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

I find it incredibly difficult to review this film objectively, after my approximately seventeenth viewing experience. Attempting to feel the initial impact once more, I find myself trying to remember my reactions way back when I was an eleven-year-old, watching this film with my dad and brother in Uckfield’s Picture House. I remember thinking that it was very long, that the baddies were called hawks, and that this was perhaps the coolest thing I’d ever witnessed. The special effects staggered me, as they did everyone else in theatres around the globe, and for someone who’d never read the Lord of the Rings books, I found this new imaginary world to be the pinnacle of fantasy creation. 

More than ten years later, I’m still blown away by this film, which is an impeccable adaptation of Prof. Tolkien’s Middle-earth epic, or the first part thereof. Co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson reveal an intricate knowledge of his mythos, and a wise perspective on just how much fantasy mumbo-jumbo a modern audience can take (Tom Bombadil, for example would probably be the downfall of this film). The dialogue is tight, subtly revelatory (explaining the world without just stating the facts), and often witty, although too frequently declamatory, a style which begins to sound almost a of parody itself. As ever in SF/fantasy works, we have the outsiders who learn on our behalf (in this case the Hobbits), giving us scraps to feed off as we immerse ourselves in this unfamiliar realm.

The best example of this expert story-telling is perhaps the opening sequence, which is a masterclass in narration. Cate Blanchett as Galadriel gives the explanatory monologue just the right amount of ominous tension without becoming either ridiculous or boring - a close thing to balance. Choosing to begin the film in this way is in fact better than Tolkien’s choice to slowly reveal hints and clues over 200 pages. We don’t have the time or patience for this in the cinema; we just want to know what we’re dealing with. Although there is a lot more at work in the novel thematically, I think the film does a better job at getting the story-telling done well.

Simply speaking, director Peter Jackson and his team have got everything right. They’ve balanced the solid fantasy adventure base with a universal accessibility which makes Fellowship a hit for long-time fans and Middle-earth newcomers alike. Tolkien’s world comes alive onscreen, as the production team give due attention to the intricate details of costume, language and custom, all of which join together to weave the fully-realised image of this land of Elves, Dwarves, Men and Hobbits. But even more so the effects team excel in their conception of the epic spaces Tolkien created in his novel. My puny imagination offers up this image of a few battalions of Elves, Men and Orcs on some hills on the borders of Mordor, whereas Fellowship gives us thousands upon thousands of armoured figures marching on the vast slopes of Orodruin, ready to wage war.

Countless times I’ve heard people complain that a film limits your imagination of the characters and settings of the novel on which its based. For me, however, Jackson’s Fellowship brings the first two volumes of Tolkien’s epic novel to life in a way I couldn’t begin to replicate. 

Challenge Assistant Ted's thought for the day: "LOTR - A rewatchable classic, Boromir FTW."


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