Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler
Synopsis: The first part in Jackson’s popular adaptation of the classic tale by J.R.R. Tolkien. For the few who have not seen it, this is a story of many threads, but predominantly the tale of a young hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who finds himself on a journey to destroy the One Ring, the source of power and life force for the Dark Lord Sauron.
This is one of those films I have long desired to review, but stayed away from simply due to my inability to show impartiality. Given that Bride of Film Nerd and I will have the opportunity to observe filming locations for ourselves in just over a week’s time, it felt appropriate that I should review the trilogy in advance. I am sure most of you do not need to be told these are good films. Box office and an armful of Oscars for the trilogy is evidence enough of this fact. Being personally a Tolkien fan, however, with an entire shelf of his written material in my bookcase, I felt like commenting on the films from this particular perspective. As such, I will go for broke, so be warned, there will be more than one spoiler ahead!!
Sometimes films can be big, have massive effects and the like, without actually providing any substance. The effects in this film alone are of a large scale, yet I cannot accuse the film of one needless or overly extravagant shot. The Halls of Dwarrowdelf, the Bridge of Khazad-dum, Rivendell… the list goes on. These massive settings are each effectively used not just in the sense of “big things”, but also in achieving what Tolkien managed himself so well in words… a sense of history. More than that, these effects give Middle-Earth a sense of reality, making it possible to forget that this is only a realm of fiction.
This is also achieved in plot and little added elements, some only present in the extended editions of these films. A great example in Fellowship is the added scene of Aragorn singing the Lay of Beren and Luthien. This was present in the novel itself, and though the reader may have been unfamiliar with the mythology, it is clear that this is a tale from before this story, from the history of this reality. This was part of Tolkien’s skill. All these stories he had already written, he had a full mythology already developed for this world, the work of his own lifetime, and he has mined these rich stories to expand the canvas on which he was working. Similarly, for Jackson, all this material Tolkien had worked on was available for him to read and to use in his adaptation. The beauty of this adaptation is that in making things more cinematic, he never truly took any artistic liberty, relying on the groundwork provided to fill in what was needed for the script. As such, this was more a historical than a fictional adaptation, and the research which Jackson, and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens committed themselves was nothing if not comprehensive.
So far what I have commented on could be applied to the entire trilogy, so what about Fellowship itself?? It is actually the film of the trilogy I go back to less often now, but that is more a mark of its successors than it is of the film itself. I remember after seeing it at the cinema, that I downloaded it to help fill in the time until the DVD release, which subsequently had me purchasing the extended edition. It is a brilliant first chapter, with the innocence of Hobbiton being a wonderful starting point. For one thing, we are introduced to Middle Earth, and an idyllic existence, so it is possible to comprehend exactly what was at stake, In addition, we meet our four hero hobbits, and can identify that their story arcs will take them well beyond this point. The hobbits are all well cast, dare I say their round faces and youthful appearances being very appropriate. It is nor secret however that my favourite is Sean Astin’s Samwise Gamgee, who really succeeds in making his character both comical AND admirable.
This opening also introduces us to McKellen’s Gandalf, a perfect transposition of character from page to screen. I read a newsletter recently also commenting that McKellen’s soft eyes and sonorous voice make it impossible to see anyone else wearing the rubber nose (in this case referring to recent confirmation he will be appearing in Jackson’s The Hobbit, reprising the role). Leoglas and Gimli have comparatively little to do in this film, yet enough is established of Elf-Dwarf animosity to clarify the significance of their later relationship. To round out the Fellowship we have Mortensen’s Aragorn, a character that can be somewhat separated here from the books more than any other character. In Tolkien’s trilogy, Narsil was already reforged at the stat of the story as Anduril, and Aragorn had accepted his burden. Making the shift of him coming to accept that burden over the films was a significant step, and an intelligent choice. Admit it, a hero in conflict is much more intriguing on-screen then someone who is flawlessly brave and kingly. Finally we have Sean Bean’s Boromir, a character I hated in the novel. Though his story arc was little altered, Jackson put enough depth for the character in the script for his conflict to become a much more sympathetic one. Case in point, I cheered his death in the book, and was wiping away tears in the movie.
As you may already tell, I could spend a lot of time discussing this trilogy. I have not started on the characters around the fellowship, but all deserve similar praise. One comment I need to make though is concerning the most significant change in transition from novel to film… Arwen. Prior to viewing the film, knowing the story of an Appendix to the story had been lifted and shoved in to the narrative, and that this character was played by someone who had not impressed me up until that point, filled me with trepidation. However this is another case of Jackson’s research and fondness for the source material comes to the fore. Yes, Arwen did not take Frodo to Rivendell, and she does not appear anywhere near as regularly in the book as in the films, yet her insertion was nothing if not respectful, and Tyler’s performance (and beauty) blew me away. Absolutely incredible, and to boot, we have a reason for which Aragorn will fight.
I could comment still more, and if there is any request for me to do so I can oblige. For now though I will confine my next general trilogy rambling for the next Lord of the Rings review. Until then, those that are curious, the only news of Fellowship coming out on Blu-ray is that it will either be mid-2011 or 2012. Booo!!
5 stars out of 5