I'd like to spank the Academy

The_Fellowship_Of_The_RingDirected by Peter Jackson

Although I usually plan out which movies I’m going to watch a couple of weeks in advance, I don’t always. I found myself this week with a couple different years’ worth of movies out from the library; I had choices. I was kind of leaning toward 1997, but I realized on Saturday night that I really wanted to watch Gosford Park. I hesitated, though, because I also knew that that meant I would have to watch another Lord of the Rings movie. I had seen this one before (twice, even), but I had disliked Peter Jackson’s interpretation enough that I didn’t want to see the rest of the movies. My desire to watch Gosford Park overcame my negativity about Fellowship, so here I am trying to write unbiasedly about another movie that is apparently universally beloved, but I don’t quite get why.

So what’s the story? Frodo Baggins, an Hobbit living in the idyllic Shire, discovers that a family heirloom is actually a dangerous artifact belonging to an ancient evil sorcerer. Frodo sets out on a journey with his friends to destroy the ring and save the world.

The Good: The production design is fantastic. There are many different races in Middle Earth, and the design gives each race their own look for everything, from clothing to dwellings. It’s all done very well, very beautifully. I don’t necessarily agree with all their decisions, but I still admire the look of the film.

Howard Shore’s music is beautiful. It captures everything from the naiveté and joy of the Shire to the heroism of Aragorn to the eerie beauty of the Mines of Moria. I may not care much for the movie in general, but I do love the music.

Ian McKellen does some seriously good acting as Gandalf, the wizard who sets the events in motion. The moment where Frodo volunteers to take the ring and Gandalf’s face falls…just beautiful. Gandalf is many things – jolly firework-maker, stern counselor, frightened man betrayed by his master. Ian McKellen shows all of those facets very convincingly. Sean Astin is the other acting standout. He plays Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s gardener and faithful friend. He isn’t glad to leave the Shire, but he refuses to abandon Frodo, no matter how dark the journey gets or how scared he is. It’s fabulous work.

The Bad: The Elves all talk like Jareth the Goblin King (aka David Bowie) from Labyrinth. I think they’re supposed to be showing how wise and calm they are, but because they also kind of look like Jareth, especially Elrond, it’s kind of distracting.

I wasn’t a big fan of how much time was spent on Aragorn and Arwen’s love story. I felt like there were other things that must have been cut to explore that at length. Boromir, for example, didn’t get much backstory, only a line or two about how his people are already fighting for survival. This lack of development made it hard to see him as anything but a bad guy, when he was really a proud, desperate Man who wanted to save his city and his people.

Some of the acting in Fellowship of the Ring is good; some is indifferent. But some is downright bad. Elijah Wood never showed much emotion as Frodo; he was just kind of….there. Orlando Bloom was just as wooden as Legolas. He looked nice, but luckily he didn’t have much to do beyond yelling out dangers (“Wargs!” “Orcs!”) in a noble voice.

The Ugly: There were a couple of glaring plot holes and inconsistencies. (Possible spoilers here, although I feel like everyone in the world has seen this movie, so…) For example, if the chain Frodo was wearing the ring on fell off his neck when he stumbled and fell on the mountain, how in the world did it stay on when the lake hydra-creature had him by the ankle and was waving him back and forth in the air? The ring should have been lost in the lake. And why did Pippin and Merry go to Bree and beyond with Frodo and Sam? They had no reason to. And why did Elrond let them go as part of the Fellowship? They had no training in any kind of weapons, no survival skills, nothing. They would really be more of a hindrance than an asset. And why did the Hobbits trust Strider in the first place? He gave them no sign, no reason for them to trust him. It really bugged me. How did Strider know to have four Hobbit-sized swords ready? Pippin and Merry were impulsive last-minute additions. Grrrr.

Oscars Won: Best cinematography; best makeup; best music, original score; best effects, visual effects.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a supporting role (Ian McKellen); best director; best writing, screenplay based on material previously produced or published; best art direction-set decoration; best costume design; best film editing; best music, original song (“May It Be”); best sound.

