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

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So this is where our Lord of the Rings reviews get a little weird. As you have no doubt have noticed, we have not reviewed the final film of The Hobbit series, The Battle of the Five Armies. This is due to the fact that it has not yet been released on DVD, but honestly I don’t care if I ever see it. I know Bilbo makes it home safely with that damn ring, and five armies fighting feels like three too many, in my opinion. But I digress. This is about The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. A title that is nearly as long as the movie itself.

Count yourself lucky, because watching the first two Hobbit movies has made me appreciate these ones a lot more. I still find LOTR to be boring, but I can’t deny that these are three really well made films. Peter Jackson knew what he was doing here, and did it well.

I won’t recap the plot of Fellowship, mostly because I’ve never been 100% clear on everything that happens in any of these films. There are so many characters and they all have weird names, and since I’m not that interested in most of them I find it hard to pay attention. What I do like are the hobbits, who luckily are the main focus. The hobbits are the best. They’re both the story’s main protagonists and its comic relief. The actors playing these wee people are also great, and I genuinely care about them and root for them to succeed. I never really feel this way about any of the other characters, but maybe that’s sort of the point in Fellowship? The elves are aloof, the dwarves are annoying, and the men are terrible. The hobbits are meant to be the moral compass of the story, so of course they’re likable. We need to be on board with the hobbits from the beginning, everyone else has to earn our trust.

While I’m not fond of most of this story, the film itself is visually spectacular. I remember being blown away by Fellowship when I saw it in theaters. The attention to detail is amazing, it’s just as fun watching characters interact in small sets, like Bilbo’s hobbit hole, as it is watching the camera sweep over Middle Earth’s gorgeous terrain. This movie is the number three* reason I want to visit New Zealand. I also loved the use of practical effects in everything from the makeup design to the crazy trick photography used to make the hobbits and dwarves look smaller than everyone else. The CGI is also quite good, but is starting to look a little dated in some scenes. Still, it’s not distracting enough to completely ruin the movie for anyone.

If I had to choose, Fellowship of the Ring would be my favorite Lord of the Rings movie. I tend to love the beginnings of film franchises more than their conclusions. There’s something special and magical about a story starting. Everyone is fresh and full of optimism, and the stories are usually a bit more fun. And believe me, this series gets less fun as it drags on.

Rating: B

*My number one reason for wanting to visit NZ is my love of Flight of the Conchords. Number two is this toothbrush fence.

Watching these films so soon after The Hobbit was a stark reminder of how great these films are. Every character in this film the audience cares about and would be willing to run into battle with. The same can’t be said about The Hobbit characters, who are all carbon copies and barely distinguishable from one another. This is certainly not the case with The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in The Lord of the Rings series. Everything about this film is epic, from its grand New Zealand locations to the state of the art special effects and make up used to create this mythical world of Middle Earth.

The film picks up 60 years after the event of The Hobbit. Bilbo (Ian Holm) is now an old man who plans to leave The Shire and live with the elves in Rivendell. He leaves everything to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), including the ring he won in a game of riddles while on his adventure with the dwarves. When Gandalf (Ian McKellan) becomes aware of the existence of the ring, he believes that the evil Sauron has returned and this ring is all he needs to gain all of his power back and destroy Middle Earth. Gandalf entrusts Frodo with the task of destroying the ring. He must take it to the fires of Mount Doom, the only fire strong enough to melt this magic ring. Along the way, Frodo picks up a group of adventurers from throughout Middle Earth who are entrusted to protect Frodo as he goes on his journey. The fellowship is made up of three hobbits– Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), and Pippin (Billy Boyd)– the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom); a dwarf named Gimli (John Rhys Davies); the wizard Gandalf; and two humans, Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) and Boromir (Sean Bean). Aragorn is the one true king of Middle Earth, he is afraid to accept his lineage, but may have to if he is going to unite the world of Middle Earth and lead them to defeat Sauron. This group of nine companions start out on their journey to destroy the ring, having to deal with untold dangers like orcs, goblins and a new type of brutal orc called the Uruk-Hai created by the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee).

This film is frigging epic. The only thing I can say negative about it is that it ends. Not just that it ends, the way it ends it quite annoying. The story is just getting interesting and then we see ‘to be continued’ and the credits roll. It’s fine now, when I can just put the next film in, but when this was released in theatres and I had to wait a whole year to see this adventure continue, it was really annoying.

The Lord of the Rings does a great job of introducing these characters and making you care about them. You feel for Frodo and the burden he is going through having to destroy this ring that is slowly corrupting him. You want him to succeed, but not just him. You want to know more about Aragorn and his lineage. Will he accept his role as King of Middle Earth, or will he continue to live out his life as a mysterious ranger? Everyone in this film is interesting. This was by far the biggest difference between The Hobbit films and this one. I hardly cared about anyone in The Hobbit, but I felt every fight and character death in LOTR. It helps that the LOTR books are written for adults. The Hobbit was written specifically for Tolkien’s children, and you can tell. The Lord of the Rings is a more mature story, and a far more interesting one. The fate of an entire world hinges on the success of The Fellowship being able to destroy this ring. There is so much more riding on it, but if the quest in The Hobbit fails, some dwarves are homeless. I definitely felt more invested in this story than The Hobbit.

This opening Lord of the Rings films sets a brilliant tone and standard of quality that is continued throughout all three Lord of the Rings films.

Rating: A

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