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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


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Year of release
2001

Directed by
Peter Jackson

Written by
Peter Jackson (script)
Fran Walsh (script)
Philippa Boyens (script)
J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)

Starring
Elijah Wood
Ian McKellen
Viggo Mortensen
Sean Astin
Sean Bean

The Fellowship of the Ring


Plot The lands of Middle-Earth have been blessed with peace for many generations. But that peace is now threatened as the dark lord Sauron has begun to stir. The forces of good have one hope; that the One Ring, holder of Sauron's power, can be destroyed. The ring finds itself in the possession of the most unlikely of heroes however, a gentle hobbit by the name of Frodo Baggins. Together along with a Fellowship of companions he will travel to Mount Doom where the ring was forged and throw it into the fires of the mountain to destroy it. This Fellowship includes three of Frodo's fellow hobbits, a powerful wizard, two men, an elf and a dwarf.

There's a sequence about a third of the way through this film where we see the treacherous wizard Saruman attempting to build an army for the dark lord, Sauron. Under his orders, the vile and repulsive Orcs under his command are seen tearing down massive, deep-rooted trees. They delve deep into the ground, creating a cavernous workshop of sorts; an armoury for creating weaponry and armour, and a breeding ground for a new race of orc/golbin hybrids by the name of the Uruk-hai. It's an immense piece of manufacturing. And it works as an apt comparison to Peter Jackson's personal undertaking. For what he has delivered is a stunning creation on the absolute grandest scale imaginable. To even think you could attempt something of this magnitude is laughable, to actually succeed is downright flabbergasting.

As some of you will know I adore the Lord of the Rings films. The trilogy sits at #1 in my list of favourite ever films and has done so right from the moment I first saw Fellowship. And going back to watch it now, right from the film's very opening moments I just felt myself being transported back to this world. As soon as I got my first glimpse of The Shire, heard the first bars of Howard Shore's score and Ian Holm's warm voice narrating from his book it just felt like I was home. That opening sequence in the delightful Shire is perhaps my favourite stretch of the whole trilogy.

Oh Fellowship of the Ring, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

The film achieves a rare feat amongst films in the science fiction and fantasy genres; it creates and transports us to a fantastical world we've never encountered before, while at the same time giving us a world that feels real. A world that feels earthy and grounded. And every part of the world feels unique thanks to the wonderful design that realises each individual location. Hobbiton is just a delightful place, so quaint and cosy that I long to live there. The realms of the elves, Rivendell and Lothlorien, are magical and ethereal places. Rivendell in particular is truly beautiful, perhaps the most stunning location I've ever seen in any movie. While the refuges of the villainous creatures are dark and dank, as are the foreboding Mines of Moria. And while I feel other countries could have proved a viable option (Scotland for instance! ), New Zealand proves to be a terrific choice for bringing Middle Earth to life with some truly astonishing scenery. Jackson delights in lingering on the members of the Fellowship as they traverse the wilderness and the mountains.

Also contributing to the realisation of this world are the different beings and creatures that inhabit the lands of Middle Earth, and a huge thumbs up has to go to the art design and make-up departments for making this happen. In their black riders guise the Ringwraiths are an absolutely chilling creation, brought to life through a combination of their classically ghoulish look, Howard Shore's score that accompanies their arrival and the bone-chilling screeches that they let out. The orcs are a gruesome and slimy invention while the Uruk-hai chill my very soul; such a brutal race of warriors. To be honest it's hard to blame these guys for becoming villains; if I looked that ugly I'd be a bad guy as well!

I think it's a real shame, verging on a sin, that over the course of the three films only one acting Oscar nomination was garnered. However, if it was fated to receive just one nomination at least the Academy chose the correct recipient. Sir Ian McKellen's Gandalf is just a sheer delight to behold, both a gentle presence and a tower of strength. There are spells where he is like a kindly old uncle or grandfather figure, particularly when he spends time in The Shire with the hobbits. He has a twinkle in his eye and a wry grin, and always has a pearl of wisdom to dispense. I love the little moment where he entertains the hobbit children with fireworks, followed by the look he shares with Frodo. And then on occasion he shows off the bad ass wizard that you imagine he once was as a darkness overcomes him. His confrontations with Sauron and the Balrog are prime examples of this. A terrific performance from a truly talented actor.

