The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Released:  2001

Cast:  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

Oscar Wins:  Best Makeup (Peter Owen, Richard Taylor), Best Original Score (Howard Shore), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, Richard Taylor, Mark Stetson), Best Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ian McKellen), Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Art Decoration (Grant Major, Dan Hennah), Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor), Best Film Editing (John Gilbert), Best Original Song (“My It Be” – Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan), Best Adapted Screenplay (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Gethin Creagh, Hammond Peek)

SUMMARY:  During the Second Age of Middle Earth, a group of powerful rings is created, and parceled out among dwarves, elves and men.  However, Sauron, the dark lord, creates his own ring, one that is more powerful than all the others.  Sauron attempts to use this ring to take over the world, but are stopped by an army of elves and men.  During the battle, Sauron is killed by Isildur, the king of Gondor; Isildur kills Sauron by cutting off the finger wearing the One Ring.  Instead of destroying the ring, Isildur keeps it, but is killed by Orcs (nasty creatures who work for the dark forces) not long afterward.  The ring is lost for some 2500 years, until it is found by a creature named Smeagol (Andy Serkis).  The ring drives Smeagol mad, and he develops a second, sinister personality named Gollum.  Gollum possesses the ring for 500 years, until it is accidentally found (and taken) by a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm).  The ring gives Bilbo an extraordinarily long life – sixty years later, he is preparing to celebrate his 111th birthday.  His friend, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), arrives for the festivities, and learns that Bilbo plans to leave his home, and go to live with the elves; he will leave all of his possessions, including the ring, to his nephew Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood).  The ring causes Bilbo to act strangely, and Gandalf becomes suspicious:  upon further investigation, Gandalf finds that this ring is the One Ring.  Along with its own intense power, the ring also contains a remnant of Sauron’s spirit.  Frodo plans to hid the ring to keep it safe, but when Gollum is captured by the Orcs and reveals the current location of the ring, Gandalf knows that Frodo will have to flee.  Frodo’s loyal friend, Samwise “Sam” Gamgee (Sean Astin) decides to go with Frodo and act as a sort of bodyguard.  Gandalf plans to reconvene with the two hobbits at a small village after consulting Saruman (Christopher Lee), the wizard who is the leader of his order.  Unfortunately, Saruman has turned dark, and become a minion of Sauron.  He attacks Gandalf, and keeps him from meeting Frodo and Sam.  Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo have picked up two more hobbit friends, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), both of whom accompany them on their journey.  At the arranged meeting place, the hobbits are worried to find that Gandalf has not arrived.  However, they meet a ranger named Strider (Viggo Mortensen), who agrees to take them to the elven village of Rivendell.  The entire company is attacked on the way, and Frodo is seriously injured by a special magical blade.  Without any way to get him to help in time, the hobbits and Strider accept that Frodo will die.  Just then, the elven princess (and Strider’s love interest) Arwen (Liv Tyler) appears, and takes Frodo to the elven village, where Gandalf has also finally arrived (the other hobbits and Strider arrive later).

