Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (screenplay), J.R.R Tolkien (novel)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Sean Astin
Epic. All the way around. No need to keep this secret.
Almost a decade later Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings remains a cinema feat and a visual masterpiece, a classic at this point. It is an exposition and beginning to a continuing series of adventures, thrills, sentiments and technical wonders. Not much is needed to be said about these things because they are obvious and they are appreciated by nearly all. Consider Lord of the Rings the Star Wars of this generation, only an even longer time ago.
Despite its mastery in CGI, its enchantment, awesomeness and appeal to give it real nerd cred before anybody ever heard of Comic-Con, it has a lot more to brag about. There are elements in The Fellowship of the Rings and the rest of the trilogy for that matter, which would be a crime to overlook.
Even more awe-inspiring than the sloping hills of New Zealand or the sprawling charm of the Shire is the screenplay. Literary adaptations are not easy, especially in a world where book prudes always hate the film because it didn’t match the image of the story they had in their head. Make that novel 1,000 pages long spread between hundreds of characters and years, well, it just gets more complicated. But Jackson and his writing partners Walsh and Boyens do not shy from the task, instead they dive right in, stripping the pages from the spine and reconstructing the story to into a theater-ready format. It’s how gracefully and swiftly they switch perspectives of characters that’s really impressive. One moment you are in an intense battle scene, the next you are hearing soft and warming words from a gray wizard and it is never jarring or tension breaking. From one scene to the next, the structure carves the story out like a sword being swayed into the wind. It is elegant to watch.
So easily could the film have fallen apart in several places, but properly paced and carefully directed by the vision of Peter Jackson, the Tolkien dialogue, the production design and expert cinematography engulfs you into a world the book might have even been able to do.
The actors all seem to do the same sort of effortless acting, losing themselves in the world that Jackson created for them. McKellen and Mortensen are two exceptions. Their acting and level of dedication to the roles is nearly magic itself.
But Jackson’s Lord of the Rings does much more than become a faithful adaptation and a magnificent work of cinema, it journeys beyond that to have a profound story of its own.
The film narrative and structure really works as a meta-description of itself, or how it was made. A metaphor of its own making perhaps. Sprawling over new and distant lands, bringing together people of different race and kind, battling against impossible filmmaking elements and requiring a little faith to make it all happen, the construction of the saga is a lot like the saga itself.
It’s a powerful and clever thing to witness in cinema, a rare charm the film medium revels in and that literature, music or television cannot do without crossing into film like Eminem’s 8 Mile or Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. Popular 50’s Technicolor musicals like Singing in the Rain loved to expose how Hollywood musicals were created and match the final product with the story that went behind them. For a more literal meta example, Spike Jonze’s Adaptation shows the screenwriter write the script which we realize in the end is the movie we were watching the whole time. Of course these are more planned commentaries than coincidences like in Gangs of New York where the movie itself represents facets of the city or in Lord of the Rings. But it’s just as, if not more, enchanting when it happens.
New Line took a great gamble on Jackson, an unknown who had only one minor film credit for Heavenly Creatures, giving him a powerful 1,000 page story and $400 million to turn the fantasy lands into something people could visualize and cherish with the hopes that he could save the studio from financial woes.
His obstacles were cut out for him, but he overcame them by embarking on the mission with a little faith and a little perseverance, and not to mention a little help from his friends, better known as the cast and crew of thousands who helped put together the trilogy. Jackson, often claiming himself a hobbit, mostly due to his physical appearance, might have a little more Frodo in him than he gives himself credit for.
The move isn’t flawless though. The movie stumbles across a few head-scratchers concerning time and space or doubts in the ability of Elijah Wood to handle the beefed up story arc given to him by Jackson’s desire to make it more central character based. These concerns are quickly abandoned though, mostly because even at 2 hours and 45 minutes, there is no time to contemplate.