A long, long time ago — like, a half-century ago — a man named J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a series of books which redefined the fantasy genre. The way you know Orcs, Elves and Dwarves all stem from the way Tolkien described them in his series set in Middle Earth. While he didn’t necessarily reinvent the genre, his books were severely popular and nowadays are basically used as the staple. Why do Elves have pointy ears? Because Tolkien did it, that’s why. Half of his Lord of the Rings series has previously been adapted to film, and Peter Jackson brings us the first of three movies here with The Fellowship of the Ring.
We begin with a lot of exposition detailing the world we’re about to spend hours and hours within. We learn how an evil force named Sauron once tried to rule the world with a magical ring, but had his finger chopped off and was killed shortly thereafter. the ring could have been destroyed, saving the entire world, but because Man is a greedy species, it was allowed to endure. Thousands of years later, Sauron has returned and wants his ring back.
It has since fallen into the hands of a Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). But since it drains the life of anyone wearing it, he’s started to feel thin, despite celebrating his 111th birthday. He decides to take off, leaving his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood), with the burden. Of course, he didn’t know that Evil had returned and that it wanted the ring, nor that this particular ring was the ring of the fables. All he knew was that it prolonged life and that, if you wear it, it turns you invisible.
Eventually, Frodo is told that he needs to take the Ring to the city of Elves, Rivendell, by the wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), in order to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Hobbits don’t even reach four feet in height, but I’m sure that one will be the best chance of getting the ring to safety. After a long period, it’s determined that the ring has to go all the way to Mordor — the place in which Sauron resides — because that’s the only location where it can be destroyed. A rather small company of people will accompany Frodo on this quest, which will take up the second half of this film, and more than likely the majority of the next two (without wanting to spoil anything for those of you who have not seen the films or read the books).
I could spend paragraphs and paragraphs trying to set-up the world that has been created here and I still wouldn’t do it justice. There’s so much depth and complexity to everything within the film that I can’t even begin to think of what to say. Basically, there is a whole world imagined here, and thanks to the books and the imagination of director Peter Jackson, you get to experience it within this film.
And you should absolutely do that. This is the start of something special, and while it doesn’t all work as a single film, it leads into something that is must-see material. The film itself is spectacular — it’s a well-made fantasy flick with a real heart, strong action, interesting characters and the aforementioned spectacular world — but what it begins to build toward is what makes it even better.
It’s surprising how tense a movie composed mostly of characters just walking or running from place to place can be. There are creatures serving under Sauron called the Nazgûl that are constantly chasing Frodo and the Fellowship. They feel like a genuine threat, and they’re not even the only obstacle that these characters have to overcome. Orcs exist as well, and while one Orc can’t do much, an army poses a challenge. This story doesn’t play it safe, either, as a couple of characters will not make it to the end.
There are a few twists, a decent amount of large battles, and while the film is three hours long, the time flew by like it was a 90 minute sprint. I’m sure some trimming might have helped, but that would anger the fans of the novel, who already have enough reason to be critical considering some of the changes that Jackson and his crew took in their adaptation. I didn’t mind any of them, though, and felt that any changes made were to the film’s benefit.
I only had to minor problems with the film. The first is that a couple of the supporting cast members didn’t get enough screen time, making the ensemble film feel more focused on two or three of these characters. Some of the travel sequences — where we watch characters running across the beautiful New Zealand terrain — could have been shortened or excluded as well; we understand that these characters are always on the move. But these don’t even begin to detract much from the finished product, and they’re most definitely nitpicking.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the set-up film. It exists to set the stage, bringing us into this world, getting us familiar with these characters, and then allowing us to spend a long time with them and within it. It has a great cast, enjoyable action scenes, a fantastic world, and is absolutely worth the three hours it takes to play. You’ll be very glad you watched it, and you’ll be dying to watch the next installments of Jackson’s trilogy.