Wednesday, February 22, 2012

100 Movies - No. 54: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

54. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, 208 minutes (Extended Edition)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan and Elijah Wood

The Lord of the Rings book trilogy has sold an estimated 150 million copies and Peter Jackson's films have raked in a further $3 Billion worldwide. Add in the home media revenue and it's clear that people care about The Lord of the Rings.

It's an epic story which focuses more on the setting than anything else. Tolkien created a world, a language, and then populated the world with countless characters both good and evil. It's essentially the story of a journey to destroy an evil ring, but it includes themes such as love, friendship, loyalty, and belief. It's not my favorite series of books, but it's one that I am glad I own. It's unlikely that a work of fiction will ever have a bigger impact on the way stories are told. This is a series that changed how we perceive fantasy stories.

Imagine being given the task of adapting such a beloved story for the big screen. It's impossible to please everyone when something has such a devoted following. There's also the problem of time. How can you adapt a story told on over 1,000 pages into a coherent film? The sheer scale of the story is daunting. Thousands of extras would be needed to create realistic battle sequences and some of the settings would have to be created by hand. The use of CGI makes a lot of things possible, but Jackson faced an enormous task.

So how did Jackson fare?

The end result is impressive and pleasing, but is not without a few flaws. Purists hate the fact that Tom Bombadil does not appear in the films. Other beloved sequences were either left out or altered, and the sequence of events was changed to fit the needs of the film trilogy.

The setting is just about perfect. New Zealand was an excellent choice and the opening scenes showing Hobbiton set the mood for the first part of the trilogy. We spend almost an hour in the Shire and it helps us realize what's at stake. The sets throughout the story are convincing and fit the overall mood.

The music is powerful too, and the film just wouldn't have the same impact without it.

There are a few things I didn't like, but that's down to personal preference rather than any kind of error:

I would have liked more dialogue and characterization so that I came away knowing these characters intimately. Instead, the emphasis is placed on battle sequences. That makes for a great spectacle, but, for me, it's not the most interesting part of the story.

I respect what was done to make the battles convincing, and the epic scale, but the story should have focused more on the journey. To be fair, it did succeed in that aspect with Frodo and Sam.

My third minor complaint is that the Orcs and the hobbits came across as a little too comical. I understand that hobbits are supposed to love life, but there were a few too many jokes. The same was true for Gimli.

But, despite those quibbles, I think Jackson achieved something remarkable. It's unlikely that we will ever see a better version because of the work involved, and I don't think we need one. I did feel as though I had entered Middle Earth and it was much as I imagined it.

The acting ranged from good to great. My favorite performances came from Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn and Ian McKellen as Gandalf, but there were so many noteworthy performances from the wonderful cast.

This first part of the trilogy is my favorite because it focuses more on story and characterization than the other two parts. It gives us our first glimpse of Tolkien's world. It's quite a commitment to watch all three extended versions of the trilogy. You'll need to set aside around 12 hours to see the whole trilogy, and that's not counting the special features.

I recommend Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring because it's a timeless story told on an epic scale. The time and effort that went into making it was not wasted and it deserves your attention.

If you like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:

The most obvious recommendations are the remaining parts of the trilogy; The Two Towers and Return of the King. The latter scooped 11 Oscars, bringing the total for the trilogy to 17. Peter Jackson is currently working on two Hobbit films: An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again, and many of the cast from Lord of the Rings will return. Expect the first installment to hit theaters in December, 2012.

Other fantasy series of note are Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. Although the Harry Potter movies are not as serious as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, they are a lot of fun and one of my guilty pleasures. The first Narnia movie was very good, but the second and third entries are gradually getting worse. I can't really endorse those as much as I would have expected after seeing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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  1. Nice review! I remember when I watched this at the theater! The first film in the trilogy is my favorite as well.

  2. Yes, it's actually quite painful sitting still that long in a theater. I think I prefer it at home.