Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett
Plot: Sauron, the Dark Lord, raises an unstoppable army of dark forces, leaving a Fellowship of mismatched companions to set off on a quest to destroy his ring of power.
Imagine being able to go back and watch Fellowship of the Ring for the first time again? Imagine being able to see Legolas stride into Rivendell once more. Hear the drumming in the deeps of Moira as the unknown come for the Fellowship. Witness that unforgettable jump scare during a pleasant dialogue scene between Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Whenever I watch the first chapter of Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, I become undeniably envious for anyone who hasn’t witnessed this form of cinema. The Fantasy Epic, told in a way thought impossible.
Peter Jackson pushes the boundaries of cinema in his epic. It is hard to believe he started with Brain Dead, the low budget gore-fest in his back garden. The story is very simple. There is a Dark Lord (story-teller’s noun for a villain that needs little back-story), an evil Macguffin with unlimited power that needs destroying in a very specific way and a band of heroes so diverse they need to constantly reaffirm their relationships throughout the story. The wizard is suitably all-knowing, wise and merciful. The elf is elegant, but arrogant. Men are power-hungry wankers. J.R.R Tolkien’s novels were Fantasy 101, but the power of the Lord of the Rings comes in the story-telling. And the direction is so superb, not just through its perfection, but through its consistency. Watching the trilogy back and you are surprised to find that the best set-pieces are just as fantastic as you remember. It is rare to find a 2001 movie that keeps its SFX and CGI this aesthetically pleasing. It is always pleasing to throw yourself back into the best moments. The Mines of Moira are still the highlight of the opening film, condensing a skirmish with a troll, an escape through a collapsing staircase and the dreaded Balrog. The finale is worth mentioning too, which while not as visually stimulating as Moira, packs the emotional punch to resonate with the audience. But the true power of Jackson’s direction comes when you realise that the smallest of scenes are just as precisely directed as the money shots. The stand-off with the Ringwraiths in the ruins. Ian Holm’s Bilbo pottering around his Hobbit Hole. Aragorn and Arwen sharing a private moment. These quieter scenes are given just as much attention as the big ones, meaning that wherever you pause this movie, you are bound to find yourself staring at a lesson in cinematography. As the Lord of the Rings (and especially the Hobbit trilogy), stretches on, it became easy to become fed up at the gratuitous time-outs to focus on some scenic walking shots, but here, it is easier to just sit back and let the beauty of what you are watching sink in. The fantasy genre is all about buying into the world the writers lay out for you and never has an audience been able to sink into a story as deeply as they have with the Lord of the Rings.
And it is for that reason we are in no need to rush the story. There is a lot to fit into this chapter and even without diving into the four hour director’s cut, the movie clocks in at a patience-testing time. It says a lot about Jackson’s story that we’re only watching the first of a three-part movie and we are riveted throughout. We haven’t even got to the battle scenes yet. But as we look back on these movies, we are definitely pleased that Jackson saw fit to slow his story right down, so every beat is felt. There would have been no time for the performances to breathe if the producers made him try to get the running time under the two hour mark. The slow introduction to Middle-Earth through the Shire definitely helps set the tone, introducing our heroes one by one and allowing the audiences to get attached to them. There is something very comforting about spending time with Samwise Gamgee, so obsessed with home, even when in the thick of the adventure. There is also a breath of fresh air when Jackson slows his movie right back down to Rivendell, when we have to re-set the story with the new cast and next quest. The council meeting would have been cumbersome faff in the hands of most writers, but Jackson has us actually looking forward to seeing the reveal of Strider as Aragorn and the taunting as Sean Bean’s complex Boromir bounces off the rest of the cast as well as Frodo, and the audience, realising the size of Tolkien’s world. The cast are excellent. Sure, some of the melodrama delivered by Wood and Bloom can be scoffed at, but it is part and parcel with the genre. Other lines are instantly added to the cult universe, delivered by actors that are totally on board with what the team are trying to accomplish. “Keep it secret, keep it safe!” urgently whispers McKellan. Christopher Lee delivers his lines in a way only a veteran of his talents could do. Don’t even get me started on Billy Boyd’s ‘second breakfast’ gag.
On the whole, it is very hard to find a movie that works quite as holistically as this. As we look back on the trilogy and argue that habit and maybe a second trilogy have diluted our awe of the series, but we should look back and realise just how gifted we are as an audience to have a team of film-makers, who gave us this. The only compliment I have left is a simple ‘thank you’. From the deepest part of my heart, Peter Jackson, thank you for making these movies.
Final Verdict: Every scene is artfully crafted, creating a cacophony of the very best of the Fantasy genre, or cinema as a whole.