with minor changes for screen adaptation, Jackson accomplishes the challenging task of making a written fantasy world feel epic on screen.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy demonstrates that Peter Jackson has certainly come a long way since Heavenly Creatures, and this is a set of films that will come to define his career. Fellowship of the Ring is an impressive jump start to the trilogy that introduces its audience to Middle Earth as Tolkien imagined it, and it provides a rush of fantasy and adventure that makes for an always entertaining film. I would say without hesitation that it’s one of the finest fantasy films ever made. This is the result of a strong creative talent putting trust in an equally strong source material. It’s a simple formula, but one that often gets muddled or tossed aside altogether when adapting treasured novels. The film is a product of love and attention from everyone involved, and the payoff is a wondrous piece of cinema. Expect more discussion of Middle Earth in the very near future.
Films Left to Watch: 925
(Again, since the films are one entry in the book, I won’t drop the film count until I make it through the trilogy. Please forward all complaints to the book’s editor, Jay Schneider.)