I’ve never been much of one for fantasy and I don’t know why. Whenever a science fiction movie comes about, I can relatively easily buy into all of its world-building and politics and take all of it at face value. But when it comes to traditional fantasy I tend to struggle. That is with the exception of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which somehow captures my imagination as though it is the first time I’m viewing it every time I switch it on.
This is most true of the first film in the trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring… Which is surprising because it starts with a five-minute info dump about Tolkein lore that, I felt, could have been summerised in one or two lines of dialogue scattered throughout the existing script. That said, pretty much everything after that point is, to my mind, the ideal way to make a fantasy film:
The true beginning of the story is simply a wizard, Gandalf, and a Hobbit, Frodo, riding through the Shire on their way to the birthday of a friend. I have to say the complete and utter lack of stakes in the intro at all, along with the excellent music and performances really do make this one of the highlights of the whole film despite how mundane it all is. The Shire is the perfect backdrop against the bleaker parts of this film because of how safe it is and innocent it appears. I firmly believe without this introduction working so well, the darker tone of the later half of this film wouldn’t work at all because there’d be nothing to contrast it to.
Watching this as a child I didn’t really get how dark this film gets later on, but it does and it works. None of it conflicts with the innocence of the forst act or the comic releif characters. But then again, that’s what the whole film is about; the most innocent person to ever live, Frodo Baggins, being forced into a world he cannot yet understand the machinations of, and thus being exposed to it’s evil. I mean poor Frodo gets stabbed and poisoned, almost eaten by a sea monster, almost impaled by a troll, watches one of his best friends die fighting a demon, gets betrayed by one of his own, forced to leave his friends behind- Blimey, it’s quite the ordeal. But the thing is that never once does the film feel suffocating. Never once are you drowning in misery. There’s always a flicker of hope, the rise of heroic music whenever the heroes escape one such situation and time for the audience to breathe between every major event.
That is why, despite one of my main criticisms of films on this blog being that they are often too long, I can look past the long run time. For 98% of this film, the runtime is justified, used effectively and doesn’t pad at all. But then again, what about that extra 2%? Well part of that 2% is the info-dump introduction that, I’ll repeat, probably could have been communicated is less forced ways. The second part of it is this weird scene where Frodo is dying from poison and Aragorn’s elvish love interest literally arrives out of nowhere without set up and saves him. I don’t really like her character anyway, so maybe I’m just bias, but she kind of appears out of nowhere, proved to be very useful in a dire situation and then isn’t in the film again side from one scene with Aragorn.
Speaking of the rest of the cast… It is honestly just brilliant how good the casting is; Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Elijah Wood as Frodo and Sean Bean as Boromir are probably the stand-out performances of this film. Boromir in particular is one of my favourite characters of the film; a clearly honourable man who gives up his selfish desire for the ring to help the Fellowship destroy it, only to fall into the trap of betraying Frodo to try and obtain it again, and then redeeming himself before his death at the end of the movie. Despite only being in the film half the time most other characters are, Boromir is given a lot to do and Sean Bean portrays it all perfectly. His up and down relationship with Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortensen being a highlight.
Of course there’s also Orlando Bloom as the elven archer Legolas, John Rhys-Davies as the boastful dwarf Gimli, and last but not least Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd in the roles of Merry and Pippin. These characters all have their moments to shine too, but don’t really play that huge a role until later entries into the trilogy. Nevertheless, it’s still nice to see the whole Fellowship together and how these characters bounce off of one and other.
I could talk all day about the effects, suspense and action too… But at the heart of it, Fellowship of the Ring is just a fantasy film that doesn’t look down it’s nose at you as lesser fantasy tales might; characters don’t sit and explain basic concepts they should already understand for the audience’s benefit, other worlds powerful wizards aren’t deified and treated as above the others or worth more to the story in value. Every character, even those that contribute the least, are just treated like normal people. Because, as I said before, the whole point of this film is showing how a few ordinary people are exposed to the less innocent parts of the world and, because of that, this is a very relatable movie despite it’s fantasy setting.
To my mind Fellowship of the Ring, though not without a couple of problems, is probably one of my favourite movies, alongside the likes of Gladiator. It’s up there as a “must see before you die” for sure, even if you have no interest in the rest of the Lord of the Rings movies. I would highly recommend this movie to just about anyone, for all it’s charm and authenticity.