The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) / Adventure-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some scary images
Running Time: 178 min. (208 min. for the special extended edition)

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Marton Csokas, SalaBaker
Director: Peter Jackson

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson (based on the novel, "The Fellowship of the RIng", by J. R. R. Tolkien)
Review published December 20, 2001

In case you want perspective, I had read Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Hobbit" as a young teenager, and I consider them among my favorite stories of any medium - a masterpiece of its genre, or any genre, really.  Although it will be difficult to remove my memories of those books while writing this review, I feel it's my duty to concentrate on this film as if the books did not exist, just as I would if the books were obscure.  Regardless, the spirit and tone of the two mediums is markedly different, with the books concentrating on the poetry and life of the creatures that inhabit the mythical lands, while the film breaks the tale down to the barebones of the plot and bolsters it up with action sequences and special effects smorgasbords.


This plot revolves around a Hobbit (kind of a small, furry human) named Frodo Baggins (Wood, The Faculty), relative of Bilbo (Holm, The Sweet Hereafter), who has found a powerful magic golden ring which has prolonged his life and also has threatened to consume it.  This ring was once the creation of the Dark Lord Sauron, and the destruction of the ring at Sauron's defeat would have ended all evil in the land.  Yet through personal greed, the ring resists destruction, and now Sauron is returning to claim that which is his.  The great wizard Gandalf (McKellen, X-Men) enlists the aid of a motley crew of creatures in order to escort Frodo to the Cracks of Doom to destroy the ring and put an end to Sauron's plans.  Their trek is long and perilous, bringing them face to face with the most repugnant and dangerous monsters of all creation, while Sauron's wraiths are hot on their heels. 


The Fellowship of the Ring is arguably the most impressive visual feast ever created to date, with awe-inspiring backdrops and fluid CGI characters that inject just the right feeling of grandiosity to the plight of the situation, while also showcasing the beauty as well.  The art design, cinematography and costumes permit the atmosphere necessary to inject realism into what is a purist form of fantasy.  One might ordinarily feel that such concentration on the magnificent visuals would obscure the story, as  has been the case with so many other films,  In this film they actually make it better.  Next to such mammoth statues and architecture, we realize just how insignificant a character a Hobbit is to think he might hold the key to saving the world from all evil.


Director Peter Jackson (King Kong) does a terrific job in maintaining the dark and terrifying tone of the film, and in fact, The Fellowship of the Ring is actually quite the scare-fest.  Grisly creatures, haunting imagery, bone-crunching sound, and a huge injection of gravitas for the creatures' plights all make us truly frightened as viewers when the evil creatures are realistically evil and the destruction is grand scale.  Parents may want to note the PG-13 rating and take it into consideration.  The absence of any sex and foul language means the PG-13 rating is earned by the violent and sometimes horrific images displayed, so there is the possibility that young or impressionable kids may have nightmares after viewing it.


The Fellowship of the Ring is so expensive visually that it left little money for big name actors, as is customary for blockbusters.  Yet the casting works very well, with some fine acting by Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Sean Bean (Ronin, Patriot Games) in particular to give dimension to the minimal characterizations in the film.  The Hobbits, led by Elijah Wood in the lead 'everyman' role, are impressively created, and seamlessly in scale compared the the elves and humans in the film. After the initial moment when you realize how small hobbits are, you are accustomed to their comparative size.


Rich thematic material abounds, as Tolkien's book is about the corruptible nature of Power, and how it can change one's soul if not checked by strength of character, willpower, courage, and a spiritual core belief.  Having a Hobbit in charge of the ring is important, as he is the smallest, least powerful creature in the land, and in the hands of a more powerful entity, such as Gandalf or Galadriel, it could corrupt and be used as a cataclysmic force within Middle Earth.


Understanding that the initial reaction to a film this beloved and grand scale epic will be overwhelmingly positive, try not to go in expecting a knockout.  The Fellowship of the Ring is a very good film with moments of greatness, yet I can't quite say it's a great movie as a whole.  While the visuals are literally breathtaking, there is just something too elemental and simplistic about what amounts to a three-hour chase flick to make it deep enough to hit home as a standalone film.  But, if you go in expecting to be entertained, you won't be disappointed, as the film has more than enough entertainment to satisfy.  In fact, my biggest wish after seeing it was, despite the 3-hour length, not long enough. The Fellowship of the Ring is a terrific start to a solid trilogy of films, and highly recommended for all.


-- An Extended Edition of the film features many extra scenes to tie the film together and provides extra character touches that round them out further.  These touches do make the film more satisfying, as they give richer context and better pacing to the scenes of action that felt hollow and rushed in the original theatrical release.

-- Followed by The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)


Qwipster's rating:  (Theatrical Version)
                                (Extended Edition)

©2001, 2011 Vince Leo