21. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Earlier I reviewed The Matrix trilogy, which I noted was the first film universe I became truly obsessed with. The Lord of the Rings was the second. The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in the series, was also the first long movie that could keep my attention. Hell, I loved this movie that it came to define a 3-hour interval of time for me. “Hmm, the drive to San Diego is three and a half hours, the same amount of time it would take to watch Fellowship with deleted scenes.”

Watching it again for the first time in a few years, I still appreciate the ambitious but focused storytelling and have developed a new fondness for Peter Jackson’s technical craftsmanship. We’re guided on this epic journey but are never overwhelmed or bombarded by too much Tolkien lore. We’re introduced to characters at proper times, and although some’s screen time is short, we learn to care for them in those brief moments. The immaculate New Zealand backdrops paint each frame with majesty, and special effects inject doom and terror into dungeons and orc pits. Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood are only five inches different in height, but sly camera tricks fully convince us that Gandalf is a giant and Frodo a few feet tall. It’s the perfect blend of new technology and classic filmmaking craftsmanship, where not only do you enjoy the film, but you also deeply admire its ambition.

The most rewarding part of Fellowship of the Ring is actually its first third, from when Gandalf visits the Shire up to the point where the group arrives at Rivendell. In the grand scheme of Lord of the Rings, this sequence is pretty small in scope. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin embark on their journey, but cower away whenever Ringwraiths peer their necks from beyond the corner. Its really nothing more than a basic plot of ill-equipped but determined heroes evading much more deadly villains. We know the Ringwraiths are always just one step behind Frodo and gang but are still shocked whenever we see their face (or lack thereof.) We know that Frodo and gang will find a way to evade the Ringwraiths but are always relieved when they find safety. It’s a constant back and forth of wonder and suspense, perfectly executed without fail.

But no Fellowship of the Ring review would be complete without an ode to Gandalf. Ian McKellen plays the friendly, wise wizard with gusto and grace. He doesn’t condescend to the mere mortals beneath him, and his magic is only shown in bits and pieces. But we learn to trust Gandalf as a powerful figure, one who inspires both the fellowship and the audience. The rest of the cast pulls in stellar work too, dedicated to breathing reality into this fantasy.

Not only is The Fellowship of the Ring remembered as one of the greatest films in history, I’d argue that it is also one of the biggest accomplishments in cinema, a wholly-realized vision that truly transports viewers to a different world

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