tek's rating:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PG-13)
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Caution: spoilers!

This is the first film in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien. The books were published in the mid-1950s, and I first read them in the mid-1990s (around the time I was in college). This film came out in December 2001, and I remember being disappointed at the time that I didn't get to see it in a theater, because I had broken my ankle at the end of November. (But I did manage to collect all four goblets from Burger King.) Looking back, I'm kind of surprised to think that my injury would have made much of a difference, anyway, since I almost never get a chance to go to the movies. Maybe I was specifically planning to go to this one before my injury, though. Anyway, I eventually watched it on video at my cousins' house, within a year or two of its release. But that was, I believe, before I ever started doing reviews on my website, and by the time I did, I didn't remember the movie well enough to bother. I figured I'd wait until I got it on DVD. (I also don't remember the books well enough to compare them to the movies; I really should reread them, someday.) And in 2014, I finally did get all three movies on DVD, so my plan is to watch one movie per week, starting with this one on September 8, and concluding with the third movie on September 22 (which as we all know, is Hobbit Day). Incidentally, the third movie in a Hobbit trilogy will hit theaters this December, but I haven't seen the first two movies yet. Anyway... the movie is long; about three and a half hours. And my DVDs are the "extended editions." (So some of the things I mention in my reviews may not happen, if you watch the standard editions... which are what I link to for "streaming sites.") But of course, the books are crazy long, so it would have been impossible to make the movies much shorter than they are.

So... the story is set in a land called Middle Earth. It begins with a bit of backstory about a war that happened 3000 years before the time of the present story. This evil dude named Sauron created a bunch of powerful magic rings, some of which went to Elves, some to Dwarves, and some to Men. But he made another ring for himself (the One Ring), that let him control all the others, and he nearly took over the world, before finally being defeated. His ring was taken by a human prince named Isildur, who later lost it. And it was found a couple thousand years later by Gollum (who calls it his "precious"); the ring extended his lifespan by centuries, but it also drove him mad and turned him into an uber-creepy shriveled-up CGI creature (voiced and motion-capture by Andy Serkis). But he eventually lost the ring, too, and it was found by a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), in the course of an adventure that will later be told in the Hobbit movies. In case you don't know, Hobbits (aka "halflings") are basically little people (roughly dwarf-sized, maybe a bit smaller) with hairy feet, who live in an area of Middle Earth called the Shire, leading peaceful, mostly quiet lives. They farm, they drink, they smoke pipes, they eat (a lot), and they certainly don't go to war or go off on adventures (so Bilbo is an anomaly). And I should mention that any of the major dwarf or hobbit characters in this movie are played by big people who have been digitally altered to appear as little people. You know, rather than just getting little people to play them, for some reason.

Anyway, this movie really starts sixty years after Bilbo found the ring, when he's celebrating his 111th birthday. He is visited by his old friend, a wizard named Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). And Bilbo decides to leave the Shire forever, giving his house and all his possessions- including the ring- to his nephew, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). It's about this time that Gandalf discovers that Bilbo's ring is actually the One Ring. And the spirit of Sauron has awakened, and is searching for the ring, so that he might once again try to take over the world. After Bilbo leaves, Gandalf tells Frodo he'll have to take the ring elsewhere, and makes plans to meet him later at an inn in a human town. Frodo is accompanied by his friend Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), and they're soon joined by two more Hobbits, Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan) and Peregrin 'Pippin' Took (Billy Boyd). They are pursued by some really creepy Death-like horsemen called Nazgûl (aka ring wraiths), who are servants of Sauron.

Meanwhile, Gandalf goes to Isengard to consult with another wizard, Saruman the White (Christopher Lee)... who turns out to have joined Sauron's side, believing it would be impossible to defeat him. Saruman offers Gandalf the chance to join him, but he refuses, so Saruman holds him captive at Isengard. When Gandalf doesn't show up at the inn, the Hobbits are rescued from the ring wraiths by a ranger called Strider (Viggo Mortensen), who is a friend of Gandalf's. He begins leading them to Rivendell, the forest home of a group of Elves led by Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who had taken part in the battle 3000 years ago. But before they can get there, some bad stuff happens, and then they're helped by Elrond's daughter, Arwen (Liv Tyler), who has a whole romantic subplot going with Strider... whose real name is Aragorn. And there's a revelation about him that I don't want to spoil. In fact, I'm leaving out a lot of details. But anyway, they're all reunited with Gandalf when they get to Rivendell, because he had finally managed to escape from Isengard. And Bilbo is also there.

