The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

the-lord-of-the-rings-fellowship-of-the-ringsStarring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


The Lord of the Rings films are the high-water mark for modern fantasy filmmaking. Even now, 12 years on from its initial release, nothing has come close to capturing a world filled with elves, dwarves and magic quite like Peter Jackson did with his adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien work. When I first saw this film back in 2001, I remember thinking that Jackson had opened the floodgates for the studios to green-light tons of thrilling high fantasy screen adventures, similar to how X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man were the jumping off point for the modern explosion of superhero films around the same time.

But someone must have stood at those open gates and yelled, “You shall not pass!” because it never happened. The teen fantasy genre definitely caught fire, but that’s probably more a result of Harry Potter than anything Lord of the Rings did. My only real guess as to why this cinema revolution never happened is that from a production standpoint, the enterprise of producing Lord of the Rings was insane. Green-lighting a genre director with no mainstream hits to adapt one of the most well-known books of all-time, filming an entire trilogy simultaneously with no guarantee that they’ll make even a shred of their budget back at the box office? Those aren’t the kinds of risks that studios like to play with, thus keeping the high fantasy film revolution at bay.

fellowshipofthering_1Another reason is Peter Jackson himself. Jackson spearheaded the production of Lord of the Rings, driving it forward with his passion for the material. This wasn’t your average Hollywood director-for-hire nonsense, Jackson was asking studios to let him adapt the book. Without someone with that level of passion behind every fantasy film to be, they have failed to materialize in any real way. There are definitely films that tried to capitalize on this one’s success — there’s no way In the Name of the King would’ve been made without it — but without that passion, they failed to resonate with audiences.

The attention to detail is also stunning, done to such a high degree that I’m sure it gave many Hollywood executives nightmares akin to Frodo’s visions of the Eye of Sauron. Actually constructing chain mail for every soldier on-screen, and forging real swords? Unheard of! But somehow Jackson was able to achieve all of this while also completing all three films at a budget of around $280 million. Even considering the inflation that has caused The Hobbit trilogy to cost roughly $580 million, I think fantasy fans would love to see studios give it their best to create more fantasy films in a similar style to Jackson’s highly detailed epics. I’m sure we can all do without a Lone Ranger here and a Pirates of the Caribbean 46 there in order to see something that’s never been truly explored in film (or at least explored to the depths that it could be). But I suppose it all comes back to finding someone with a passion for the material that the studio is also willing to invest in.

While Jackson was integral to the success of the film, in a lot of ways Lord of the Rings represents a completely new Peter Jackson than had been seen before. There are shreds of his former style evidenced throughout the film, from his ever-flowing, dynamic Steadicam work to his penchant for creepy, grotesque character designs, but for the most part this is Peter Jackson ditching a lot of his up-to-this-point trademark on-screen manic energy. That’s not to say that he forgets everything he learned, but that he showcases talents and strengths on Lord of the Rings that very few — even his most hardened fans — could have predicted. His previous frenetic style is muted on purpose, making appearances when required, in an attempt to capture the tone necessary for a believable yet fun Lord of the Rings film.

fellowshipofthering_3Purists might balk at some of its changes from the source material, but this is honestly about as good of an adaptation as you could ever hope to get. Just think — the first deal Peter Jackson got was only for one film! From the whole book! Can you imagine? That’s what you call “Setting things up to fail,” but thankfully we didn’t have to watch the crash and burn of Lord of the Rings, we instead got to bask in its sword-swingin’, orc-bashin’, ring-bearin’ glory. The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the greatest fantasy films of all-time.

12 comments to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

  • Yup, this truly is a great film – one of three great films in this trilogy. I found Fellowship a more intimate film over the trilogy, due mainly I think to the singular narrative on which it all hangs; the following films had divergent story arcs to cover, which I think (and this is just my opinion) reduced audience investment overall, whereas Fellowship’s focus is maintained almost throughout its entirety. I remember being gobsmacked by the Moria sequence, thinking of just how awesome the battles and epic scope of Helms Deep and Return of The King’s Minas Tirith battle was going to be, given what had just transpired. Thankfully we can watch all three films in succession without the painful year-long gap!

    • You’re right, this one is more intimate and linear. The other ones expect you to carry that investment over to the next film, thus allowing for more “cool stuff” room. Which is how they should be, although I’ve definitely heard the criticism that they are too divergent and unfocused. I love how each story flows naturally into the next, giving us a series of cliffhangers that takes us through the movie. Fellowship does this too, but in a much more limited sense. I’ve also seen this one the most (because what else was I to do during those one-year gaps?), so I’m incredibly familiar with all the beats and edits.

      Where do you fall in the Theatrical vs. Extended discussion? I always preferred the Theatrical cuts because they’re so well-paced. The extended cuts ruin that, and while it’s awesome to see new scenes and those DVD are incredible, I think the pacing is more important to me if I’m going to sit down and watch them all. Having said that, I might decide to re-watch the extended versions in preparation for The Hobbit 3: With a Vengeance. Don’t know that my relationship can handle that much LOTR, though. My girlfriend isn’t too keen on any of this fantasy nonsense. :)

      And yes! to being amazed at Moria! To me that’s where Fellowship becomes truly awesome, and it’s always been my favorite sequence. When the movies were coming out I was reading the book along with their release. So I finished Fellowship in time to see the movie, then over the next year I read Two Towers and then saw the movie, and so on. So I didn’t have that same experience of knowing what was coming in the future films, but I can imagine the feeling. Jackson did the book proud, no matter what lots of book snobs say!

