Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them."
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first installment in Peter Jackson's multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955) and is the start of, quite honestly, the best, most successful film trilogy of all time.

The film starts off with, quite frankly, one of the most spectacular openings that I have ever seen.
In a brief, yet very dramatic prologue, we learn that long ago the uber-evil Dark Lord Sauron (Sala Baker) forged the One Ring of Power, into which he pours all his power, hate, malice and will to dominate all life, only to lose it on the slopes of Mount Doom in an epic battle against the last alliance of elves and men. After a complicated journey the Ring is found a good three thousand years later on the slopes of the Misty Mountains by hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm).
What makes this such a memorable opening is Sauron in all his glory. For fans of the book it is a great surprise as, in the entire trilogy of books, Sauron is never seen but often referred to, arguably most notably by his 'puppet' sorcerer Saruman the White (played in the film by Christopher Lee) as slowly but surely being returned to his full power after being defeated by Isildur (Harry Sinclair) on the slopes of Mount Doom. That could be looked at from two angles - the first being a huge mistake on Tolkien's part, as people want the antagonist to actually take part/be seen in what they are reading, and the second being an excellent creative decision on Tolkien's part, as man's greatest fear is in fact the fear of the unknown, and Sauron is an unseen character who causes great fear to grip the hearts of most of the peoples living in Tolkien's Middle-Earth.
Jackson's depiction of Sauron in all his glory is truly incredible. At over ten feet tall the enormous Dark Lord dominates the battlefield, wearing tons of armour that won't fail to wow you and make your jaw drop. His weapon of choice is a mace that is at least six feet long and sends the elves and men flying in all directions. The action won't fail to grip you thanks to the outstanding visuals, and in the brief time that Sauron is fighting you will be on the edge of your seat, unable to tear your eyes away, and the scene shows just how powerful and almost unstoppable a force that characters such as wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and elf Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) make him out to be/have been in both the films and the books.

Now, for the main strand of the plot...
Sixty years after first finding the Ring Bilbo is preparing to celebrate his 111th birthday. As soon as the celebrations are over he leaves for Rivendell where he intends to live with the elves for the rest of his life. He leaves everything to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), including the Ring. Their old friend, wizard Gandalf the Grey, discovers that it is indeed the One Ring - which is a nice piece of dramatic irony as we are always aware that it is indeed the One Ring, while none of the characters realize it until Gandalf's suspicions are confirmed - and that Sauron and his various Ringwraith and orc minions are still searching for it. Along with gardener Sam (Sean Astin), kinsmen Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), and Dunedain ranger Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Frodo takes the Ring to elf haven Rivendell where Elrond calls a secret council where it is quickly agreed that the Ring must be taken into Mount Doom, where it was forged, which of course lies deep in enemy territory, where it is to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom, therefore destroying the Ring and Sauron for ever and restoring peace to Middle-Earth. Frodo agrees to take it, though he knows he can't do it alone, so Gandalf, Aragorn, elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), soldier Boromir (Sean Bean), Sam, Merry and Pippin, all swear allegiance to Frodo, that they will protect him and help him complete his quest, no matter what the cost to themselves is, and becoming the (titular) Fellowship of the Ring.
The Fellowship begins their epic treck across Middle-Earth, over mountains, through mines, through woods and sailing down the great River Anduin, in their bid to get to Mordor, where along the way they have to fight hoards of orcs, a cave troll and even a Balrog, a legendary fire demon. Matters are further complicated by the fact that Gandalf's old friend, wizard Saruman the White has betrayed them by joining forces with Sauron and is plotting/trying to kill them at all times, and reclaim the Ring for Sauron, and has even built up an army of Uruk-Hai, a superior breed of orc, stronger, faster and more ferocious than regular orcs, lead by the monstrous, blood-thirsty Lurtz (Lawrence Makoure).

Peter Jackson chose to film The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand, and as far as I'm concerned that is one of the best creative decisions any director has ever made. The vast open landscapes are beautifully eye-catching and are used to truly capture the essence of the journey the Fellowship make, the distance shots really making you feel just how long and epic a treck it is for the nine companions. On top of that Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and his team will wow you without fail with beautiful aerial shots of a range of stunning snow-capped mountains that they captured from a helicopter.

If you've seen the film then it will come as no surprise to you that it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Even if you are someone who openly hates the fantasy genre with a passion it will be impossible for you not to be awestruck by the effects. The all time high points in the special effects department are elvish warrior Arwen (Liv Tyler) driving away the nine Ringwraiths pursuing her and Frodo by summoning the river to wash them away; Saruman hitting the Caradhras mountains with a lightning bolt, that causes the Fellowship, who are forcing their way through the snowy mountain, to get buried by an avalanche of snow, and, most memorable of all, the Fellowship of the Ring's bid to escape from the Mines of Moria. Once they are in the final part of the mines they are on a rickety set of stairs above an almost bottomless chasm, only to find several steps missing, so that they have to jump over to get onto the rest of the stairs. Orcs are shooting at them from a platform a good two hundred feet away, the staircase is beginning to crumble, the ceiling above them is starting to cave in, and legendary fire demon, the Balrog, is visibly awakening beneath them. Once they've got past the staircase they have to cross the narrow Bridge of Khazad-Dum, on which Gandalf and the Balrog engage in a fierce, deadly battle with over the near-bottomless chasm, with tragic consequences for the Fellowship. These scenes/images will truly stick in your memory and give The Fellowship of the Ring so much stunning impact that it will be almost impossible to forget the film or the mind-blowing effects.

As well as the effects the film is truly carried by the characters. Although the film is full to bursting with hobbits, elves, wizards, orcs and dwarves all of the characters are still human. Despite all of his wisdom and seriousness Gandalf is rather mischievous, and in his early scenes he takes great pleasure in wowing the hobbit folk of the Shire with his spectacular fireworks. Sam initially has great anxiety over leaving the Shire, which he overcomes after Frodo's life is put on the line, following his being poisoned by the Witch-King of Angmar's (Shane Rangi and Brent McIntyre, with the voice of Andy Serkis) Morgul blade. Legolas and Gimli have a bitter dislike of each other that goes back generations of elves and dwarves, but after Gandalf's death they put aside their differences, united in their grief, and eventually become friends after they meet Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). All of the characters work together beautifully to create a dark, gripping and emotional film, although the comic relief from Billy Boyd's Pippin is more than welcome, and works very well with the rest of the film, thanks to Pippin getting some great one-liners, and Boyd displaying immaculate comic timing.

Arguably, the most impacting scene of the film is a quiet one in Moria where Frodo despairs that he won't be able to complete his quest, and is comforted by Gandalf, who says "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All that you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you." That moment packs a hard, emotional punch, and is one of a number of touchs/factors of the film that elevates The Fellowship of the Ring from blockbuster to genuine masterpiece.

In short, the irony considering the length of this review, The Fellowship of the Ring is a beautifully deep, dark and emotional film that will really impact you and make you truly long to watch its two equally outstanding sequels (2002 and 2003), and it is a film that you will remember for the rest of your life.

2001 (Original Edition), 2002 (Extended Edition).
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Sala Baker, Lawrence Makoure, Andy Serkis, Martin Csokas, Craig Parker.

Oscars: Best Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, Richard Taylor, Mark Stetson), Best Makeup (Peter Owen, Richard Taylor), Best Original Score (Howard Shore).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Barrie M. Osbourne), Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Supporting Actor (Ian McKellen), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah), Best Editing (John Gilbert), Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Gethin Creagh, Hammond Peek), Best Original Song (May It Be - Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan).

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