Whenever an acclaimed book is adapted for the big screen, the biggest concern its fans generally have is how faithful it’ll remain to its roots and whether or not the film will capture the events in the same essence as the book did. And most of the times, the result is disappointing. But when it came to adapting the The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien on silver screen, it raised an expectation so high that it was almost doomed to fail as this legendary Middle-Earth saga was no mere literary work but over the years had garnered such an unprecedented religion-like following that it was deemed ‘unfilmable’ by many, including Tolkien himself.
The first trailers were enthusiastically received & the anticipation for the film kept building until in December 2001, everyone from Tolkien fans to critics to cinephiles lined up just to see if the first chapter of the most ambitious project ever undertaken in cinema history will live up to all its surmounting hype & expectations. And not only The Fellowship of the Ring lived up to everything it promised but brought alive Middle-Earth in such breathtaking detail that Tolkien himself would’ve been astonished, if he was alive. Incredibly faithful to Tolkien’s work & setting new standards in fantasy filmmaking, The Fellowship of the Ring is rightly considered by many as one the greatest films ever made & certainly the finest of its genre.
The Lord of the Rings was meant to be seen as a single work divided into three volumes & so is the case with its film adaptation. The entire saga was filmed at once but edited & released over the course of 3 years. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first chapter of this trilogy and opens with a brilliantly narrated prologue that invites even those who’ve never heard of the book into its world & perfectly sets the stage for the events of the film. As for the plot summary; In the lands of the Middle-Earth, legends tell of a dark lord Sauron & a ring that gave him the power to enslave the world. Lost for centuries, it has been sought by many & has now found its way into the hands of a Hobbit. As Sauron power grows, a fellowship of 9 companions is formed with the mission of destroying the ring into the very fires whence it came from while they are hunted by forces of evil.
Peter Jackson was a relatively unknown director until he helmed this film & what really helped in realising this project is that he really understands the Tolkien’s world, being a Middle-Earth fan himself. Almost every significant scene makes its way into the film while the ones that wouldn’t have impacted the whole story are left out & I’m equally pleased with both. The screenplay Jackson co-wrote with Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens is crafted to have a universal appeal so that it could please both fans of the book as well as first-time viewers. The emphasis given to the smallest of details is very admirable and the best part is that the little artistic license taken to enhance the drama still keeps it within the realms of Middle-Earth. Peter Jackson’s direction is even more impressive as every single aspect of this film achieves perfection under his distinct cinematic vision.
Coming to the technical aspects, let’s start with the production design. The miniatures of sets built are absolutely gorgeous to look at; be it Bag End, Rivendell or mines of Moria and the precision craftsmanship that went into the making of each of these set pieces & creatures is hugely responsible for the jaw-dropping experience this jewelled masterpiece provides. The beautiful landscapes of New Zealand makes up for Middle-Earth & is splendidly photographed. Cinematography also makes great use of lighting, innovative camera angles & surroundings to give a timeless sense of being in a completely different but fascinating world. Make-up & Costume design is also meticulously done and the close-ups of elves, dwarves or orcs as well as their costumes will prove that to you, if you doubt it. Sound itself breaks new ground as the ambient noises, shrieks of Nazgûl, silence of caves, screams of orcs etc is nicely edited & mixed.
The one limitation a film faces & a book doesn’t is a time limit. Even 3 hours of runtime wasn’t good enough to capture the first volume of Tolkien’s universe but whatever Jackson & his crew have done to fit the massive volume into 178 minutes still makes up for an epic tale. The extended edition removes this time restriction and allows Jackson to add 30 more minutes of footage which further develops its characters, adds depth & enhances the overall experience of the film. The most groundbreaking aspect, however, is its visual effects as Weta Digital elevates this film to an undisputed level of grandeur beauty & without which, this vision couldn’t have been realised on film canvas. Further enhancing the Middle-Earth experience is the remarkable score by Howard Shore, the finest of his career so far. Featuring truly majestic & mesmerizing tracks, the soundtrack of The Fellowship of the Ring beautifully sets the mood for every scene & also introduces cues of new music that are elegantly explored in the next chapters.
Almost every film requires at least 3 conditions to come out as a great product. A well-written script, a talented director who really understands the script & has the vision to realise it on-screen and finally, a brilliant cast that can infuse new lives into these scripted characters. The Lord of the Rings gets the first two acts right & a mistake in the third act could’ve been catastrophic to this film’s fortunes, only that it wasn’t as it assembles such a pitch-perfect cast that every actor seamlessly fit their fictional characters & is very convincing in their given roles. The backbone of this story is Frodo & the One Ring and Elijah Wood impresses as Frodo Baggins, the ring-bearer. Journeying with him are three more hobbits named Samwise “Sam” Gamgee, Peregrin “Pippin” Took & Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck played by Sean Astin, Billy Boyd & Dominic Monaghan, respectively. Also supporting them is the old wizard Gandalf the Grey, a friend of Bilbo Baggins & mentor to Frodo, and Ian McKellen played it so magnificently that it turns out to be the best performance of this film.
Other shining performances come from the Fellowship which includes Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn; a ranger & heir to Gondor’s throne, Orlando Bloom as Legolas; a skilled archer & prince of the Elves, John Rhys-Davies as Gimli; a Dwarf who accompanies the Fellowship in their quest, and Sean Bean as Boromir; prince of the Stewards of Gondor. Christopher Lee plays Saruman the White, the head of the wizards who succumbs to the Dark Lord’s will & sides with him. Also making their vital contributions in this film are Liv Tyler as Arwen; Elrond’s daughter & Aragorn’s lover, Cate Blanchett as Lady Galadriel; an elf & ruler of Lothlórien who also narrated the prologue, Hugo Weaving as Elrond; the Lord of Rivendell, and Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins; Frodo’s uncle who found the Ring in Gollum’s cave which was later inherited by Frodo. Finally, appearing very briefly in this film is Gollum, a foul creature who owned the Ring for centuries before losing it to Bilbo. Although entirely computer-generated, Gollum is motion captured & voiced by Andy Serkis. The film also introduces several evil creatures like Orcs, Goblins, Nazgûl, Uruk-Hai & the Balrog of Morgoth.
The Lord of the Rings is unanimously hailed as a legendary work of literature, the pinnacle of fantasy fiction and is also the second best-selling novel of all time. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote most of it during World War II which had an impact on the novel’s plot, and penned down each & every culture, language & typography of elves, dwarves, men & orcs from the ground up, all by himself. And the on-screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings proves that it has discarded none of the ingredients that made Tolkien’s works immortal and in the process itself becomes a landmark moment in cinema history. It begins the excitement with its cleverly written prologue, immerses viewers into its world with its intriguing plot, dazzles them with its beautiful photography & visuals, connects them with characters thanks to sincere performances, amazes them with thrilling action sequences & provides a heightened sense of emotions through its heartwarming music. A film that is able to do even a few of these can achieve success easily but when it accomplishes each one of these, then it becomes something else entirely and that’s what The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is. A magical blend of art & entertainment. A genre-defining motion picture masterpiece. A timeless classic.