This review includes full spoilers. Proceed accordingly. For other movie reviews from me, click HERE:
Dusty: I wish the blog had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Comment: So do all who live to chase subscribers. But that is nothing to worry about. All we have to decide is what to do to with the clicks that are given to us.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Fran Walsh (screenplay), Phillippa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay)
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies
Release Date: December 19, 2001 (United States)
Run time: 2 hour, 58 minutes
In the Second Age of Middle-earth, the lords of Elves, Dwarves, and Men are given Rings of Power. Unbeknownst to them, the Dark Lord Sauron forges the One Ring in Mount Doom, instilling into it a great part of his power, to dominate the other Rings and conquer Middle-earth. A final alliance of Men and Elves battles Sauron’s forces in Mordor. Isildur of Gondor severs Sauron’s finger and the Ring with it, thereby vanquishing Sauron and returning him to spirit form. With Sauron’s first defeat, the Third Age of Middle-earth begins. The Ring’s influence corrupts Isildur, who takes it for himself and is later killed by Orcs. The Ring is lost in a river for 2,500 years until it is found by Gollum, who owns it for over four and a half centuries. The ring abandons Gollum and it is subsequently found by a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who is unaware of its history.
Sixty years later, Bilbo celebrates his 111th birthday in the Shire, reuniting with his old friend, the wizard Gandalf the Grey. Bilbo departs the Shire for one last adventure, and he leaves his inheritance, including the Ring, to his nephew Frodo. Gandalf investigates the Ring, discovers its true nature, and learns that Gollum was captured and brutally tortured by Sauron’s Orcs, revealing two words during his interrogation: “Shire” and “Baggins.” Gandalf returns and warns Frodo to leave the Shire. As Frodo departs with his friend, gardener Samwise Gamgee, Gandalf rides to Isengard to meet with the wizard Saruman, but discovers his betrayal and alliance with Sauron, who has dispatched his nine undead Nazgûl servants to find Frodo.
Frodo and Sam are joined by fellow hobbits Merry and Pippin, and they evade the Nazgûl before arriving in Bree, where they are meant to meet Gandalf at the Inn of The Prancing Pony. However, Gandalf never arrives, having been taken prisoner by Saruman. The hobbits are then aided by a Ranger named Strider, who promises to escort them to Rivendell; however, they are ambushed by the Nazgûl on Weathertop, and their leader, the Witch-King, stabs Frodo with a Morgul blade. Arwen, an Elf and Strider’s beloved, locates Strider and rescues Frodo, summoning flood-waters that sweep the Nazgûl away. She takes him to Rivendell, where he is healed by the Elves. Frodo meets with Gandalf, who escaped Isengard on a Great Eagle. That night, Strider reunites with Arwen, and they affirm their love for each other.
Learning of Saruman’s betrayal from Gandalf and now realizing that they are facing threats from both Sauron and Saruman, Arwen’s father, Lord Elrond, decides against keeping the Ring in Rivendell. He holds a council of Elves, Men, and Dwarves, also attended by Frodo and Gandalf, that decides the Ring must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo volunteers to take the Ring, accompanied by Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Elf Legolas, Dwarf Gimli, Boromir of Gondor, and Strider—who is actually Aragorn, Isildur’s heir and the rightful King of Gondor. Bilbo, now living in Rivendell, gives Frodo his sword Sting, and a chainmail shirt made of mithril.
The Fellowship of the Ring makes for the Gap of Rohan, but discover it is being watched by Saruman’s spies. They instead set off over the mountain pass of Caradhras, but Saruman summons a storm that forces them to travel through the Mines of Moria, where a tentacled water beast blocks off the entrance with the Fellowship inside, giving them no choice but to journey to the exit on the other end. After finding the Dwarves of Moria dead, the Fellowship is attacked by Orcs and a cave troll. They hold them off but are confronted by Durin’s Bane: a Balrog residing within the mines. While the others escape, Gandalf fends off the Balrog and casts it into a vast chasm, but the Balrog drags Gandalf down into the darkness with him. The devastated Fellowship reaches Lothlórien, ruled by the Elf-queen Galadriel, who privately informs Frodo that only he can complete the quest and that one of the Fellowship will try to take the Ring. She also shows him a vision of the future in which Sauron succeeds in enslaving Middle-earth, including the Shire. Meanwhile, Saruman creates an army of Uruk-hai in Isengard to find and kill the Fellowship.
