By Marc S. Sanders
JRR Tolkien was one of the 20th Century’s greatest fantasy writers. The Lord Of The Rings series was a dense, sweeping epic inspired by the torn European climate during World War II and its conflict with the Axis nations, particularly Hitler and his organized Nazi Germany.
Peter Jackson found the opportunity to adapt Tolkien’s works. In 2001, The Fellowship Of The Ring amazed audiences with its epic landscape of Middle Earth, Isengard and Mordor where the fiery Mount Doom is located and the evil eye of Sauron waits for a resurgence of overthrow.
Much happens in each three hours plus Rings films. Tolkien’s story is not so much plot, but moreover a journey from one adventure to another. What’s special is that the main hero is a small, kind Hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) who has been tasked with carrying the dangerously powerful “One Ring To Rule Them All” back to Mount Doom and destroy it. He is aided by eight fellows, three other Hobbits and four representatives of various nations and backgrounds to protect and escort him. The most significant member is the wise wizard Gandalf The Grey played by Ian McKellen in an Oscar nominated performance. The other characters’ significance become more established in later films.
This first installment is my favorite of the series because it is the most absorbing. I believe in the all but sinister and deadly value of Tolkien and Jackson’s MacGuffin, the Ring. Jackson does well of posing the threat of danger each time Frodo dons the Ring for the sake of invisibility while the Orc army of Saruman, Sauron’s Wizard henchman played by Christopher Lee, bears down on the Fellowship. The film shows one battle after another but the suspense is heightened each time as we become more familiar with Jackson’s digital world. It’s also quite dramatic to see Frodo become consumed in fear and a kind of sickness as the possession of the Ring weighs upon him. To precisely show that transition requires a three hour film, and Elijah Wood is up to the task, always appearing quite angelic and unsure of his assignment. Wood is quite the underrated actor.
There are a multitude of character descriptions in The Fellowship Of The Ring and a number of them come into play when centered around the viewpoint of the Ring. Backstories for others are really not necessary but Jackson attempts to cram as much of Tolkien’s narrative as possible. Beyond Frodo, and maybe Gandalf, the other most interesting character here is that of Boromir played by Sean Bean, often playing a variation of a hero in his films, but quite good at not being worthy of endless accolades. Boromir is a great character to show how the temptation of the Ring can cloud and poison the mind. Bean evokes that of one who might be a weak addict, needing a quick fix of the Ring’s power. There’s a complexity to his performance. Boromir is likable but Sean Bean makes the character quite shocking as well. He’s not a villain but his internal weakness presents a conflict for Frodo and his band. Sean Bean never got enough recognition for his role here.
Peter Jackson is the real hero though. This series is a massive cinematic accomplishment. Everything feels gratefully familiar. Perhaps that is from reading Tolkien’s visually descriptive books, or maybe even the animated film from the seventies. There’s something to see in every corner of the screen. It’s a world come alive in leaves, creatures on land or in the sky, sorcery and swords, flames and even saloons of overflowing drink and large platters of food. The Shire where Frodo lives with his uncle Bilbo (an excellent and jovial Ian Holm) comes off as a happy utopian village of farming and Hobbit celebrations of laziness and relaxation from any outside elements. Jackson contrasts this beautifully against the majesty of Rivendell and the hell of Mordor. It’s a nuanced universe.
Again, for me this first installment remains the best as it is cinched up tightly in its exposition and narrative. Later films are just as grand but maybe sidestep away from themselves a little.
I never got that impression with The Fellowship Of The Ring. Everything I see belongs in the film.