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  • Post last modified:September 3, 2022

Fellowship of the Ring: The Beginning


Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood. Photo: New Line Cinema

Once upon a time, there was a maker of films called Peter Jackson. This rotund, bearded man had made a few movies that were internationally acclaimed. Sure, some of them were simple splatter flicks, but he also won the approval of most critics with a drama called Heavenly Creatures (1994). This New Zealander had a dream of remaking his favorite film, King Kong (1933), but the timing was not right. He came to a major film studio with the idea of adapting the famous J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy “The Lord of the Rings”… and the studio went along with it, as long as Jackson comprised the novels into one film. 

Alas, that could not be done. Eventually, Jackson went to New Line Cinema and they agreed to embark on their grandest project yet. Let’s just say that New Line hardly regretted its decision.

Celebrating a 111th birthday
The first film begins in Middle-earth, a place that seems to exist in a galaxy far, far away. The hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is about to celebrate his 111th birthday and his good friend Gandalf (Ian McKellen), a powerful wizard, joins the party. However, Bilbo chooses to leave Middle-earth during a display of fireworks and leaves behind him a ring. Not just any ring, but a ring that was manufactured by an evil warlord called Sauron, the unforgiving ruler of the land of Mordor. It is the most powerful ring ever made, and not in a positive sense. It darkens the mind of anyone who possesses it, and Bilbo had the misfortune of stumbling onto it. But he does leave it behind, and Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), his nephew, becomes the person who must destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom where it was made. 

Frodo embarks on a quest to do so and is accompanied by a few friends and Gandalf; they are eventually joined by an adventurer called Strider who turns out to be Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the heir to the throne of Gondor, someone who could set things right. Everything is complicated by the betrayal of a wizard called Saruman (Christopher Lee)… and the attitude of Boromir (Sean Bean), a most unreliable ally of the Fellowship, the strange society promising to destroy the Ring.

Time flies by
This is the merriest of the three chapters in this series; there’s a sense of humor and a lightheartedness that comes naturally with the hobbits. We all know that it is the darker parts of Tolkien’s story that we are anxious to see, but Jackson and his writers have the right light touch, wisely dispensing of all the burdensome songs that were part of Tolkien’s books. Simply put, they have spotted what is cinematically important. The movie may be three hours long, but time flies by. 

The spectacular visual effects only serve to enhance the experience; they are never the only virtue of the film.

When the Fellowship reaches the mines of Moria we are fully engaged in their quest and the spectacular visual effects only serve to enhance the experience; they are never the only virtue of the film. That’s because the story is so strong, but the actors have something to do with it as well. It’s easy to sympathize with Wood as Frodo, the hobbit who certainly did not ask to be part of all this mayhem, and McKellen is the natural choice to portray Gandalf, the wise and deceptively meek-looking wizard who stands ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Fellowship.

Fellowship is generally considered to be the weakest chapter of the series, but I can’t agree. The film has everything, basically, but an ending. Then again, we don’t need one. More adventures await, and this is one hell of an appetizer.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 2001-U.S.-New Zealand. 178 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Tim Sanders. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson. Novel: J.R.R. Tolkien. Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie. Music: Howard Shore. Song: “May It Be” (performed by Enya). Visual Effects: Richard Taylor, and others. Cast: Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett… John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis.

Trivia: Ralph Bakshi made an animated version in 1978. Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicolas Cage were considered for the part of Aragorn; Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart as Gandalf; and Jake Gyllenhaal as Frodo. The alternate version of this film runs 208 min. Followed by two sequels, starting with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), a new trilogy starting with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), and a prequel TV series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022- ).

Oscars: Best Cinematography, Original Score, Visual Effects, Makeup/Hair. BAFTA: Best Film, Director, Special Visual Effects, Makeup.

Last word: “I didn’t want to be a totally slavish Tolkien interpreter and I didn’t feel that was my primary job. I mean there was a lot of money at stake, and I wanted very much to make a film that you could walk in off the street where you knew nothing about Tolkien, having never read the ‘Lord of the Rings’, and still enjoy the film. The book is regarded as being very, you know, it’s famous for being incredibly dense and detailed and rich, which is why it has such a huge fan following and I’ve tried to catch the feeling of Tolkien for the people that like the book but simplify it to the extent that you don’t have to have read the book to enjoy the film, so, it’s a fine line.” (Jackson, Inside Out Film)

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