The Fellowship travels by river to Parth Galen. Frodo wanders off and is confronted by Boromir, who, as Lady Galadriel had warned, tries to take the Ring. Uruk-hai scouts then ambush the Fellowship; their leader, Lurtz, mortally wounds Boromir as he fails to stop them from capturing Merry and Pippin. Aragorn arrives and kills Lurtz before comforting Boromir as he dies, promising to help the people of Gondor in the coming conflict. Fearing the Ring will corrupt his friends, Frodo decides to travel to Mordor alone, but allows Sam to come along, recalling his promise to Gandalf to look after him. As Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli set out to rescue Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam make their way down the mountain pass of Emyn Muil, journeying on to Mordor.
I saw this film when it opened, at a midnight showing, in a mid-sized city in flyover country U.S.A. The theater was packed, the patrons were in costume, and the entire room smelled like… well, a group of sweaty costume-clad people in a confined space creates a memorable aroma. The Lord of the Rings films were an event when they arrived. Their viewing has turned into a tradition for many families when they gather for the holidays. The films also spawned almost their own language of memes.
I give that introduction to let you know that it’s difficult to review a film like this with fresh eyes. I have lived with Peter Jackson’s trilogy for more than two decades.
One thing that struck me on the re-watch is that despite its changes from the books, the movie was clearly made with love for the original source material. After acknowledging that to myself, I realized that the exact same film, made today, would likely have been met with fan anger over its numerous adaptation changes.
“Frodo is supposed to be much older!”
“The book version of Aragorn knows he is going to be the king!”
“Merry and Pippin are not supposed to be comic relief!”
You can argue that Peter Jackson’s successes with these films created impossible, self-defeating, fan expectations for other franchises that came after. Every other film franchise is chasing the proverbial dragon (with apologies to Smaug, may he rest in peace in his own films.) Nothing is ever good enough, nor will it ever be good enough again.
Further, popular culture has changed dramatically in two decades. It is likely that a present-day adaptation would have given audiences a more racially diverse cast, with much larger plot arcs for the female characters, whether or not those things were part of Tolkien’s source material. Failure to do so would elicit a media backlash during its production stage. The writers and director would likely have been forced to take a somewhat apologetic stance for the source material’s deficiencies, in those regards, and then their apologetic attitude would have soured, in turn, the hard-core fans of the source material. Adapting a beloved favorite is much more difficult now than it used to be, and it was always extraordinarily difficult.
With those thoughts tumbling through my mind, The Fellowship felt like a callback to a more culturally quiet time. People were grateful that the movie was made and comparatively much less energy was expended making demands of it.
The film continues to look beautifully shot, by modern standards, from beginning to end. The sets are gorgeous and the panoramic shots of New Zealand / Middle Earth set a standard that remains unbeaten. The Shire looks green and wonderfully earthy. Rivendell and Lothlórien, are wonderfully ethereal. In fact, the way that Jackson manages to create elves, in general, that look like ancient Immortal ethereal beings continues to be an achievement. The costuming is perfect and the special effects hold up very well. Howard Shore’s film score is its secret sauce that makes the trilogy work. The Irish whistle flute introduction, in “Concerning Hobbits,” lets you know that you’re going on a journey, and then the Celtic fiddle creates a feeling that you’re at home in your new surroundings. The music throughout the film is pitch perfect high fantasy, and exactly set the tone for a place where a wizard really might come calling, or cross country jogs might be in store.
The story is great. Frodo Baggins learns that he is the unwitting owner of something incredibly dangerous, The Ring of Power. He sets out from home with one companion, Sam, and then picks up seven more along the way, in the hope of being rid of this awful inheritance. The film has the pacing and tone of an extended chase, but it works, and it injects a lot of love, hope, and optimism in its slower moments. After three hours of introductions and actions, the film ends somewhat abruptly, with Frodo and Sam on their own again, and the Fellowship in total disarray.
The end of the film is, and always was, a bit disorienting. After nearly three hours, you are certainly glad to reach a stopping point. On the other hand, despite the runtime, the stopping point feels abrupt and unsatisfying, leaving you with a desire to press on and find out what happens next. That desire worked well at the time because it spurred a lot of anticipation for the sequel. It works less well today, though, except for the truly heroic.
The cast is excellent, particularly Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Sean Astin as the wholesome hero Samwise Gamgee. Viggo Mortensen is also excellent as Aragorn, with the right blend of ruggedness and charisma for the role, though he has more to do in the follow-up films than in The Fellowship. That is true for nearly the entire cast, though. In most respects, The Fellowship feels like an extended introduction, with the action beginning in earnest, in the next film.
I really enjoyed the re-watch and I look forward to a review of the rest of the trilogy.