As a fan of fantasy literature, I have always been wary about books being adapted into films, especially if the books are close to my heart, and if they are literary masterpieces. By the time it was 2001, Hollywood wasn’t quite sure to make of director Peter Jackson’s attempt to adapt JRR Tolkien’s literary masterpiece, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, to the silver screen. However, Jackson took on the behemoth task, Miramax and New Line Cinema took the risk, and in the end, they made a trilogy of films that surprised fans of the book and Hollywood alike, making what is known as one of the best fantasy films of all time. Aside from pulling off a film adaptation of this trilogy, Jackson pushed innovation forward by combining different filmmaking techniques to achieve the shots required; the use of big miniatures or “big-atures”; motion capture performance and techniques; his use of combining both special and practical effects; and began the trends of fantasy on the big screen and epic trilogy movie franchises.
And of course, all of this began with “The Fellowship of the Ring”, the first film in the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which was released in 2001. In 2002, an extended version of the film was released on DVD, which included thirty minutes of added material, commentaries and supplementary material. Additional material for the film was subsequently released in 2006, with the limited edition, which included both the theatrical and extended cuts. For this review, I’m taking a look at both versions of the film, and I’ll also be talking about some of the changes that were made for the films that were in the books.
“The Fellowship of the Ring” was directed by Peter Jackson, with a screenplay that adapted the book written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson himself. The theatrical release was a whopping two hours and fifty nine minutes long, while the extended cut was three hours and forty eight minutes long.
The film was shot in New Zealand and all the special effects were made by the Weta Workshop, a special effects and props company that Jackson is also a part of.
The film’s score was composed by Howard Shore; and won four Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, Best Visual Efects, Best Make Up and Best Original Score.
It starred Elijah Wood as a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins, Sean Astin as a Hobbit named Samwise “Sam” Gamgee, Billy Boyd as a Hobbit named Peregrin “Pippin” Took, Dominic Monaghan as a Hobbit named Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, Sir Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn or Strider, Sean Bean as Boromir of Gondor, John Rhys-Davies as the dwarf named Gimli, Orlando Bloom as the elven princeling named Legolas Greenleaf, Ian Holm as the Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, Liv Tyler as an elf named Arwen Undomiel, Cate Blanchett as the elven queen Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as the elf named Elrond, Christopher Lee as the wizard Saruman,and Andy Serkis as Gollum (voice and motion capture performance).
With breathtaking visuals, special effects, new filmmaking techninques, a superb score, and a stellar cast, Jackson created a film that does hold up very well as the years go by.
The casting of each part was spot on, and Jackson was able to bring out great performances from each and every one of them.
The film really made it seem as if Middle Earth was real, with their depiction of places such as Rivendell, Lothlorien and the Shire.
Now, since this is a film, there were changes made from the original source material, however, this was all done to be able to tell this particular story in a more cinematic way, and in a way that made sense creatively without losing the important elements of the story. A lot of this was also due to pacing of the story itself. So, especially for the theatrical cut, they did do away with elements in the book that might not have a lot of impact specifically on the main story of Frodo and the the quest of the Fellowship. However, some of these things, such as additional footage of them walking more to make it seem that even the journey from Bree to Rivendell took a lot more time than what was seen in the theatrical version, was placed in the extended version.
If you ask me which version I prefer, I would say that it has to be the extended version.
I liked the fact that it actually flowed better, it seemed more complete, and it allowed them to explore the other characters aside from Frodo, and gave more insight into what they were feeling, who they are as characters, and the reasons why they thought and acted the way they did. It also did a lot to improve on Blanchett’s Galadriel, as I feel that the extended cut allowed her to show of her motherly side aside from the enigmatic scary parts that were in the theatrical cut.
I also understood several other creative choices that they made such as expanding the role of Arwen, although I would have LOVED to have seen Elrond’s sons.
I absolutely loved the behind the scenes extras that they also put in with the Blu-Ray extended edition DVD, as it showed you how much careful planning went into the making of this film trilogy, and how every single detail was lovingly and carefully made. They showed the WETA workshop and all the costumes and props they did, how they designed the sets, the creative choices they made in adapting the books into a film, how Howard Shore made the music, the sound design, the special effects, how they were able to achieve the sense of scale that they needed when it came to the hobbits, all the stunt work that was done, how they shot it, where in New Zealand they shot particular scenes, the “big-atures” that were used, and they also included how the cast got together and the like. They did this for each Blu Ray of the Extended Cuts of each film, with some differences. For example, “The Fellowship of the Ring” DVD has them talking about how they did the pre-visualization of the film, while “The Two Towers” includes behind the scenes commentaries and footage on how Gollum was brought to life on the silver screen. Also, they talk about how they created particular settings that were present in each film, so for the first film, they talked about Moria and Lothlorien; while for the second film, they talked about how they did the Battle of Helm’s Deep, and created Helm’s Deep and Rohan. In the end, you will come out of it greatly appreciating all the effort that was put in to make these films.
