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

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udûn! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!”

We all could use a Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) in our lives. Someone that is a friend, a brother, and a companion all in one. Someone who will make sure you have a comfortable place to sleep at night, to make sure you’re eating properly, and someone to accompany you on a dangerous journey to transport the one ring to rule them all safely to where it was forged, only to destroy it and save the world. What are friends for. Without Samwise, the decreed “Fellowship of the Ring” named by the council of Elrond (Hugo Weaving) wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did in their seemingly impossible journey. 

Among the eight others that are appointed to this Fellowship of the Ring to unite Middle Earth against the forces of Mordor include Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) aka the ring bearer and main Hobbit tasked to deliver the ring of power to its doom, Meriadoc Brandybuck aka Merry (Dominic  Monaghan), Peregrine Took aka Pippin (Billy Boyd), a Dwarf named Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), an Elf named Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Boromir (Sean Bean) a Steward of Gondor, Strider aka Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) the heir to Gondor’s throne, and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). To say each role within the Fellowship and among the greater ensemble is perfectly cast down to the last Orc/Goblin hybrid is an understatement. No other combination of actors could pull off the chemistry and camaraderie that director Peter Jackson made possible. 

Numbers alone, Fellowship of the Ring boasts an impressive ensemble that all commit to Jackson’s ambitious vision in his adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel of the same name. That’s about 2/3 of the main cast, the heroes of Tolkien’s fantasy epic.  

Reading the words on the page, the imagination paints a picture of what each character will look and sound like, what every location from the Shire to the mines of Moria to Rivendell will feel like down to the last detail that makes each a unique and beautiful place to visit. And then seeing this world come to life, drenched in verisimilitude is breathtaking. One look at the Shire and all the hobbit holes will drop the jaw and leave it there in disbelief as the journey leaves its borders and travels to locations that have a comfort to them though they are quite foreign.

The first of three volumes in Tolkien’s Middle Earth trilogy, ambitiously shot back-to-back-to-back, Fellowship’s themes are in abundance. Ranging from bravery, courage, innocence and heroism to duty, honor and destiny to possession and obsession. All are given what they need most to develop – time. Fellowship of the Ring is a long journey to get through and accomplish. Dialogue heavy mixed with Tolkien’s lore, language, and mythology will make for a difficult watch to understand in one sitting. It can feel sluggishly paced but once the world building swallows you whole, the journey becomes a joyride. 

Who could possibly believe that a halfling Hobbit, comfortable in their home, free from danger with as much food, drink, fireworks, and merriment would become the most courageous in all of Middle Earth, volunteering amongst an argumentative council to destroy something so precious to so many beings. One look at Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippin says more about them than any other being who judges their character. Hobbits are quite deceiving – proving their bravery in the face of danger, especially when outnumbered by orcs.

Other themes of duty and destiny can be applied to the men of this “Fellowship”. Aragorn, being the heir to Gondor doesn’t seek the throne, he will do just the opposite, being king is beneath him even as a natural born leader – taking command and responsibility for the Hobbits and mostly Frodo. Aragorn’s apathy toward the throne of Gondor sparks conflict with Boromir but since it’s Aragorn, the respect is never lost between the two allies.

Jackson has the themes, the sheer scope of Middle Earth, design and production value, the characters, and their relationships with one another nailed, but Jackson most importantly has the special effects perfected. Nitpicking a frame here or there looks out of place but 99.99% of the effects are bulletproof. For the time Fellowship of the Ring released, special effects of this magnitude is unheard of and unseen. It took a village to bring this film to life, actually it took the entire country of New Zealand and an ambitious Kiwi to make this film feel like it’s an actual place that can be visited on the map. Every mountain peak, stretch of land, body of water adds to the scale of this massive piece of land. 

As much as the novels paved a way for high fantasy to be more accessible and mainstream, the special effects used paved the way to what will be looked at when dealing with fantasy creatures of various races. The forced perception alone of the Hobbits is impressive among the practicality and heavy use of CGI. Both are blended well that spotting any blemish is near impossible. 

On top of the special effects is the groundbreaking motion capture technology used for Gollum (Andy Serkis). Though he’s barely in the film, his obsession for his lost precious blankets the fellowship like a shadow, never losing sight of what turned a Hobbit once known as Sméagol into a shell of a creature. 

Fellowship is an epic in every sense of the word. We’re with these characters for a hair under 3 hours and each character’s spirit bleeds off the screen. You will want to accompany them on their journey to destroy the ring of power but from a distance. I’m perfectly fine not going near an orc or any of the dangers this world may bring. Maybe I’m a Hobbit like Frodo or Bilbo (Ian Holm) and my bravery just hasn’t been found yet. For every rough and tumble sequence is compounded by charm and sincerity. Mundane moments between two characters is brought to life by Howard Shore’s masterpiece of a score that will have anyone immediately look for others to form a fellowship of their own after the credits roll. Just like John Williams Star Wars or Jurassic Park or Danny Elfman’s Batman, the main theme is unforgettable and energetic, embedded as a permanent ear worm in the brain.

Fellowship proves that high fantasy can be treated with respect, It’s no longer a niche genre. Though Tolkien didn’t invent the wheel when he wrote his novels, what he created became so intimate with a large-scale scope to it that it blows away anything that came before. Jackson, along with his co-writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh prove that these novels have a wider audience if handled correctly.

Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson

Directed By: Peter Jackson

Music By: Howard Shore

Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Where to Watch: HBO Max

Release Date: December 19, 2001

Running Time: 2 Hours 58 Minutes (Theatrical), 3 Hours 48 Minutes (Extended)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Based On: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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