“He can’t do it.” “It’s too long.” “There’s too much detail.” “It’s impossible.” These were the cries that met Peter Jackson and Wingnut Films heard when they announced their intention to turn J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy masterpiece into three films, starting with Fellowship of the Ring. This seemed a popular opinion that was a generally accepted truth ever since the aborted animated film in the 1980s failed to make any money. It must have seemed like a fools’ errand to the naysayers and one with little or no chance of success. How wrong they were.
Opening to stellar reviews and boasting a cast of accomplished character actors mixed with some Hollywood starlets, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was a sensation. Cinema after cinema was sold out for weeks at a time as everybody and their grandmothers wanted to see the start of the epic journey of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and his miss-matched fellowship.
Fellowship of Ring sets the stage for the trilogy and introduces us to most of the key players. In fact the opening ‘history lesson’ about Sauron and his rings of power is one of the most bold, compelling and utterly jaw-dropping openings to a film ever. From the moment that Galadriel’s (Cate Blanchett) voice-over begins, the audience is grabbed by the throat and dragged on an epic journey that covers mountains, waste-lands, forests, Elvish cities, pubs and even a cave. The scenery in Fellowship of the Ring is absolutely stunning as Jackson and cohorts utilise the New Zealand landscape to it’s absolute fullest potential. The effort that they went to in building sets on location is worthy of a documentary in and of itself, which it dutifully gets on its DVD extras.
With the world of Fellowship of the Ring created, it needed to be populated with characters and Tolkien has a huge array of characters to choose from. The Fellowship form the central core of the film, and the likes of Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Samwise (Sean Astin) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) the real stand-outs. But some mention should be made to the women of Middle Earth. It was been a long-regarded fact that Tolkien struggled to write convincing female characters, and that’s why the majority of the action revolves around men. Peter Jackson had no such problems and comfortably increases the roles of Galadriel and Arwen (Liv Tyler). It should be noted that it’s nice to have the strong female characters who aren’t simply a sex object or token love interest. These are high-ranking characters in the lore of Middle Earth and in Fellowship of the Ring and should not be messed with for fear of having a hand cut off.
If Gandalf is the brain and Aragorn is the blade of the Fellowship of the Ring, then Frodo is the heart, after all this is his adventure and through him we see the corrupting influence of the One Ring. Elijah Wood has a breakout performance as the young and naive hobbit, giving his character a certain honesty, bravery and resilience needed to be convincing. His relationship with his fellow hobbits is also key to his characters compelling nature. Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) provide the much needed comic relief, whilst Samwise is a constant voice of reason and support throughout, which is highlighted by his moving striding out into the river after his master.
Peter Jackson had previously been famous for a string of innovative, but low budget horrors like Bad Taste and The Frighteners, but from Christmas 2001 his name became synonymous with the man who flew in the face of conventional wisdom and created a enduring masterpiece from one of the most popular books of all time. Fellowship of the Ring had arrived. From the beautiful scenery to the sweeping score, everything in the film is created from scratch with a lot of love, care and attention. It was narrowly and unfairly beaten to the Best Film Oscar by the lacklustre A Beautiful Mind, and he was robbed of Best Director by Ron Howard, but what history has taught us is that this is one of the best films ever, and Peter Jackson truly is the Lord of the Rings.