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

“I feel thin. Sort of stretched… like butter scraped over too much bread.” — Bilbo Baggins

Bilbo Baggin’s seems to be speaking on behalf of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” with this line. The first of the blockbuster epic franchise, and what was surely the hardest of the books to film. In Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” the most distance is covered by the Fellowship and Frodo goes to many different locals that are each fully fleshed out and serve to establish the expansive world of Middle Earth. In this adaption of the 1954 novel, the Hobbits and their allies in the Fellowship go to far less places, and spend far less time in each. The film can’ t accommodate for the grand scope of the novels, even with the concessions made by Peter Jackson. Each location mainly serves to create some sort of action set piece that is usually very impressive, and the feeling of the start of an epic adventure is what makes the first part of Tolkien’s film trilogy truly worth your time.

The One Ring was created by the Dark Lord Sauron (Sala Baker) and was used by him for the darkest of purposes. With the ring of power he possessed strength enough to wipe out entire armies, but much to his misfortune his fingers were severed and the ring removed from him by Isildur (Harry Sinclair). Isildur found he could not destroy the foul object and chose instead to keep it. Since then The Ring has fallen into the possession of many. Now — 3000 years later — it resides in a quiet and wholly separate from the rest of Middle Earth settlement known as The Shire. A place populated by Hobbits, a race that seems so insignificant that many have forgotten about them.

Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is the Hobbit who now owns the ring, and it’s power has ceased his ageing ever since he acquired it in the goblin cave (as written in Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” which is also referred to in this movie) all those years ago, by stealing it from the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis). Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has arrived in The Shire for Bilbo’s one-hundred-and-eleventh birthday, whereupon he plans to disappear from The shire and seek adventure before he dies. He is forced by Gandalf to leave the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) — allowing Gandalf to warn Frodo to “Keep it secret. Keep it safe”. The Ring is drawing the attention of the resurrected Dark Lord Sauron and Gandalf has no other choice but to send Frodo on a quest to Rivendell to seek out help for the impending darkness.

I would say the film is split into two halves, the first being the journey to Rivendell, and then everything after. The introduction of the film enlightens us to the history of the Dark Lord and does a good job of filling us in, and then the initial parts of the film are set in The Shire. These Shire sequences are in my opinion the most well made parts of the film. The Shire has been given enough attention by Peter Jackson that it feels like a truly idyllic and altogether separate place from the rest of the darkness of Middle Earth. The scenes here are lighthearted yet the dramatic irony created by our knowledge of the ring juxtaposes intelligently against this. I’ve heard people complain that the film is boring and takes too long to get into things, but as far as i’m concerned this is one of the best and most fleshed out segments of “Fellowship”.

When Frodo leaves The Shire initially he is pursued by mysterious riders clad in black on shadowy horses. A stand out scene occurs early on where Frodo and his new Hobbit followers — Sam (Sean Astin), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) — have to hold their breath as the creature sniffs mere feet from their face. The riders are just one example of how well Jackson and his effects team have done in terms of realising Tolkien’s world visually. All of the Orcs that appear later on look brilliant and realistically grotesque, even the way they are able to make the Hobbit actors look as small as they should aside the taller characters is impressive

Upon reaching Rivendell, Elrond (Hugo Weaving) –King of the Elves — creates the Fellowship that is composed of Gandalf and the four Hobbits as well as new members. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) the Elf; Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) the Dwarf and the two Men Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean). The new Fellowship then sets off for Mount Doom in Mordor, the only place the ring can be destroyed.

Once the Fellowship has been formed the movie tries to rush them to each vital location mentioned in the book, why? To have an action set piece before moving onto the next place. Whilst much of the books was spent walking, the film decided to cut that out in exchange for admittedly impressive landscape shots of New Zealand, which makes a fantastic setting for Middle Earth. In doing this though, the feeling of an epic journey in world that feels as though it could exist is cut out. Tolkien spent unbelievable amounts of time creating his own languages and forging songs and back stories for his characters. I understand a 3 hour film isn’t enough for this, but it still suffers because I didn’t feel like I knew anything about a majority of the characters that were supposed to be important.

World building is forfeited somewhat and there are few locations that really stick out as well realised, one being the Shire and the other is The Mines of Moria. The escape from the mines is the best set piece in the film, and luckily Jackson took the time to let us indulge in the shadowy mine-turned-tomb to compliment the action.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” is an ocean with the depth of a pond. The whimsical world built by Tolkien has been stripped to its base components and fit back together in a way that provides for a journey interspersed by action. It is hard to deny that the visuals and the action aren’t brilliant, and that the sense of a huge adventure that has only just begun isn’t awe-inspiring, but I came for a bit more than that.

7/10

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