Every so often, a film is released that is almost instantly entered into the timeless category. Whether it be Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Star Wars: A New Hope, intermittently, films get stuck with the timeless or iconic label. This can be for any number of reasons, script, acting, cinematography, or all of the aforementioned in one. Often these movies instantly add to the vast pool of popular culture with lines, scenes or characters immortalised by their popularity.
2001 saw the dawn of one of the most widely lauded film trilogies of all; The Lord of the Rings. The Peter Jackson helmed trilogy would go on to be iconic, bringing the essential literary vision of JRR Tolkien to life. Whilst not wholly true to Tolkien’s work, taking some notable liberties, even the most hardcore fans of Tolkien’s world could not fault Jackson for his gorgeous reimagining of the dense world of Middle Earth.
The first instalment in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, kicked off the journey, and it would be a path that would change the lives of all those who followed it. This applied to all those involved in the production, Jackson, crew, cast, and not to mention audiences worldwide. Jackson managed to pull it off, he’d succeeded in filling Tolkien’s characters with the humanity of his poetic prose, and after watching the films, each person associated each individual actor with the character left an indelible mark on culture.
For instance, to many, Elijah Wood is Frodo, Viggo Mortensen is Aragorn, and Ian McKellen in Gandalf. The casting was perfect, and be it Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett or even Christopher Lee, to imagine just one of the film’s characters cast differently is nigh on impossible. That is how powerful Jackson’s adaptation was. Thank goodness Tolkien blocked The Beatles‘ request to adapt the film, as Jackson has said recently, because, without that intervention, his creations would never have come to fruition.
Concentrating solely on The Fellowship of the Ring, whilst it is perhaps a slow burner, you cannot argue that it is the most emotionally affecting out of the lot. Whether it be the start where Frodo leaves his uncle Bilbo, when Gandalf falls fighting the mythical Balrog (“fly, you fools!” and “Gandalf, no!”), or the end when Sean Bean’s unimitable Boromir is felled by the menacing Uruk-hai Lurtz, there are many heart-wrenching moments in the first instalment that have stuck with audiences for years.
Two decades later, the death of Boromir remains one of the most emotive moments in the fantasy genre. Rewatching that fatal moment, we hold back the same tears that our younger selves did. However, being older now, the scene contains more of a palpable essence than it did back then. It is a scene such as this that really is a testament to the acting. Need we mention the end in which Sam nearly drowns following Frodo? It’s a glorious account of undying friendship and the allegorical nature of the story.
Another stunning element of the film and the series is, of course, the expert cinematography. Taking place across many of New Zealand’s striking vistas, Peter Jackson’s native land was the perfect place to breathe life into Tolkien’s work. New Zealand has a mysterious, ancient essence, and this fed into the wonder of Jackson’s aesthetic. These often imposing natural structures, such as the Rangitikei River, Whakapapa skifield or Paradise, the fictional magic of Tolkien’s world was augmented by mother nature’s own charm. This, combined with the pioneering special FX, was a match made in heaven.
Completing the package, the visual aspect of the movie was boosted by the ethereal soundtrack. Conducted by Howard Shore, it was right on the money in terms of coaxing the appropriate emotion out of the audience at any given moment. Featuring takes from siren-like vocalists Enya and Elizabeth Fraser, one would argue that this is one of the most breathtaking film soundtracks of all time. Every song was perfect, and not a single one felt out of place. It’s not often we can truly say that about a film soundtrack.
20 years since its release, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is still outstanding. Whilst some of the special FX or makeup might seem a little dated, it’s quite a feat that the vast majority of the film still holds up to scrutiny.