Winner - Best Cinematography

Winner - Best Makeup

Winner - Best Music (Original Score)

Winner - Best Effects (Visual Effects)

NEW LINE CINEMA (2001)

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

One does not simply do things half baked.

The first effort in Peter Jackson’s quest to bring the Lord of the Rings books to the big screen (with over 1000 pages to be crammed into celluloid) all eyes were on the Fellowship of the Ring. For all of the rich detail and mythology brimming in Tolkien’s magnum opus, it would take a monster achievement in filmmaking to achieve this dream. Luckily, Jackson was determined to take on a monster task.

With the intense production (filmed back-to-back-to-back over a three year period) came location scouting, script authoring, costume design, prop creation just to name a few crucial elements of the undertaking. However, none were more vital than the casting. The ensemble is a triumph, simply put. The majority were fans of the source material which no doubt helped, and the individual players all create legacy characters and career defining performances. Clearly the bonding session pre-shoot worked, as the hobbits have a real sense of camaraderie and a strong bond.

Elijah Wood, previously in Flipper, Deep Impact and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, hit the heights as he was cast as Frodo, the lead protagonist of the series, and seemed built for the role. After prosthetics and with hair growth, Wood looked like a hobbit – if such a statement can be made. His earnest, exposed yet courageous performance drove the movie along, as his mission to Mordor hit obstacles at every turn.

Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd share the same achievement as Wood in that they are transformed into what a hobbit should be – fun loving, adventurous and a bit grubby. Astin portrays the slightly older mentor wonderfully and shares instant chemistry with Wood, and he is the opposite of Frodo – big, brash and headstrong. Their relationship throughout is a highlight. Monaghan and Boyd, far from being simply support hobbits, are a great double act together who forge their own adventure throughout – an adventure with meaning. The two slightly naïve hobbits retain their great chemistry with the remaining hobbits, and the Fellowship also.

Ian McKellen owns the role of Gandalf, which is especially impressive as he spent more time with stunt doubles opposed to his fellow cast. However, he brings a calm authority to the movie, even in times of peril, and his knowledge of Tolkien helped to shape his character. McKellen nails the sage wizard look, and also has some of the movie’s iconic lines/moments.

Viggo Mortensen is a perfect fit for Aragorn, his brooding nature and self-doubt shine through as the seemingly reluctant hero and visually, he looks the part. Having been offered the part very late on, he quickly mastered sword handling and this authenticity again allows for the viewer to believe in this character. An actor who clearly relished the deep role he was forging.

Orlando Bloom is the dashing Elven Prince, who is an arrow sniper. Bloom does a lot of his acting with his eyes and a solemn jaw throughout, and his relationship with John Rhys-Davies is a joy to watch. Bloom is probably the weakest of the key characters, however not to the detriment of the movie. Rhys-Davies is the heroic comedy dwarf who seems intent on simply fighting and killing orcs, a performance full of gusto. Andy Serkis broke out as Gollum, and his use of motion capture technology with this movie. He throws himself into the physical aspects of the role and has created an antagonist whom you aren’t sure whether to root for or not. His interplay with the two hobbits is a great story to watch unfold.

This is a movie of the grandest scale, and its only part one of a trilogy. The effects are incredible, and fully justified the Oscar received. From visual tricks such as the use of visual perception to double sets (large and small) we are easily led to believe the hobbits are that much smaller than the rest, and the scenes in Bag End with double sets are masterfully shot. Equally as impressive is the use of practical effects and prosthetics. Each member of the Fellowship (bar Aragorn and Boromir) underwent daily costume enhancements to ensure their image encapsulated their character – prosthetic feet, hair, eye adjustments, ears – all went into creating the most genuine looking experience (so much so that Rhys-Davies developed eczema from the prosthetics) Each Orc and Uruk-hai was also designed and created at the WETA lab, each with their own individual look and personality, and creates a real menace and presence throughout the film that CGI cannot replicate. Regarding the large battle scenes, a programme called MASSIVE was created, allowing any number of digital characters to independently act, allowing opposing factions to go to war with each ‘character’ interacting with the enemy intelligently and realistically – the results are astounding.

The decision to shoot in Jackson’s native New Zealand was inspired, as the country provides beautiful and breathtaking scenery throughout the film. The town of Matamata providing the idyllic home to Hobbiton and Bag End, the wetland of Kepler Mire brings to life the Dead Marshes and the beauty of Kaitoke for Rivendell were faultless location choices, and the long, wide shots throughout show off the striking splendour of the country.

With a book so detailed and convoluted, it was almost a guarantee the screenplay would deviate from this. As much as possible, the movie is faithful to the source, however certain characters have been omitted entirely and others have had their contributions transferred to other characters – for pacing and editing reasons, also to create a more engaging story for the big screen. Motivations are also altered and action locations shifted for dramatic effect.

For a movie that is over three hours long, and with the sheer amount of exposition required, it doesn’t follow a slow path. The necessary storytelling is integrated well and the action and intensity begins fairly early on. The duration will come as a negative aspect to many, as it is a long watch; however I found it engrossing enough to not worry about the time passing. The motivations of the protagonists and antagonists were laid out clearly, and became ever more apparent as the movie panned out.

Peter Jackson has created more than just a movie of lasting images and dialogue, Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Rings is a glorious beginning to a towering fantasy trilogy.

March 9th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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