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

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #53

One Ring To Rule Them All

Country: New Zealand & USA
Language: English & Sindarin
Runtime: 208 minutes (extended edition)* | 178 minutes (theatrical version)
BBFC: PG (“Battle violence and fantasy horror may not be suitable for under 8’s”)
MPAA: PG-13
* 228 minutes with the interminable fan club credits.

Original Release: 19th December 2001 (UK, USA & others)
First Seen: cinema, December 2001

Stars
Elijah Wood (The Ice Storm, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Ian McKellen (Richard III, X-Men)
Viggo Mortensen (G.I. Jane, Eastern Promises)
Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Black Death)
John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale)
Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Kingdom of Heaven)
Sean Astin (The Goonies, The Colour of Magic)
Dominic Monaghan (I Sell the Dead, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
Billy Boyd (Urban Ghost Story, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)

Director
Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, King Kong)

Screenwriters
Fran Walsh (Meet the Feebles, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
Philippa Boyens (King Kong, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)

Based on
The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy of novels by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Story
Legend tells of a ring, created by an ancient evil that gave its wearer the power to enslave the world. Believed lost for centuries, it has now been found… in the possession of one Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit of the Shire. With an evil force thought long-defeated on the rise, and hunting for the Ring to cement his power, Frodo will do what few of his kind have ever done: venture beyond the confines of their homeland. Joined by eight companions, they must travel across Middle-earth to destroy the One Ring once and for all.

Our Heroes
Frodo Baggins lives a quiet life in the countryside idyll of the Shire, where the greatest drama is stopping his relatives from stealing the cutlery. When a dangerous artefact is found to be in his possession, however, the honest and good nature of his people comes to the fore. On his quest, he has eight friends and protectors: his best friend / bodyguard / gardener, Samwise Gamgee; two rambunctious but pure-hearted Hobbits, Merry and Pippin; the powerful wizard Gandalf the Grey; a mysterious ranger from the North, Strider, aka Aragorn; from the world of Men, warrior Boromir; elf Legolas, a skilled archer; and an axe-wielding dwarf, Gimli.

Our Villains
The Dark Lord Sauron is an almost intangible threat, though his manifestation as a giant flaming eye atop an imposing tower is pretty freaky. Of more immediate danger to our heroes are his armies of orcs, as well as former allies who may have been converted…

Best Supporting Character
In many ways the strongest character arc of this first film belongs to Boromir. From the kingdom of Gondor, who are on the front lines defending the world from Sauron’s forces, Boromir is understandably frustrated by the lack of support his people have received, and is eager to use the Ring — a power he is denied, because it is too dangerous. But the Ring’s temptation is hard to resist… At one point a threat from within, which ultimately tears the fellowship asunder, Boromir comes through in the end with a helluva death scene. (He’s played by Sean Bean, of course he dies.)

Memorable Quote
“One ring to rule them all. One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation #1
“Keep it secret. Keep it safe.” — Gandalf

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation #2
“He is seeking it, seeking it, all his thought is bent on it.” — Gandalf (well, I use it all the time…)

Memorable Scene
In the Elven city of Rivendell, representatives from Middle-earth’s various kingdoms and races gather for a council to decide what to do with the Ring. Concluding it must be destroyed, they bicker over who will make the dangerous journey into Mordor to do so. As the arguments grow louder and more heated, a small voice pipes up: to Gandalf’s dismay, but not surprise, Frodo offers to carry the Ring.

Memorable Music
Howard Shore’s score across the trilogy is incredible, a well-considered and developed work of art that he’s even turned into a symphony. There’s at least one memorable motif in each film, but the first has the best of all: “The Fellowship” theme, which naturally resurfaces regularly throughout the film, is (for my money) one of the greatest pieces of film music ever composed. (For more information on the score, try this dedicated Wikipedia article.)

Technical Wizardry
The production’s dedication to creating the world of Middle-earth is extraordinary. It’s not just the faultless design work, which perfectly imagined the locations, costumes, weaponry, creatures, and so on, but the amount of effort that then went into realising those designs: they produced over 19,000 costumes, including linking 12.5 million plastic rings by hand to create all the chainmail; 48,000 swords, axes, shields, and other pieces of armour; 500 bows and 10,000 arrows… the numbers go on. Also, because Hobbits walk around barefoot, shoe-like fake feet were created for the actors — of which they got through 1,800 pairs.