And um, Elrond calls together a council of Elves, Men, and Dwarves to discuss what is to be done about the ring. It seems it will have to be destroyed to ensure Sauron doesn't get his currently nonexistent hands on it, but the only way to do that is to throw it into the fires of Mount Doom, were Sauron had originally forged it. And of course that is in the heart of Mordor, the evil land ruled by Sauron. Which basically seems like an impossible task, and everyone starts arguing about it, but Frodo says he'll do it. Of course he's joined by his three Hobbit friends, as well as Aragorn and Gandalf. And they're also joined by an Elf named Legolas (Orlando Bloom), a Dwarf named Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and a Man named Boromir (Sean Bean). Boromir, btw, is from a kingdom called Gondor (of which his father, Denethor II, is the steward; it hasn't had a king for many generations). Gondor has apparently been keeping the forces of Mordor (mostly vicious creatures called orcs) at bay all this time. But things are getting more dangerous now that Saruman is breeding a new army of super-orcs called Uruk-hai. Boromir would like to use the ring against Sauron, but alas, Sauron is the only one who can wield it... because it is evil, and anyone who tries to use it for good will be corrupted. (Frodo seems to be less susceptible to this than anyone else, which is why he remains the ring-bearer.) But anyway... the movie is on two DVDs, that's just how long it is, and the first disc ends with the establishment of the Fellowship of the ring-bearer and his eight companions.

On the second disc, the Fellowship goes through the mines of Moria, where bad stuff happens. Also, Gollum starts tracking them. But eventually they make it to the safety of Lothlórien, home to another group of Elves. The rulers there are Celeborn and, more importantly, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). After the Fellowship leaves, more bad stuff happens to them. Merry and Pippin get captured by Uruk-hai, Frodo and Sam set off for Mordor on their own, while Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli decide to hunt the orcs and rescue their prisoners. And with this parting of the ways, the movie ends. To be continued....

Anyway, I've left out lots of details (including a couple of very big spoilers, which I'll need to spoil in my review of the second movie). And yet, this is one of those movies where I simultaneously feel like I've said way too much about the plot, while providing far too little analysis of why the movie is so great. As awesome as it is, I'm afraid I don't love it as much as many fans do (and I don't love the books nearly as much as many fans do). But I will say that I think I enjoyed it more this time around than I did the first time (over a decade ago, which is far too long to go between viewings). I'll also say that the movie has about the best production values you could possibly hope for. It has truly awesome visuals (in terms of special effects, cinematography, costuming, etc.), great action and drama, and it can be reasonably amusing, and scary, and it has some nice smaller moments. And the ring itself... it's such a little thing, but one really gets a sense of its weight... psychologically speaking. (This is particularly apparent in an early scene, when Bilbo drops the ring to the floor; the psychological weight seems very physical. But throughout the movie, various characters make the psychological effects of the ring very clear and disturbing.) I suppose I could also mention that Arwen and Galadriel are both quite easy on the eyes (in addition to being interesting characters). And... I don't know what else to say, except that The Lord of the Rings is pretty much the greatest fantasy adventure story ever written, even if it's not necessarily my personal favorite. The books are just so massively iconic and have had an inestimable influence on pretty much any fantasy stories that have been written since. And the movies really do an amazing job of bringing the story to life.

Oh... and I feel like I should mention that after this movie (or maybe the trilogy as a whole) was released, there were lots of jokes from some people who thought Frodo and Sam seemed like... more than friends. Which is ridiculous, because first of all, you don't bloody well have to be in love with someone to be devoted to them; and secondly, it was clear from the beginning that Sam is into a girl named Rosie. (But there was a joke on an episode of The O.C. that I actually found quite funny.)

fantasy index

The Lord of the Rings
The Fellowship of the Ring * The Two Towers * The Return of the King

The Hobbit
An Unexpected Journey * The Desolation of Smaug * The Battle of the Five Armies