The part where I get to whine about how different the movie is from the book: Actually, The Fellowship of the Ring follows the book much more closely than The Two Towers does. Things are left out, and Glorfindel is sacrificed to give Arwen more screen time, but at least there is no Aragorn-goes-over-a-cliff-but-is-saved-by-his-horse moment. I wasn’t a big fan of changing Arwen so much, but the lack of female characters in the trilogy could be a concern for this day and age, so it’s kind of understandable. I also don’t like that Tom Bombadil was left out. He himself is perhaps not important to the story, but the Hobbits did need to stumble into the Barrow-Wights to find the swords that can break the spell on the Ringwraiths, and Tom saves them from the Wights. I haven’t seen The Return of the King, so I can’t say how Peter Jackson overcomes that important plot point, but it should have been set up in this movie.

Comments on: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)" (5)

  1. I can’t wait for Jon’s comments.

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    • I asked Jon why he hadn’t said anything about The Two Towers, and he said he wrote out a huge long thing, but then didn’t post it. Maybe when I do Return of the King. But that’s not going to be for awhile, because I don’t feel like watching another Lord of the Rings movie for a very long time.

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  2. Jonathan said:

    Yeah, I had a pretty long post on the Two Towers, but deleted it when I realized it was mostly a diatribe about the things I’d do to Peter Jackson if we encountered each other in a dark alley; like [DELETED BY THE NSA] and [ALSO DELETED BY THE NSA – JONATHAN WE ARE WATCHING YOU].

    At any rate, at the risk of being labeled a non-Tolkien loyalist, I quite liked Fellowship of the Ring. There is plenty that I find distasteful, and many more things that I disagreed with, but on the whole I thought that it did a fairly good job depicting the book.

    Note: unless specifically stated everything that I write in this deals only with the Fellowship. I mostly detested the other two movies. I’ve only seen Return of the King once. There’s a good chance I’ll not see it again.

    Where to start? Ok, places. The film starts (really) in Hobbiton, in the Shire. The film depiction is beautifully done. It’s an idyllic place of a peace loving folk who seek good food, good friends, and good beer above the honor and glory of the battlefield. The grassy hills with Hobbit holes could not have been done better. Bag End itself might have come from my own mind while I was reading the book. They even put the windows on the correct side of
    the hole. The Birthday Party, the fields, the little rivers and woods, all was beautifully done.

    Rivendell. There are many places and people that I thought could never be correctly portrayed in a film adaptation of the book. Rivendell is one. Nevertheless, the movie did a great job portraying a hidden dell with a secret civilization. The buildings, the backdrops, everything felt like it was supposed to be there. Although not everything jives with the book, I really have no problem forgiving an artist (I specifically do NOT refer to Jackson here) in using their own creativity to bring a place to life.

    Moria. This is a place where success should not be that hard. And it wasn’t. Tolkien did a great job narrating not only the physical description of the place, but also the feel. I wasn’t disappointed with the oppressive grandeur of a destroyed peoples’ home, infested with an evil race.

    Lorien. Eh. Disappointed.

    Moving on. Actors.

    Hated: Frodo, Aragorn, Liked: Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Boromir. Loved: Gandalf, Sam, Legolas.

    Elijah Wood provides precisely nothing to the film. He could have been replaced by just about anybody. There is no moment in any of the movies where his acting causes anyone to take note.

    Viggo Mortensen. I like him as an actor. I think he’s done fine in other movies (Hidalgo was fun). However, he was the wrong person to play Aragorn. He lacked any sort of regal demeanor when he was supposed to have it, and did not play a convincing Strider at all. He was far too emotional. The Two Towers refers to him being 80 years old. He is a hard man who has led a hard life. He knows what it is that he’s about to do, and more than anyone save Gandalf and some of the Elves he knows what it means to the future of Middle Earth and also his own future. His love affair with Arwen is a done deal and fairly ancient history.

    Merry and Pippin did fine as comic relief. With the younger hobbits this is fairly true to the books. They were youthful and impulsive, yet serious at times. The book doesn’t do much better than the movie at explaining their presence in the 9 Walkers, though. Elrond does not wish them to go for obvious reasons – they’re not warriors and they’ll probably end up dead – and Gandalf’s response is merely that everyone could end up dead anyway. I thought it a fine explanation in the book – a subtle reference to the agonizing hopelessness that the Free People of Middle Earth truly face.