He is by no means the only performer to impress however. As the heroic Frodo, Elijah Wood is an earnest and gallant fellow, and so easy to root for. Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin are both solid but it is more in the further two instalments that those two get their chance to shine. On appearance alone Liv Tyler is well cast as Arwen, a vision of beauty from the first moment we see her as she emerges from a burst of angelic light. Her face alone just convinces us of her elven genetics. Now I'm not really a fan in general of Sean Bean but he is very well suited to this kind of exploit; the rugged wilderness and medieval war kind of territory, the same territory that saw him shine in Game of Thrones. He strongly portrays the wild warrior of Boromir, and I found his heroic send off very moving. John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan provide the comic relief, while Ian Holm proves to be a very warm presence as Bilbo.

Next in line to be the recipient of my gushing is the film's composer Howard Shore. I'm honestly struggling to think of a score that I like more than this effort from Shore. And with it being my absolute favourite score I obviously believe it should be held up in the highest esteem of movie scores; alongside the best from Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, Hanz Zimmer, John Barry or anyone else you care to mention. I can't recollect of any other scores which achieves so many moods so successfully, and as a result he just adds so much to the scenes. His music for the scenes in The Shire are just so cheery and upbeat; they make me feel like skipping! The theme for the Ringwraiths and other assorted evils is tremendously ominous. He thrills us during the moments of action and adventure. And he breaks your heart with the haunting music following Gandalf's demise. Absolutely beautiful stuff, so deserving of the Oscar that was bestowed on him for his work.

As anyone who has seen the film will be able to attest to, the special effects on show are incredible. Through a combination of CGI, practical effects and the use of miniatures the world just springs to life before your very eyes. And they help to create a film that is just chock-full of so many scenes and moments that instantly imprinted themselves upon my mind, moments that I can just recall in perfect detail with little effort; the battle in the mines, the demise of Gandalf, floating down the river towards the Argonath statues etc.

Even with all these ingredients in place however, it still requires a director with a keen eye and mind to bring them all together, and thankfully for all of us Ringers the world over, the films had just the man in Peter Jackson. His direction is staggering; he revels in sweeping over the vistas of Middle Earth to capture the great scope of the world, while also successfully delivering the smaller more personal moments between the characters. And when it comes to the large action sequences he certainly doesn't skimp on the thrills. The battles in the Mines of Moria and at the film's conclusion are so epic in terms of how many characters are involved and the sprawling nature of them, and yet they always feel so controlled and focused. We never feel overwhelmed or that we are missing a single beat, just fantastically choreographed and filmed. It also highlights a little touch that I love, and that's how the characters are distinguished from one another by their fighting styles and methods. Gimli has a really brutal, smash-mouth stlye; Aragorn has the appearance of a much more stylish, classically trained fighter, while Legolas has a very creative and unique style that produces some awesome as f**k moves.

In my mind at this current moment I would probably rate Fellowship as my favourite film of the three. I think Return of the King is the 'best' but it's close between those two for favourite. I think the reason I perhaps like this film the most is that it is lighter in tone (particularly the opening in the Shire), it has more small and personal moments and it has more character interaction; little moments like Boromir training Merry and Pippin in swordplay which then descends into rough-housing and tomfoolery with lots of laughter. It also features a more likeable Gandalf in his guise as Gandalf the Grey. This is the first time I'll be watching the series in full for a few years now though, so we'll see if that thought still stands up or if Fellowship is knocked from its perch.

The Lord of the Rings has often been compared to the original Star Wars films in terms of how revolutionary and influential they are. They are an epic tale of adventure and fantasy; a story encompassing friendship, loyalty, honour, both the weakness and strength of man and the notion that even the smallest being can have the biggest impact upon the world. I frequently hear and read of people talking about the first time they saw Star Wars, and the impact it had on them. And their recollections sound incredibly familiar to the experience I had that first time watching this in cinemas on the 19th of December in 2001. Star Wars inspired a generation of film-makers, and I can imagine that this will do the same with directors citing the importance of these films in interviews over the coming years.

How I managed to survive the year long wait until the release of The Two Towers baffles me now. Immediately after completing this film I wanted to go straight onto the next instalment so how I managed 365 days is just amazing to me. I am truly at a loss to find a fault with this film and the trilogy as a whole (and no Honeykid, that's no an invitation to point the flaws out to me! ) and it's tough to see it being budged from my personal #1 spot anytime soon.

Conclusion Stunning. Incredible. Revolutionary. Life-changing. It's hard to think of any superlatives that truly do justice to this film, and the trilogy as a whole. I just adore these films. The direction is amazing, the casting is perfect, its effects are amongst the best cinema has ever offered and I honestly can't see how it could be improved.