Arwen’s father, the king of the elves, holds a conference to decide what to do with the ring.  During this conference, Frodo learns that the only way to destroy the ring is to throw it into the fires of Mount Doom – Sauron’s well-guarded fortress.  He also learns that Strider is really Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor (and a descendant of Isildur).  Frodo volunteers to be the one to take the ring to Mount Doom; his action prompts a number of other council members to pledge to protect him.  They include his hobbit friends Sam, Merry and Pippin; Gandalf; Aragorn; Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), a dwarf; Legolas (Orlando Bloom), an elf; and Boromir (Sean Bean), a native and captain of Gondor.  Together, this group, calling themselves ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, begin the trek to Mount Doom.  After Saruman blocks their path over the mountains, the group is forced inside, where they travel through the dwarven mines.  All of the dwarves who once lived here have been killed by Orcs, who eventually discover the Fellowship (they are also being followed by Gollum).  They manage to fight off the Orcs, but are then attacked by a huge dragon.  Gandalf holds off the dragon long enough for the others to get away, but is dragged into the abyss by the monster’s tail.  Aragorn now becomes the unofficial leader of the Fellowship, and takes them to the home of two mystical elves, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Celeborn.  That night, Galadriel tells Frodo that he is the only one that can destroy the ring, and that someone in the Fellowship will try to take it from him.  As this is happening, Saruman is at Mount Doom, creating an army of Uruk-hai – huge, ruthless fighting machines.  He sends out a group of these Uruk-hai to find the Fellowship, but orders them to bring Frodo back alive.  The Fellowship continue their journey the next day, and as predicted, Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo.  Frodo manages to escape with the help of Aragorn, but decides that the evil pull of the ring is too strong, and that he must continue the journey alone.  About this time, the Uruk-hai catch up to the Fellowship, and a battle erupts, during which Boromir is killed trying to save Merry and Pippin.  These two hobbits, mistakenly believed to be Sam and Frodo, are taken by the Uruk-hai.  Not knowing of these events, Frodo prepares to leave, only to be stopped by Sam, who insists on going with him.  After the battle ends, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli decides that to follow the Uruk-hai and rescue Merry and Pippin.

MY TAKE:  Of the three movies in this trilogy, this one is probably the most confusing, simply because you have to learn the whole basis of the plot as well as the huge cast of characters.  This is definitely confusing at first, but I found myself fairly proficient at identifying the main characters after a short time (though I still can’t tell you which one’s Merry and which one’s Pippin).  I think that this has got to be a tribute to the writers, because any time that a whole separate world is created, with a lot of different species, it’s going to be confusing to get across in a movie.  In a book, there’s a lot more time to develop things, and you can introduce characters gradually:  in a movie, even one that’s three hours long, you have to get the main characters established pretty quickly.  The physical differences among the species make it easier to identify them:  hobbits are short (with apparently curly hair and bare fee), dwarves are short, wide and hairy; elves are pale and have long hair and pointy ears; wizards wear robes and hats; and men are . . . men.  The Orcs are noticeable because they’re super-ugly, as are the Uruk-hai.  I don’t know what the hell Gollum is, but nobody ever has any trouble recognizing him.  These two species also have really bad teeth.  The first time I watched this, I think I also had trouble keeping Sauron and Saruman straight, but at this point, they’re pretty interchangeable.  Once you get past all of this, the plot is actually fairly simple:  there’s a ring with the power to cause a lot evil, and Sauron wants it back.  It’s in the possession of a hobbit, who decides that the ring must be destroyed; a motley crew of others volunteer to help him do this.  As the Fellowship makes the enormously long journey to Mordor and Mount Doom, they are constantly under threat from various nasties sent out by Sauron and Saruman.  I suppose that the film is a bit of a morality lesson with regards to power:  a lot of people will do almost anything to get it, and the possession (or pursuit) of power has the ability to drive someone crazy.  In the end, it is the simplest of the assembled creatures, a hobbit, who is given the task of destroying the ring.  This seems to be because he is the one least likely of giving in to its call:  Gandalf refuses to touch the ring, saying that it will corrupt him; Boromir goes a little cray-cray and tries to steal it, and Gollum is clearly the cautionary tale of the ring’s power.  The thing that really drove me crazy was that Frodo kept putting the damn ring on.  On several occasions, he did this to get out of a dangerous situation, but every time he puts it on, he goes into this alternate universe, and apparently lets Sauron in on their location.  Quite stupid, really.  Luckily, all of this seriousness is broken up by Gimli, the hilarious dwarf (played by John Rhys-Davies, who also played Indiana Jones’ friend Sallah).  He’s likes to act tough, and I wouldn’t want to mess with him, but he’s kind of a blowhard, so he makes himself look rather silly at times.  He also has a love-hate relationship with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, the reason most young women went to see this movie I think):  they actually turn out to be pretty good friends, but act like they can’t stand each other.  He lightens up almost every scene he’s in, while also being a formidable body guard.

RATING:  Epic . . . complex but not overly so.

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