Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson; based on The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Producer: Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Tim Sanders
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Counter and better than the books, the film opens up with the ring’s history, taking information that’s scattered across hundreds of pages and making it clear and concise, allowing us to understand exactly why it mattered. Failing to remember that this was made nearly twenty years ago, the first thing I notice was the CGI which just did not work at points. It embodies what I’ve been writing about on this site for years, in that the very nature of CGI is to push the technology to its brinks. I can appreciate what The Fellowship of the Ring accomplished given the year, but it’s a prime example of what a modern remastering could do for the film.
We then head to the Shire, meeting the various hobbits and receive another rich history of the area through Bilbo Baggin’s (Ian Holm) narration as he attempts to write his novel. His 111th birthday is in a few days, and per Hobbit tradition (though not mentioned in the movie), he’s responsible for inviting everyone from The Shire - no matter how much he despises them; providing each with a present. Bilbo’s old friend Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has returned to town for the event, bearing fireworks for the kids, first meeting Frodo (Elijah Wood) who provides the latest town gossip. We go on to meet Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan), the latter pair being introduced much better than in the book (as I think it’s delayed by about fifty pages).
It’s this opening scene that I most recall from childhood, having seen the film so many times in such a short period that its images are burned onto my brain. The Shire is a conservative place, resentful of change and suspicious non-Hobbits, and yet looking so serene and idyllic that I’ve yet to meet a single person who hasn’t at least once described their desire to live there. While Tolkien did say that the series’ closing chapter "The Scorching of the Shire" was based on the bombing on London, it’s described and captured in such a way that separates it from any particular place (at least that I know). I had forgotten how most of these hobbits are under four feet tall, with the group average hovering somewhere around 3’6”, which while no character looks so small, Jackson expertly framed them to pull off the gag (see below).
What makes the series work so well is its use of such simple concepts to capture such terrifying and complex ideas. The Shire is a place of peace against an increasingly dark and dangerous world, which we know is slowly approaching, of which the Hobbits have no idea about or care to know. In the book, Frodo is 33 years old at Bilbo’s 111th birthday, and after receiving the ring, lives with it for seventeen years before Gandalf returns. I’m unsure why Tolkien decided to do this, other than that Tolkien was around 50 years old himself when starting the book, adding an additional layer of meaning, perhaps serving as an allegory to Tolkien’s own march toward death as he soon entered into his golden years. What it does best is provide logic to an otherwise complex timeline. While Jackson gets away with his lightening speed in making Sauron rise to evil and Saruman to follow, Tolkien imagined a world where it’d take nearly twenty years before the evil finally arrived at The Shire. Given that Frodo had the ring the entire time, there’s definitely humor in the irony - in that for all that was causing a great war and possible destruction of Middle Earth, it resided with one of the most ordinary creature’s imaginable.
Gandalf explains that The Hobbit’s Gollum (Andy Serkis) had been captured by Sauron’s forces, tortured, eventually revealing the identity of Bilbo Baggins and where he lives. Sauron sends his seven Nazgûl Ringwraiths over to The Shire to find the Ring, providing one of the more fascinating histories within the film; in that, back when the One Ring was basically the executive device of broad hierarchy, in which the Elves, Humans, and Dwarfs all had a set of subservient rings which served their master, the seven humans who accepted their rings succumbed to the power, overtaken by the evil until doomed to serve Sauron for the rest of etertinity. While more men are introduced within the film, Tolkien’s cynicism is unyielding. As occurs throughout the film, it’s man’s lust for power and wealth that leads closest to their destruction.
Wikipedia actually quotes one of the most chilling passages from The Silmarillion:
Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Úlairi, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death. — The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
Gandalf demands Frodo head off to destroy the ring. Having never left The Shire, Frodo hesitates, offering the ring to Gandalf and providing our first taste of its power, in one of the films most haunting scenes. Immediately the story shifts from a light hearted tales about an bucolic land full of adorable homes and fireworks and into a genuinely terrifying harbinger.
Frodo heads up with Sam just as the first Ringwraith approaches, eventually meeting Merry and Pippin, and making their way out of The Shire. In a narrow escape, they make their way to Bree to meet Gandalf who hasn’t been around in over six months. There’s a scene in An American Werewolf in London (1981) where they enter The Slaughtered Lamb and the raucous place comes to a complete stop before a local explains the story about a werewolf. There’s a fantasy I have with this type of scene, where I imagine being with a close buddy on a road trip, getting stranded, and entering the same cryptic and ominous bar; providing the perfect dose of adrenaline that gets you excited with just a few grams of fear.
They meet Strider (that is, Aragorn - Viggo Mortensen; Daniel Day Lewis was also offered the part…) who describes himself as a friend to Gandalf and there to escort them to the Elvin world of Rivendell. With the Ringwraiths closing in, the hobbits agree and they head off, eventually meeting the Ringwraiths where Frodo gets stabbed after putting on the ring, infected by the zombie/ghoul-like spirit, on the verge of falling into darkness. He’s rescued by Aragorn’s Elf lover Arwen (Liv Tyler) and they all return to Rivendell, where Frodo is saved and discovers Bilbo there, who still desires the ring (in the most film’s most terrifying moment).
The actual Fellowship of the Ring is formed with Aragorn, a man Boromir (Sean Bean), an Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and a Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies; who up until writing this I don’t think I’ve ever seen without the costume), and the four other hobbits. They agree to dedicate their lives in protecting Frodo as he throws away the ring, and head off.*
It’s here that the Extended Edition begins to drag and it’s understandable why so much material had been left on the floor. Between Rivendell and Lothlórien, shot in a cheesy blue haze that just gets awful to look at after long periods of time, we learn of Aragorn’s history and connection to Arwen, though I couldn’t tell you many details as it's close to unbearably dense.
*As a note, I read that one of the biggest alleged plot holes is that the Eagles (from The Hobbit) weren’t used to destroy the ring. I’m not sure why the Eagles would be exempt from the Ring’s power, given that they’re demonstrably super intelligent animals. So not sure this holds much weight.
Continue onto to Part 3...
BELOW: How Jackson made the Hobbits seem small
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