      • I tend to favor the Extended versions over the Theatrical – especiallys Two Towers and ROTK, since it allows for more development (good and bad) of the characters, embellishing them a little more; it’s like marinating meat before cooking – if you only give meat a short time to marinate, the flavor isn’t as pronounced as if you’d soaked it overnight. I think LOTR is one of the few films to actually benefit from the Extended Edition idea, in that it gives the films breathing space that works FOR the narrative, especially considering the scope and breadth of Tolkien’s works. I agree, the pacing of the Theatricals is definitely better, and I can see how some casual fans might baulk at the thunderous running time the EE’s produce, but I’m willing to forgive some dead weight if the overall impact is increased. And I think all three films are better in the EE versions overall. Guess it’s a matter of taste and opinion. The guy I work with fell asleep duing Fellowship the first (only) time he saw it, so I guess he’s not really the target audience.

        I haven’t seen these films in a few years now, I really do think it’s time I revisited them before Hobbit 2: Hobbitting Harder comes out in December.

        • I love that they exist, and I think Peter Jackson’s dedication to his fans in this way is second to none (although he does need to get moving on the promised special editions of his early films!). I agree with your reasoning, but I just have a hard time letting go of that idea of pacing. I remember enjoying the extended Two Towers quite a bit, but at four hours that ROTK extended is a little much for even me to take in one sitting. I will give them another go next year I think, though.

        • Stephen

          I think I might have liked the extended scenes better if they were made as a deleted scenes section instead of just inserted into the film. I guess the trend now is to insert all those deleted scenes for the director’s cut, but I like it better when I get them separated. That way you still get the original presentation and still see what else was there.

          I suppose the perfect release would have switchable theatrical and extended editions, and then have the deleted scenes accessible individually from the menu. (I think the Alien blurays did that) I don’t think that’s really possible with LOTR, but it would have been nice.

          • Yeah for most movies I agree with you. I don’t like the trend to create new versions of things. These are something a bit different, as lots of FX work and post-production was done on the extra scenes specifically for the extended releases, so they aren’t exactly “deleted scenes” in the traditional sense. And as far as I remember all the scenes are accessible via their own chapters on the DVD, and the booklet points out which scenes are new or extended. Bit of a chore, but they are watchable separately. I also remember there being additional deleted scenes not inserted into the movie on the extended DVDs, and I’m pretty sure there’s even more still in the vaults. The key for me is that they’re called “extended” because they are essentially supplemental material, and in that regard I’m happy that they went to such trouble to create an entirely new version of the film for those fans who want to explore the films in a different way.

            There was a DVD release a couple of years ago that had theatrical and extended on the same dvd, and with blu-ray it’d be easily possible. Unfortunately, they’re going to milk it, so don’t expect that version to come to blu-ray anytime soon. I should also note that I’m watching these films via my original DVDs that came out as the movies did, and they look perfectly fine.

  • Stephen

    I have to make a confession that I’ve only seen this trilogy once, in theaters. I tried watching the extended edition and got bored out of my skull in the first half hour. I really should hunt down the theatrical release some day since I enjoyed them just fine in theaters. Maybe get a lovely blu ray release in HD.

    I also agree that it is a good adaptation of the books. I found the book to be far too cumbersome to actually enjoy, so I have to give credit for these films making the story fun. I suppose that’s blasphemy, but too bad; I don’t care.

    • Hahaha, no worries about being blasphemous… blaspheme away! The book is ridiculously dense and I’m more surprised when someone makes it through it than when they decide not to finish it. I’ve always held the belief that Tolkien is a great storyteller, but not a great writer, and that he needed someone like Jackson to wrangle the work into something more digestible. That being said, the book is incredible if you can steel yourself enough to make it through, but it definitely takes work.

      I’m with you on the extended editions in principle. They’re of little use outside of an interesting exercise in seeing what might have been. The true extended editions that I’d love to see (but never will), would be a version where Jackson was able to film all the great stuff they needed to cut out to tighten up the journey. I think at some level it would ruin the films and what was accomplished in this trilogy, but I’d definitely be interested in seeing them. Our mutual friend who hates these movies has only ever seen the Extended Editions. I always urged him to watch the Theatrical because without seeing those it’s almost like watching a total rough cut without any sense of pacing. Jackson’s “director’s cuts” are the theatrical editions.

      • I always struggle getting through Return of The King in book form. It’s the most archaic style of writing, and honestly it turns my brain to mush. At least the film has giant elephants, orcs, trebuchets and ghost warriors in it.

        • Hahaha, yeah the book has those things too but they’re buried amidst the text. The Council of Elrond chapter in Fellowship nearly drove me to madness. It’s so long and dry, and at that time I had very little understanding of the world of Middle Earth, so it was all over my head. I’m sure I’d get more out of it now, although I’m not eager to dive back in.

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