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

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So it finally happened – I finally watched The Lord of the Rings. I have been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien (not quite for The Lord of the Rings, but for some of his more oft-forgotten works) for quite a while, yet I had never seen or read The Lord of the Rings. It turns out, reading an over one-thousand page novel is not an easy task, and in the meanwhile, I decided to indulge in watching the cinematic representations of the novel, which I have avoided, because I had always just thought that they were simply long and boring, without much story. How wrong and naive we are in our youth – because one can say what they want about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but they are absolute and utter masterpieces.

Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy films back-to-back could homogenize them, but it is important to realize that while Tolkien intended this novel to be a single entity, it is clear that it would be impossible to tell this story in only a single film, so the division of the novel into three parts was far from a simple marketing tool, but absolutely necessary. It allowed for much more details that would otherwise be forgotten for time. I urge anyone who has not to seek out the Extended versions, as they are far more than simple cash-grabs to stir up more money in the audiences by convincing them to pay huge amounts for a few additional minutes. The Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings are worth every cent.

Naturally, the first place we will start on our adventure is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Like all the first chapters in great film trilogies or series, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring sets up the story and introduces us to important characters that will serve as our companions for the coming films. The best part about The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is how it is truly very entertaining – and that isn’t only the film, as many more learned Tolkenites have claimed that The Fellowship of the Ring is the best of the three parts of the novels. It allows us to enter into this world of Middle Earth and encounter characters, both good and evil, and become acquainted with them, and decide if we truly want to immerse ourselves into this world, or if it is better that we just walk away. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring starts off light-hearted and almost satirical, and slowly becomes more and more serious, without having the overt coldness and intensity of the following films. It is a great beginning to a wonderful film franchise, and it also appears that Jackson did his very best in projecting the novel onto the screen for this film.

What I noticed about The Lord of the Rings films are that the performances are of a much higher standard than that of contemporary fantasy films, which rely all too heavily on visuals and story, often neglecting the acting, which many audience members often don’t even take note of. Elijah Wood is a talented actor, and his performance as Frodo is suitably iconic – but as happens in many films of this nature, the main character is often rather…bland, whereas the best performances happen around the main character.

Each of the Lord of the Rings films have one or two performances that truly stand out, and in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, that performance belongs to none other than Sir Ian McKellen. I adore Sir Ian, and I think he is one of the very best actors of all time. I am so grateful that Sean Connery turned the role down, because it allowed Sir Ian to get the iconic status he holds today, and has made him the legendary thespian that he is recognized as being today. His performance as Gandalf the Grey is pure brilliance, and his nuances to the character make him far more than a simple stock wizard character, but instead one of the most meaningful and wonderful mentor characters in recent film. There is not any doubt that Gandalf the Grey is one of literature’s greatest creations (and it is fitting, considering The Lord of the Rings might just be the greatest book ever written), and while McKellen is a major presence in all of the films (in the latter two as Gandalf the White), his performance in the other two films is too limited, and it doesn’t have the complexity and good humour that his performance as Gandalf the Grey had. It is a brilliant performance, and McKellen perfectly shows the complexity and nuances of the character.

The rest of the cast is solid, but not that notable, other than being very good, but rather serving the purpose of setting up their characters for the rest of the trilogy. Christopher Lee, however, proves why he may be the greatest actor to ever live, as his performance as Saruman is excellent, but he elevates it to another level. If there was not another performance in the other films that may be a more effective and logical choice, I would claim that Lee’s performance was the best villain in the film (and that other performance – well, we’ll get to that in the next review). Viggo Mortenson also is luminous as Aragorn/Strider, and while he will come into his own in the following films, he gives his all in this film. However, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring serves the purpose of setting up the characters, so it is unwise to dwell on their performances entirely at this early stage – except for Sean Bean, who we can only mention here (I will avoid spoilers, but if you are aware of Sean Bean’s career, you will be fully aware as to why I am mentioning him here).

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is an utterly beautiful film to look at. Jackson utilizes the natural beauty of New Zealand effectively, and in a way, the Lord of the Rings films put New Zealand on the map – I am very sure that most of the tourism post-2001 to New Zealand owes in part to dedicated Tolkenites, hoping to see the visual embodiment of their beloved Middle Earth. Not only that, Jackson uses the landscape effectively, combining it will meaningful and visually striking imagery, and the special effects are absolutely dazzling. You would be hard-pressed to find a film as visually striking as this, with as much heart as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has. The Lord of the Rings is the pinnacle in Jackson’s career – and that isn’t an insult, but rather a compliment, as it is difficult to achieve the grandiose beauty that Jackson achieved here.

I loved The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. However, it is only the beginning, and I will have much more to discuss in the reviews of the following two films. The Fellowship of the Ring is a perfectly suitable beginning to an iconic trilogy, and I have so much more to discuss…but in due course.

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