Friday, November 28, 2014

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Welcome back to FlashBack Friday! A little last minute this week, but from now until The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is released in theatres, I will be reviewing The Lord of the Rings each Friday. Please see my "Archives" section above if you'd like to see my reviews of the two Hobbit movies. I find tackling films to this magnitude incredibly daunting, so I apologize if I come off a little reverential at times. Like the one ring, this trilogy is precious to me. There's so much depth and meaning to every character that it's impossible for me to touch on all of it, but I hope to at least scratch the surface as I revisit what I consider to be the greatest film trilogy of all time.

Middle Earth is ruled by rings of power, given to dwarves, elves, and men to govern their respective races. However, the Dark Lord Sauron forged a master ring to rule them all and cover all the land in darkness. In a final battle for the freedom of Middle Earth, elves and men united at the foot of Mt. Doom, and Sauron is defeated as the one ring is cut from his hand. The ring contains Sauron's life force, however, and has a will of its own. It betrays its new owner and fades out of all knowledge until it's found by the creature Gollum, who is consumed by it. After 500 years of isolation in the Misty Mountains, it is picked up by a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who takes it back to the Shire (following the events of The Hobbit). There it remains until the Dark Lord regains enough strength to begin his hunt for it, and an unwitting hobbit is the only hope of preventing Sauron from finding the ring and reigning over Middle Earth once more.

That summary covers just the first six minutes or so of the film, but it contains a lot of necessary information for people who may not be completely up on the history of the ring, or don't know why it's so important to the story. This isn't a story to be watched passively, as it's jam-packed with crucial story details and subtle nuances that can only be appreciated by the attentive viewer. Take it from my wife (who wasn't necessarily looking forward to our foray into Tolkien), this movie rewards those who are willing to put forth the effort to get something from it.

When sitting down to watch The Fellowship of the Ring, the first thing that instantly sets you in Middle Earth is the tremendous score by Howard Shore. The music has an eerie, mystical quality to it that makes it seem otherworldly. Throughout this film the score immerses you in the story, elevating the material to amazing heights. It's perfect at eliciting emotion at the exact right moment, whether its the sorrowful events following the Bridge of Kazhad-Dum (which I'm not ashamed to admit brings me to tears every single time), or the incredibly intense horseback chase from pursuing ring wraiths, this music is flawless at every turn. I've never heard a better score in my life than in these three films, and Fellowship may be the best of the bunch.

Every technical aspect of this first film was not only a landmark for its time, but still holds up incredibly well to this day. It's hard to believe sometimes that this film was released thirteen years ago, but most of it looks as though it could have come out yesterday. The effects will continue to get better throughout the course of this trilogy, but from the beginning they had a tone and style that would forever be associated with this franchise. The amazing scenery of Middle Earth, the craftsmanship of the sets and wardrobe of the characters (watch any behind the scenes features about this movie if you want to see the amount of work that went into creating this world) all contribute to a one-of-a-kind experience that no other fantasy film has ever been able to capture - not even the Hobbit films, if I'm to be perfectly honest.

Beyond the visuals and the gorgeous music, I think I've always related to the story being told on a personal level as well. Part of that comes from my childhood, as I was practically raised in the Shire (aka Heber City, UT). Growing up and moving on from my comfortable surroundings felt very much like Frodo leaving his home and taking on a difficult and dangerous task - though not quite as dramatic. Particularly when travelling abroad and being thrust into unfamiliar territory, it's easy to stay in your comfort zone rather than face the unknown. Frodo's determination and selfless attitude are truly inspirational, as he's the smallest and weakest of the secret council that meets in Rivendell, but is the first to volunteer to destroy the ring rather than use it for his own selfish desires. Throughout this series he will endure immense trials, and he's often a symbol of something far greater that I always aspire towards.

Every one of the actors in this incredible cast is extraordinary, but it's Sir Ian McKellen that delivers a truly standout performance (and deservedly received an Oscar nomination as a result). His epic delivery of "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" has become the stuff of cinematic legend, and still gives me goosebumps to this day. Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn is probably the coolest of the fellowship, and his sword-fighting antics are even more impressive given the actor's abbreviated preparation time (he was cast only a few days before his first fight scene was filmed).

However the heroes wouldn't nearly be as memorable were it not for the formidable foes introduced in this film. Sir Christopher Lee gives a truly creepy performance as the good wizard turned evil, Saruman, and his battle with McKellen's Gandalf is both captivating and horrifying in equal measure. Even this pales in comparison to the ultimate embodiment of evil, the ring wraiths. Clad in black cloaks and shrieking the most terrifying noise you'll ever hear, these ominous spectres ruthlessly pursue Frodo and his friends despite Aragorn and Arwen's best efforts to combat them. They're seriously the stuff of nightmares, and even the dementor's from the Harry Potter franchise pale in comparison to the agents of Sauron.

Some people may complain about the length of these films, but I think they've perfectly streamlined this incredibly dense story so as to highlight all of the meaningful character arcs and dilute the world-building exposition to a more manageable level. Even the least important members of the fellowship (Merry and Pippin) end up finding a way to show their courage at the end of the film. Perhaps the unsung hero of this entire movie is Boromir, the oft-misunderstood warrior of Gondor who desires the ring to protect his people. He is frequently categorized as a villainous presence, but shows his true colors in a finale that truly tugs on the heartstrings.

There are so many things to praise here that I know I'm going to leave something out. Suffice it to say that this film legitimized the fantasy genre like The Godfather did for the crime genre, or Star Wars did for sci-fi (though it has some fantastical elements as well). It was the perfect way to start out this trilogy and paved the way for some truly spectacular sequels. Whether they will top this initial effort remains to be seen in future weeks, but I can say that this is a near perfect film that I cannot recommend highly enough. I give The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the strongest of four-star ratings.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images

**How much do you love The Fellowship of the Ring? Let me know in the comments below!**