All in all, “The Fellowship of the Ring” was a massive hit and a great surprise to everyone, from Hollywood critics to fans of the book alike. If you are a fan of the book, however, I recommend that you watch the Extended Cut; but if you are just a newbie to Tolkien or just a casual fan, I suggest watching the Theatrical Cut first.
Every single performance that was done throughout the film was nothing short of phenomenal as they embodied their characters through and through. It felt natural for them to play these characters, and as I said earlier the casting was spot on.
For me, however, the biggest stand outs in this film, aside from Tyler, Weaving, McKellen, Lee and Blanchett, are the performances that Wood and Bean gave.
While you see Wood give out outstanding performances as well in the next two films, it is in “The Fellowship of the Ring” that you see Frodo’s character journey more. At the beginning of the film, Wood portrayed Frodo with all the wide-eyed innocence and youth that the young Hobbit who has never really left his home. During the rest of the film, we start seeing how the Ring is starting to weigh heavy on him. At the very end of the film, we see both his resolve and struggle to carry on his part of the quest, and we see him, at a particular point, realizing the gravity and how scary his part in the quest is, and you can see it in his eyes.
Bean’s Boromir died at the end of the film, so, even though he does reappear in the form of flashbacks in the extended version of “The Two Towers”, the bulk of his performance is in this film. One of the reasons why I also like the extended cut of “The Fellowship of the Ring” is because you get to appreciate more Boromir’s struggle.
Gondor, his homeland is right beside Mordor, and has long since been repelling attacks from them with little to know help from the neighboring kingdoms. This is a land that is desperate for any breakthrough or weapon that they can get their hands on in order to turn the tide to their favor. In the end, you can see that Boromir’s intentions were noble, through and through.
Weaving, Tyler, Bloom and Blanchett did well not only with the fact that they had to learn Elvish and speak it fluently; but they managed to pull off looking ethereal as well. It should be noted that this was Bloom’s actual first film, and he did extremely well here.
Lee was also amazing, and brought the right amount of gravitas and authority that Saruman had, and that greatly contrasted with how Gandalf was. McKellen gave such a great performance throughout the entire trilogy and perfectly embodied who Gandalf was.
I would also like to praise Ian Holm’s performance, as this is the film we get to see more of Bilbo. His portrayal of Bilbo was nothing short of amazing, and he was really able to show the struggle that Bilbo had with letting go of the Ring.
I particularly love how told Aragorn how he felt after Galadriel promised him that there was still hope, and I cry every time I watch his death scene and when he pledges allegiance before Aragorn, his rightful king.
Aside from what I’ve mentioned earlier about the extended version of the film, I loved the fact that we got a lot of little tidbits that were great nuggets for the fans of the book, such as Gandalf explaining what mithril was, Merry and Pippin singing more at the Shire and at the Prancing Pony, the Sackville-Bagginses being shown on screen, additional journey scenes from Bree to Weathertop, Bilbo’s narration that echoed the prologue of the book, Frodo and Sam seeing wood elves in the forest, and Gollum being seen following them when they journeyed by river after leaving the woods of Lothlorien. I also liked the fact that Legolas had a lot more lines; there was more backstory given to Aragorn’s and Arwen’s relationship, as well as planting the seeds for Sam and Rosie Cotton’s eventual relationship. I also liked that Merry and Pippin were given more lines, and were shown to be pretty proactive, as they did hack down several orcs while Boromir was fighting during the last few scenes.
Among my favorite scenes in this film include the shots of Rivendell, that tracking shot from Gandalf on top of Orthanc to the Orc pits below, that fight scene on Weathertop, the scene in which the river gets summoned and drowns the Nazgul, actually seeing the hallways of Moria, the doorway to Moria, the Balrog, the actual formation of the Fellowship of the Ring, the fight scene in Moria, the fight scene at the end of the film, and Boromir’s ceremonial burial.
Again, I would have loved to have seen Elrond’s sons, and I would have loved to have seen Tom Bombadil and Lady Goldberry. However, I do understand that it was necessary to omit them out, and it didn’t really change the story without them being there.
Interestingly enough, on one hand, I’m fine with how Sam and Frodo left the Shire and Merry and Pippin just got dragged along with them in the film, as bringing those chapters to life would have taken up a huge chunk of time in the film. However, I really liked the fact that in the book, they had an actual solid plan to fool the Nazgul, and that Merry and Pippin went with them by choice in the book. It made them seem less like they were just tag alongs and accidental heroes. It was interesting that there was a lot of foreshadowing in the book regarding Pippin in the “Council of Elrond” chapter, but at the same time, I’m glad that they condensed that lengthy chapter to just a few scenes for the film.
In the end, even with all the changes that were made from the book to the screen, “The Fellowship of the Ring”, in both its forms, definitely didn’t disappoint anyone, showed the world that the impossible can be filmed.
What did you think of “The Fellowship of the Ring”? What didn’t you like about it? What were your favorite scenes or moments? What things in the book did you want to see in the film that wasn’t there? Did you prefer the Theatrical or the Extended version? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Image Sources: The Lord of the Rings Films Official Facebook Page, Amazon