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This is the first instalment of movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s much-loved Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels. In an enormous undertaking, all three films were shot simultaneously in New Zealand in 274 days. On occasions there were up to 7 units shooting at a time, and the dailies (usually lasting around 20 minutes) were 3-4 hours long! The mighty task to direct these films belonged to Peter Jackson, who was previously only known for a number of horror comedies and the crime thriller Heavenly Creatures, starring Kate Winslet. With a budget of over $300 million, Jackson set out to create an epic fantasy trilogy that would transport audiences to the magical world of Middle Earth.
The exposition in the prologue successfully gives viewers enough background information without overwhelming them. The film’s plot is both interesting and exciting, and the episodic narrative doesn’t pose a barrier for those new to The Lord of the Rings. That said, there are some lovely touches for the many fans of the novels.
The Hobbits meet the mysterious Strider in Bree, who seems to know a lot about their quest. He leads them to the crumbled watchtower of Weathertop where they camp for the night but are discovered by the Ringwraiths. Frodo is pierced by one of their blades and is gravely injured. Fortunately, an Elf by the name of Arwen comes to the rescue, riding with Frodo to the safety of her homeland and the healing skills of her father Elrond. Frodo recovers in Rivendell, home of the Elves, and is reunited with the Hobbits, Strider (whose real name is revealed to be Aragorn) and Gandalf, who escaped Saruman’s tower. A meeting is held to determine the fate of the Ring and it is decided that it must be destroyed. Here the Fellowship of the Ring is formed, a company of nine, tasked with travelling to Mordor, home of Sauron’s armies, where the Ring must be cast into the fires of Mount Doom. Joining the four Hobbits, Gandalf and Aragorn, are Boromir; a renowned warrior of Men, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf. Their quest is fraught with danger. They battle huge numbers of Orcs, Goblins and Saruman’s race of superior warriors perfected from Orcs; the Uruk-hai. At the conclusion of the film, each member of the Fellowship has been pushed to their limits by the malignant powers of the Ring and none of them will be the same again. Will they be able to remain together as they fight to save Middle Earth or will the pressure and peril prove too much to bear?
This film benefits from excellent casting. The actors chosen are all perfect for their roles. The filmmakers didn’t try to squeeze big names into parts that were completely wrong for them, a tendency other films suffer from. That would have made the film about the actors rather than the characters, which would have detracted from its brilliance. It’s strange to read about the different actors who were approached, or who showed an interest before filming began. Aragorn may have been played by Stuart Townsend, Daniel Day-Lewis or Russell Crowe, none of whom I can imagine in the role because Viggo Mortensen really makes it his own. Sam Neill might have been Gandalf, Jake Gyllenhaal might have been Frodo, and David Bowie might have been Elrond! They all seem like odd choices because the actors who play those characters are superb and believable.
Peter Jackson has a Hitchcock-style cameo in the film, as he does in his previous works. He can be seen outside The Prancing Pony in Bree holding a carrot. Originally it was supposed to be a pipe but after a couple of puffs, he felt sick and chose the carrot instead.
New Zealand itself truly is a star of the film. The beautiful, idyllic landscapes are used to great effect. The snowy mountains, vast forests, open farmland and countryside are all breathtaking. The filmmakers have created their own world in these magnificent settings. All other aspects of the film are equally brilliant. The production design, costumes, make-up, creatures, special and visual effects are all smoothly integrated into the fabric of the film, and Howard Shore’s score fits perfectly.
Fantasy movies prior to this have failed to be believable, many ending up just being silly. The Fellowship of the Ring transports viewers to a different world and completely immerses them in it. It is wonderful escapism. The filmmakers bring Middle Earth to life with love and a real vision for the project. This film sets a very high benchmark for the genre and for movies in general. A truly epic experience that deserves multiple viewings. Amazingly, at 178 minutes (208 for the special extended edition) it still leaves me wanting more.