20 Years Later: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is More Nourishing than Lembas Bread
One tale to rule them all.
Revisiting The Fellowship of the Ring
If you’re anybody who’s anybody, chances are that you’ve probably seen The Fellowship of the Ring and its two follow-ups. If not, where on earth have you been? Not only is The Fellowship of the Ring a spell-binding cinematic experience; it’s also a highly faithful rendition of a timeless classic, more so at least than the Ralph Baskhi version twenty-three years earlier. Such is the perennial charm of Middle Earth that it was even painstakingly recreated on Minecraft by a dedicated group of players only last year. On or off the screen, the first leg of Frodo and Sam’s epic journey to destroy the Ring in the heart of Mordor remains well and truly a story for all time.
Of course, Peter Jackson wasn’t just going to cast any old actor or actress for his masterpiece. They were all mostly fairly well-established by 2001, with the likes of Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Ian McKellen, and Christopher Lee scooping up the major roles. Lee actually always dreamt of playing Gandalf and auditioned for the role but was hindered by old age, which would have been a problem for the horse-riding sequences. There’s also the matter of his natural villainous look and experience in roles like Count Dracula. Having said that, he was the sole cast member ever to have met Tolkien (in a pub, of all places), and made a habit of reading the books once each year – something which we could all live up to.
Part of the enduring appeal of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings in general is its basic premise of good versus evil. After all, what’s more detestable than grotesque, man-hating Orcs ruled over by a primary antagonist hell-bent on world domination? Admittedly, there is some moral ambiguity since practically anyone can become ensnared by the lure of the Ring’s power, as Gollum, Boromir, the Ringwraiths and Sauron himself will tell you. As such, the danger of a new Lord of the Rings ascending to the throne and taking Sauron’s place is ever-present, adding an interesting layer on top of the basic good versus evil dichotomy. In general, however, the heroes’ hearts remain true here and throughout the trilogy, despite some testing moments. It keeps the audience rooting for them whilst at the same time realizing just how precarious a line they’re treading.
The Fellowship of the Ring achieves what it does by emulating the book, not superseding it. It’s about as faithful an adaption as there can be. The main scenes that drive the plot are there, if greatly condensed. Deciding how best to fit a 187, 790 word epic into an almost three-hour-long feature film is always going to be difficult, so naturally a lot of stuff gets left out, but the things that didn’t are left more or less unchanged.
There are some welcome embellishments, like seeing Saruman up close and personal in his tower, a character who readers only got to know about second-hand, never seeing things from the villains’ perspective. That being said, his igniting the duel with Gandalf in his throne room could be construed as being a little beneath him. In the book, he simply delegates the task to his guards who casually escort Gandalf up to a sordid rooftop captivity. The complete absence of fan-favorite Tom Bombadil is a big miss, though probably a necessary one. Even in the novel, he makes zero difference to the plot and is really there as a delightful detour. The film’s extended version however does throw in some added scenes for those who want them, but still not Mr Bombadil, unfortunately.
The Fellowship of the Ring leaves the best till last with the skirmish at Amon Hen, a sequence rivaled only by Moria in terms of action. We only see the aftermath of Amon Hen in the book, so it’s great to witness Boromir’s redemption in full. In addition, the detachment of Uruk-Hai (who originally are also accompanied by Moria Goblins) are given a captain in the form of the indomitable Lurtz, adding some extra spice and giving the audience someone else to hate. Rather than needless baggage, it feels like pure ingenuity on Peter Jackson’s part.
Needless to say, the visuals and special effects made possible through a hefty budget are breathtaking to say the least, culminating in a score of won awards including Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score. Nothing more to be said there. It is however worth noting that even the worst story can have the best monetary backing behind it and it wouldn’t make it good, which is far from the case with The Fellowship of the Ring. The best tale deserves the best technology to tell it, and boy does it get it.
Unfortunately, Tolkien didn’t live to see his magnum opus transferred to the big screen, least of all the part that is The Fellowship of the Ring. Unsatisfied with the almost exclusively Celtic tales of King Arthur predominating in southern Britain, Tolkien put pen to paper in the hope of giving England its own mythology. In doing so, he gave one to the whole world.
Watch The Fellowship of the Ring
December 17, 2021 at 12:34 pm
I love these films too and I agree with you that they can be taken seriously as art — or just enjoyed (need there be a difference?) Thanks for the retrospective!