MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #50. The Lord of the Rings: They Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“It all began with the forging of the Great Rings.”

In the last few years, Peter Jackson has become the guy who decided a 285 page kids’ book needed to be an eight or nine hour epic, spread out over three movies with, The Hobbit.  That sounds nothing short of ridiculous.  Why would anyone insist on stretching a story to its breaking point, adding new aspects to a beloved classic and potentially giving fans more things to hate?  Well, the answer to that goes back to the turn of the century, when a then shclockmatser director from New Zealand was given the keys to an even more beloved book.  Peter Jackson redefined his career and what was possible with digital effects, with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

The hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is getting ready to celebrate his 111th birthday with a massive party, then leave his quiet home town forever. Leaving everything to his nephew Frodo (Elija Wood), he is about sneak off into the night when his old friend, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) confronts him about one item he is yet to surrender to his nephew, a magic ring found years earlier that gives Bilbo the power of invisibility.  It turns out, that power is nothing compared to what it could do if in the wrong hands.  Bilbo reluctantly leaves the ring and leaves the Shire.

Sometime later, Gandalf learns that Sauron, the maker of the ring thousands of years ago, is back.  And has learned that the ring is in a place called The Shire, in the possession of someone named Baggins.   Telling Frodo to leave with the ring immediately, he’s joined by three hobbit friends, Sam (Sean Astin), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan).  They soon meet Strider, AKA Aragorn, a fierce warrior who helps them escape Suaron’s minions and takes them to the hidden elven city of Rivendell.  Here, they form the fellowship of the title.  A band of hobbits, men, an elf and a dwarf, who will help Frodo bare the ring all the way to its birth place, where he will destroy it, and Sauron.

When this movie came out, I had read the Lord of the Rings books three or four times.  So I was super excited about a big budget movie adaptation, but my familiarity with the books also made me a little worried.  Was it even possible for a movie to live up to the epic novels and the version I had built in my head over those three or four readings?  I went to the cinema opening day, and a few hours later, I couldn’t believe I would have to wait an entire year to see the second instalment.

Watching it again today, for the first time in probably a decade, I was still pretty much blown away.  And having seen it with the hindsight of the more recent Hobbit movies, made me like it even more.  A bit of a victim of his own success, the Hobbit series got lost amongst Peter Jackson’s mountains of unconvincing CGI and reliance on special effects in general.  In The Fellowship of the Ring, the effects are there, but they’re used sparingly, with real people performing real stunts in real locations whenever possible.  And funnily enough, it makes this whole world seem that much more real.

It’s odd that this is the Lord of the Rings movie to make the AFI’s top 100.  It was part three, The Return of the King, that finally won the Best Picture Oscar.  And I think part two, The Two Towers, is generally the nerd’s choice for series highpoint.  But, I guess The Fellowship of the Ring was the movie with the burden of setting it all up, making sure the other two could even exist at all.   I might not think it’s the best in the series, but in a way, I can understand why it’s the most important.

The Lord of the Rings: They Fellowship of the Ring
Directed By – Peter Jackson
Written By – Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens

Best Picture (nominated, lost to A Beautiful Mind)
Best Director (Jackson nominated, lost to Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind)
Best Supporting Actor (McKellen nominated, lost to Jim Broadbent for Iris)
Best Adapted Screenplay (nominated, lost to A Beautiful Mind)
Best Cinematography
Best Visual Effects
Best Makeup
Best Original Score

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