The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I, like many others, grew up on the Lord of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy. The theatrical cuts were frequently being shown on television, my father owns the extended editions and I have watched all 12 hours of bonus materials featured on those discs. I have a replica of both The One Ring and Anduril, sword of the true king of Gondor forged from the blades of Narsil, which cut The Ring from Sauron’s hand. When I started building my film collection, one of the first things I purchased was the Extended LOTR trilogy and it was one of the first movie marathons I undertook. In short: I love these films. I felt it was important to provide context in case I seem biased, because I probably will.

The first half of Fellowship of the Ring (FOTR) is concerned with the forming of the titular fellowship. Frodo Baggins, having come into posession of The One Ring must avoid the 9 Nazgul in an attempt to bring it to the Elven city of Rivendell. He is assisted by his best friend Samwise Gamgee as well as the hapless duo Merriadoc (Merry) Brandybuck and Peregrin (Pippin) Took. They would also be assisted by wizard Gandalf the Grey, but he is being held captive by the leader of his order Sauroman the White- from whom he eventually escapes. Needless to say, the stakes are high. FOTR establishes this tension immediately, by given us a beautiful narration by Cate Blanchett about the final battle against Sauron, alongside footage which features hundreds of extras. This is followed by a cut to The Shire, where we begin to meet our cast. Though Hobbits are smaller than regular people, this isn’t achieved with CGI trickery. Instead, director Peter Jackson relies on forced perspective and child actors for the wide shots as well as specially designed sets. Shots of Rivendell and the tower of Isengard are models while the remainder of locations are shot in New Zealand. There is, of course, the occasional green screen, but for a 20 year old film the effects are outstanding.

The worldbuilding in this first half is superb and possibly only rivaled by that of the late Jim Henson. The history lesson at the very beginning, the date being 1400 by Shire Reckoning and the copious amount of lore make it feel like Middle Earth has always been there. The Elvish language, drawn from the source material, is a real language with an alphabet and phonetics and was taught to all the actors who played Elves. There was a Tolkien linguistics specialist on the team, and the actors were told how to hold their posture like Elves. There is a dedication to the finer details in LOTR that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else. This isn’t just some film being made for the sake of it, this is Peter Jackson’s passion project and his love for this mythos really leaps off the screen.

The extended cut comes with extra footage providing more insight into this fantastical world. There are two new scenes which detail more about the Hobbit species, while in a third scene Frodo and Samwise witness an Elven Parade. Samwise remarks that it is a happy, yet also sad occasion which becomes much more poiniant once you know how the story ends. If the lore is something you are particularly interested in, then I highly recommend the extended cut. if you’re a casual movie viewer you’ll be alright without it. By the end of this half our Fellowhip of the Ring is complete and is as follows:

The Hobbits -Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippin

The Men – Aragorn and Boromir

The Elf – Legolas

The Dwarf – Gimli

and the wizard – Gandalf

The second half of Fellowship of the Ring follows the fellowship as they leave Rivendell, face orcs in the Mines of Moria, rest in the Elven village of Lothlorien and battle Uruk-hai before going their seperate ways. While the first half was about what is at stake for the whole of Middle Earth this second half is more about the personal stakes that our heroes hold. During this half we lose two members of the fellowship in what are a couple of the finest moments ever put to film, demonstrating that nobody is safe no matter what they may think. Disaster can, and does, strike at any moment.

For as small in stature as some of these characters may be, the scale of Fellowship is the exact opposite. The matte painted backgrounds are gorgeous in their own right, but when that is merged with model sets you get some of the most glorious shots. The Mines of Moria are especially impressive as is the tension that it holds. Our heroes are chased by a Balrog, a huge winged creature of fire and smoke, which doesn’t physically appear for the first 5 minutes of the chase. When it finally does emerge it is one of the finest CGI creations I think I’ve ever seen. It also leads to the first of our heroic sacrifices from perhaps the most powerful member of the fellowship- Gandalf. As he is dragged into the depths of Moria by the Balrog, the cries of anguish and despair from Frodo are muted to make way for a beautiful choral harmony. For a brief moment all is still, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. There is a lingering sense of defeat as our 8 remaining heroes finally arrive at Lothlorien, which is a rather long segment. For regular viewers, this may be where you feel the film starting to drag slightly but I urge you to stick with it.

Personally, I don’t mind this time spent in Lothlorien. It gives us time to properly grieve the loss of Gandalf, as well as giving us some time between the action pieces to take a breath. We are about to enter a very intense part of this tale, not just in Fellowship but in the films that follow. This is the last time that any of the fellowship will ever be truly safe as from here on out they will be consistently on the backfoot. Upon leaving Lothlorien, Boromir attempts to take The Ring from Frodo as he is preparing to leave for Mordor alone. It is at this point that our troupe is attacked by Uruk-Hai. We have three groups: Frodo and Aragorn; Merry, Pippin and Boromir; Legolas and Gimli while Samwise is alone trying desperately to get to Frodo. This is where the tears start flowing because I will unashamedly start crying every single time. Boromir is facing down an entire pack of Uruk-Hai to protect Merry and Pippin, and as the music swells, the action slows and he is hit by an arrow directly in the chest. Determined to protect his friends he carries on fighting only to be struck by two more arrows and, as Merry and Pippin are carried off, he finally falls. The dialogue when Aragorn finds him is simply beautiful. At the same time Frodo is setting sail for Mordor alone, but Samwise swims out to him almost drowning in the process. That pure, wholehearted dedication to his friend is what seems to hit me the most.

The extra footage in this half is more Middle Earth lore, so unless you want to experience 100% of this journey you will be alright with the theatrical cut. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is, in my opinion, one of the finest films ever made and a fantastic way to start off a fantastic trilogy.

Until Next Time…

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