Truly Special Effect
One of the biggest challenges for realising The Lord of the Rings on screen are the heights of the various races — Hobbits are under 4-foot tall, dwarves are a little taller, and men are… well, man-sized. Jackson and co achieved this by employing various techniques, including forced perspective, body doubles, and split screen, which of course necessitated building two versions of some sets, one of which had to be a precisely scaled up/down version of the other. Fortunately, all of the Hobbit actors were quite short and Gimli actor John Rhys-Davies is quite tall, so they were able to lump the Hobbits and Gimli together as being the same scale. On screen, the results are seamless.

Making of
Viggo Mortensen Method-ed his way through playing Aragorn, including living in his costume outside of filming, insisting on doing his own stunts and using a real steel sword instead of the significantly lighter aluminium and rubber duplicates, bonding with the horses before filming, and having the script revised so that more of Aragorn’s lines were in Elvish.

Previously on…
The Lord of the Rings was adapted as an animated movie in 1978, which I think has its fans but generally isn’t that well regarded. For various reasons it didn’t tell the whole story, either, leading to a TV movie adaptation of The Return of the King being produced in 1980. On radio, it was adapted by the BBC in 1955-6, in the US in the ’60s and again in the ’70s, and, most notably, by the BBC again in 1981. That last adaptation was so acclaimed that Jackson has said it was an influence on his film version.

Next time…
The Two Towers and The Return of the King complete the story. A decade later, cast and crew returned to adapt Tolkien’s preceding novel, The Hobbit, as a prequel trilogy. There are other Middle-earth books, but their film rights reside with people who aren’t fans of Jackson’s films, so that’s probably that for Middle-earth on the big screen.

Awards
4 Oscars (Cinematography, Score, Makeup, Visual Effects)
9 Oscar nominations (Picture, Supporting Actor (Ian McKellen), Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Editing, Song, Sound)
5 BAFTAs (Film, Director, Visual Effects, Make Up/Hair, Audience Award)
8 BAFTA nominations (Actor (Ian McKellen), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Music, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound)
3 Saturn Awards (Fantasy Film, Supporting Actor (Ian McKellen), Director)
6 Saturn nominations (Writing, Music, Costumes, Make-Up, Special Effects, Cinescape Genre Face of the Future Male (Orlando Bloom))
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“Jackson has given himself a mountain to climb in tackling Tolkien’s obsessively multi-layered fantasy (intricate back-stories, made-up languages and all). On the whole he copes beautifully. The Fellowship of the Ring honours the text without being enslaved by it. The explanatory dialogue may creak on occasion, but the action scenes have a snap and pace that suggests a film-maker not scared to bring his own touch to the material. Physically, too, the film is a triumph: an art-department’s dream during its lovely interior sequences and a potent advert for the New Zealand tourist board when it heads into the great outdoors. […] Jackson’s serious, high-minded approach looks defiantly out-of-fashion; worlds away from kid-friendly Harry Potter (the season’s other big fantasy film about wizards). Instead, The Fellowship of the Ring boasts some more unlikely influences. At times, Jackson’s film could almost pass for the Anglo-Saxon cousin of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; lacking the dark, liquid exoticism of Ang Lee’s Chinese-language epic, but compensating with old-school blood-and-thunder and a rash of fairytale monsters.” — Xan Brooks, The Guardian

Score: 91%

What the Public Say
“everything about the film is of the highest quality. Both the visuals and audio blend together so well, to create an incredible onscreen world. The set designers did a wonderful job; iconic locations from the book became iconic film locations, such as the rolling green hills of The Shire, pulling you in like a dream, or the mystic and elegant Rivendell or the deep dark of Moria. All of these places and more truly are another world, and no matter what you think of the film the images of these places will stick with you forever.” — Ben Foster, BFFRAP

Verdict

Now that it’s fêted as one of the greatest film trilogies ever made, it’s easy to forget what a gamble a three-film, $300 million adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unfilmable novel seemed back when production started in the late ’90s; especially as it was to be made by a director whose track record was low-budget horror films, with a cast mostly without star names, filmed on the other side of the planet, where little news leaked out to the wider world, and with all three films shot at once — no backing out if the first flopped. Then it was released and became an instant global phenomenon.

Watching it for the first time, unfamiliar with the story in all but the broadest sense, was an incredible experience. I remember it ending and having no idea how there could be two more films — it felt like Frodo and Sam were almost at Mount Doom already! Oh, how naïve I was. Anyway, for me Fellowship remains the strongest of the trilogy; the only one that feels like a complete work in its own right — even though it’s clearly nowhere near the end of the overall narrative, an awful lot of the plots and themes reach suitable climaxes. Finiteness aside, the quality of the work is unquestionable: this is exciting, funny, emotional, transportive, epic filmmaking of the highest order.

Next… nobody tosses #54.

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