    That leads us to Boromir. Sean Bean did a very fine job with what he was given. I was truly impressed. However, the true nature of his actions should have been more plain. In the book, it took me some reading in between the lines (and a fair number of discussions with fellow fanatics over the years), to discover the true meaning of the Boromir vs. Faramir conflict (please don’t get me into Jackson’s treatment of Faramir – I’m pretty sure he’s going to a special Hell designed just for him for that outrage). The bottom line is that BOROMIR AND DENETHOR II ARE RIGHT. The Council of Elrond is throwing the safety of all Free People on the slimmest of gambles, one that is almost certainly not going to work, and if it does not will give the Enemy exactly what he needs for his final and utter conquest of Middle Earth. Boromir’s knowledge of the Enemy’s true power – even without the Ring – conflicts with his true nobility in acquiescing to the will of others. However, he knows that Gondor is the shield that defends all others from the brunt of Sauron’s attacks, and that it will be the first to be destroyed should Sauron ever have the Ring. This knowledge is beautifully and ever so subtly shown in the books. It lacks in the movies.

    It could be said that Boromir is proud to a fault, even somewhat haughty, and that he succumbs to the power of the Ring. That does not make him a less-complex character to understand. I wish the movie could have shown that better.

    Gimli provided a comic relief in some circumstances, just like Merry and Pippin. Yet I felt that his personality shone, and that the Elf vs Dwarf theme was well done. There is real reason why Elves and Dwarves have such mistrust towards one another. Some of it is even legitimate (read the Silmarillion if you want to know more).

    Gandalf. Wow, what a performance. My favorite part in the movie (which actually took place at Bag End in the book, but it didn’t matter) is in the Mines of Moria when Frodo tells Gandalf that he wished that Bilbo had killed Gollum when he had the chance. That discussion is amazingly well done by Ian McKellen. The wish to not have dark times befall us – and Gandalf’s response – is rather poignant considering Tolkien’s military service in the ill-named War to End All Wars. Gandalf was a gem that shone brightly in the movie.

    Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee. He played the simple yet loyal friend and servant to Frodo extremely well. Gandalf’s admonition to him to not leave Frodo turned from an order (leaving the Shire) to a promise that Samwise intended to keep (at Rauros). When Frodo tells Sam that he is going to Mordor alone, Sam exclaims “Of course you are. And I’m going with you!” Priceless.

    I also really liked Orlando Bloom as Legolas. I felt that Elves would be difficult to portray – ancient yet timeless, wise yet merry, deadly yet a race of singers, mirthful with a painful past. Legolas was well done. Attention was paid to small details, like Legolas walking over the snows of Caradhras leaving barely a footprint while the others trudged through. I was certainly pleased.

    Long post. That’s enough for now.

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  3. Howard Shore for the win!!!!!! This is one of the absolute best film scores of all time. I will defend that with my life. Like Strider defends Frodo.

    You make some very good points here. I don’t love Elijah Wood. He’s definitely my least favorite actor in the fellowship (the group) and the Fellowship (the movie). Ah well. He still can’t make me not love love love this movie.

    I don’t quite think your plot holes are big enough to actually bug me. Maybe after he lost the ring in the snow, he put it on a stronger chain or something. Merry and Pippin are Frodo’s kinship, so I think they just decided to hang out after they ran from Farmer Maggot. And I think once you face a Ringwraith or two together, you form a bond that does not easily dissolve (kinda like Harry and Ron befriending Hermoine after the troll in the bathroom). Besides, Merry wasn’t far from home, as he was a river hobbit, and he served as a wonderful guide to Bree. And maybe they felt as though there were strength in numbers as a way to hope to protect themselves from the Ringwraiths…they would have certainly hunted down Merry and Pippin had they not continued on with Frodo.

    Anyway. Looking back, the movie does not hold completely true to the book, and I think I’m okay with that. It helps me keep them separate in my head. Both are beautiful and have such majesty. The book is one of the greatest ever written, and the movie is one of the greatest of our time. (Also, Tom Bombadil weirds me out. I’m glad he was cut.)

    P.S. Legolas does not yell “Wargs!” in this one. He says “Orcs!” and “Goblins!”, yes, but “Wargs!” is in The Two Towers. :p

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