A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 188 – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – September 4th, 2010

When I was a child my father would read to me at night before bed. He had a fondness for high fantasy and so did I, but I was also a technically advanced reader and so it wasn’t much worth reading me shorter books because I got frustrated hearing them read aloud. I could read them so much faster to myself. So he read me longer things. Dense books. He read me his favorites. He read me Tolkien. I have vivid memories of listening to him read while I imagined the world he was describing and the people and creatures in it. I honestly don’t remember how long it took to get through The Lord of the Rings. But I loved hearing him read it. Reading it myself has never been the same.

When these movies were in production I hid out from them a good deal. I knew they were making them, but I’d seen bits of the Bakshi rotoscoped version and wasn’t impressed, so I was wary. After all, look at the books. When I mentioned above that they’re dense, I wasn’t joking. They are packed full of worldbuilding, backstory, as much detail as you could want and more. Not only do the main characters have piles of description but so do the secondaries and the tertiaries and everyone else. These are books with volumes of additional history to support them. The idea of packing everything in the books into a trilogy of movies that could be watched in theaters? It seemed laughable. Until I saw this for the first time.

This movie has a difficult task. If it hadn’t managed to set the stage, everything else would have been dimmed. It all begins with a prologue, describing the history of the ring and how it was forged by Sauron, claimed by Isildur, lost and reclaimed by Gollum, then lost again and taken by Bilbo Baggins. The prologue has to give us enough information so we know the stakes, understand the danger, and also the scale of the world we’re in. But it’s a narrated prologue. It could have been awkward, but it’s not. So by the time we meet Bilbo himself and are drawn into the land of the Hobbits, we know the world enough to want to follow. Or at least I do.

I feel like if I try and summarize the story it won’t be a summary, it will be the entire review. There’s a lot of story here. But I’m going to try. You see, there’s this ring. The One Ring. And it’s been imbued with the horrible and vast power of its creator, Sauron, who wants to rule all Middle Earth. The ring eventually corrupts those who possess it and now it’s in the hands of a Hobbit, Frodo Baggins (Bilbo’s nephew). A wizard named Gandalf, long a friend of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo, realizes the nature of the ring and sends Frodo off on a quest to destroy it. And so to make a very long story short, Frodo leaves the peace and idyll of his home, the Shire, and embarks on a journey across Middle Earth, to the fiery volcano that is Mount Doom in Mordor. Along the way he picks up companions. Humans, other Hobbits, a Dwarf and an Elf. And Gandalf. There are, of course, specifics. Battles, betrayals, enemies. There are the Nazgul, wraiths who hunt Frodo for the ring. There are the Orcs, amassing in armies for the enemy. But those are things best left to the books or the movies to show.

This movie ranks up in my top five book-to-movie adaptations. I could count all three in the trilogy but I’d have to make it a top ten to fit in some non-Lord of the Rings films. Also, while I love all three, I have to give extra credit to the first one for making me believe in the others. There are beautiful visuals, amazing effects, powerful performances, and most of all a sense of the grandeur and wonder of the world of Middle Earth, and the peril it is in at the time of the plot. I’ve mentioned before that I have a sad love of things whose times have passed. And perhaps this story is at the root of it. Having heard it so early in my life, maybe that’s where it started, because this story is rife with the idea of the passing of an age. The Elves are leaving Middle Earth, the Dwarves of Moria are wiped out, Men are rising and yet also ushering in an age far different than the one that Middle Earth has been in. In the books it’s made clear that this is the end of the Third Age. The Fourth Age is what comes after. And this movie takes that and makes it a part of everything we see without spelling it out. It’s a beautiful example of showing instead of telling and uses the eventual breaking of the fellowship to great effect.

I cannot praise the care that went into making this movie enough. I don’t want to start reviewing the “making of” material, but even without watching it all you can tell how much attention to detail went into the film. Looking at the size differences for Gandalf, the Hobbits, Gimli, the Elves, the Men, you know it required a lot of playing with perspective, sets built in different scales, little people as scale doubles, lots of detail. And it’s pulled off amazingly. I never once question the size differences. And that’s how it is for me for every bit of the movie’s visuals. They all look amazing. The miniatures don’t look mini (and really, in comparison to most miniatures, they’re not), the sets don’t look like sets. The landscape of New Zealand is gorgeous and everything built for the movie fits right into it as if it was always there. And then there are the performances, which are all brilliant. And the score. I’ll probably talk more about the score in one of the other reviews, but there are moments in this one that bring me to tears whenever I hear them. Everything comes together to make an impressive emotional impact.

I honestly don’t give a shit what anyone says about these movies. I don’t care what the Tolkien nuts say, or the fantasy fans, or professional critics. They can bitch and moan about what was removed and elided and glossed over and they can nitpick characterization and motivation all they want. I can’t. I simply cannot bring myself to do it. Because I love this movie. I love the whole trilogy, to be honest, but I’ll get to the others tomorrow and Monday. But this one, oh, it packs quite a punch to me. Watching it, I feel like I’m back in my bedroom, seven years old and my eyes are closed as my father says “Oh, and they sing a song. Do you want me to try and sing?” and I say no, because I know he doesn’t like to sing, so he reads the words of the song instead and I can see everything he’s describing. And this is it.

September 4, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. That’s so sweet about your dad. My mom read these just before I was born, but after that I couldn’t deal with Tolkien until I was seventeen.

    There’s very little I would change about these movies if I could. Maybe make Gimli less silly, and add in the Scouring of the Shire and Saruman’s magic voice, but you know how it is.

    I’ve got the Rifftrax for these, and while they’re fun, you can tell that the guys truly know their Tolkien.

    Comment by A. | September 4, 2010 | Reply

    • The Scouring of the Shire and Gimli’s humor content are things I deal with as part of the movie medium. I could wish for Tom Bombadil, but would he have made the movie better? Probably not.

      Comment by ajmovies | September 4, 2010 | Reply


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