Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

   

One of the most beloved cult writers of all time was J.R.R. Tolkien, a well-known professor and best friend of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. It was Tolkien who encouraged Lewis to pursue faith, and his own Catholic upbringing contributed greatly to his best-known and beloved series of books: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The tale of Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, and the epic journey to destroy the Ring of Power has influenced and entertained readers for its duration. But only now has technology caught up to the imagination of Tolkien, and allowed the epic to be brought to the big screen. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first installment of a classic story of honor, valor, and perseverance against the forces of evil. It's a film everyone should see at least once... but probably like the rest of the world, you just might be hooked.

 

In the first age of Middle-earth, a great battle was fought on the threshold of the kingdom of Mordor, where the dark lord dwelled. An alliance of men and elves waged war against him in self-defense, fearing the powers he wielded through a magical ring. The enemy was vanquished when the golden band was severed from his finger, but his spirit still lived, dwelling within the ring of power. The mortal who came into its keeping refused the elves' desire it be destroyed, intending to use it for his own benefit. But he was slain and the ring lost for many generations, eventually falling into the hands of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) of the Shire. For many long years he kept it for his own pleasure, for the ring enabled the wearer to become invisible, little knowing the dark lord had returned to the mountains of Mordor.

 

The Shire is preparing for a great birthday party, as Bilbo has reached 111 years of age. On the night of his celebration, he leaves the ring to his ward Frodo (Elijah Wood) and journeys toward Rivendell, hoping to write his memoirs in peace. The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has mixed feelings about the power of the ring, and requests Frodo not put it to use until they know its origins. He returns with unwelcome knowledge... the golden band shows the script of Mordor when placed into the fire, revealing its identity of the long-lost Ring of Power. Knowing the enemy will do anything to retrieve this precious item, Gandalf sends Frodo and his gardener-friend Sam (Sean Astin) to Rivendell, hoping they'll come into the protection of the elves until a fate for the ring can be decided. Along the way they fall into the company of two mischievous hobbits, Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd). Intending to meet up with Gandalf at the Prancing Pony in the town of Bree, Frodo and his companions must rely on a stranger's assistance when the wizard fails to arrive.

 

Believing his superior should be informed of their discovery, Gandalf has journeyed to the great black tower of Orthanc to reveal their plans to Saruman (Christopher Lee). But he has underestimated the influence of the dark lord. Eventually the ring must be destroyed, and the epic journey is begun with the forming of the fellowship -- nine companions, one of which is untrustworthy. They will journey through the mountains, bleak caverns of an orc-infested mine, and the magnificent elfin-kingdom of Lothlrien, every step one of peril... and fear they will be betrayed from within. Also entering into the tale is the forbidden love between an elf-princess (Liv Tyler) and a mortal (Viggo Mortenson). This fantastic tale of heroism, sacrifice, friendship, and courage opens with a climactic battle, swiftly carries us into the tranquility of life in the Shire, and then hurls us headlong into one of the darkest epics of all time. Early scenes with the hobbits are refreshing and full of good-natured fun, which seeps into later sequences but never quite manages to lift the heavy anticipation that this quest will not be easy, nor without its sorrow. Dark creatures loom in Middle-earth and we encounter many of them up close. There are the Nazgl, also called Ringwraiths. They were bound to the dark lord when they received and accepted his gift of rings of lesser power. Because of this betrayal they are cursed, neither living nor dead. They appear in ghostly form in daylight, their features always obscured with thick armor and shadowed cloak hoods. In the world of the invisible, Frodo encounters them as sinister, white, skeletal-like beings.

 

The camera leers at orcs -- mutilated creatures small in stature and hideous in appearance. They reside in dark places, most profoundly in the caverns of Moria, once inhabited by the dwarves. A demon-like creature known as a balrog also inhabits those hallowed corridors. Beneath Orthanc, Saruman is breeding an army of fighting uruk-hai. They are much larger and stronger than orcs and can move rapidly in daylight. Many battle scenes intrude in the three hour timeline, with resulting violence. Orcs are slain by the sword, pierced with arrows, and occasionally decapitated, oozing green slime. In one torrential battle, Aragorn is badly wounded by a uruk-hai who has mortally wounded one of their companions (three arrows are graphically fired into his chest). Aragorn takes off the uruk-hai's head in one fell sweep. The carnage is never overly graphic but the battles are often long and drawn out. Numerous times we believe characters have been killed. Surprisingly, the audience gets the most visual reaction out of Bilbo, when he unexpectedly lunges for the ring.

 

For all its gruesome characters, The Fellowship of the Ring offers an equal amount of beauty. Lavish mountain waterfalls spilling beneath an ethereal elf-city. The radiant beauty of Galadriel, the queen of the elves. The sunlit green meadows of the Shire. A radiant display of fireworks. Humor is delicately woven into the tale, usually provoked by the mischievous hobbits. From the sweeping scope of a New Zealand landscape to the breathtaking artistry of first-class special effects, this film is a spectacular ride through the many twists and turns of Middle-earth. It contains profound examples of Christian symbolism and allegory, from a character falling in the shape of a cross, having sacrificed his life for his companions, to the picturesque symbolism of a hand plunging into darkness and gripping the fingers of a fallen friend. There is elements of what might be called "magic" by some, but in Tolkien's line of vision was more toward the supernatural gifts granted to angels.

 

Elves have the ability to heal rapidly, see over long distances, even foresee future events. Galadriel uses her mirror to show Frodo the fate of Middle-earth should he fail. Gandalf occasionally performs parlor tricks but uses most of his energy and power for the good of the Fellowship, namely standing up against a "demon of the underworld." A conflict between him and Saruman grows violent, with each wizard wielding their staff and striking the other. For older viewers, particularly those seeking the intended spiritual implications, this film is like a luxurious breath of fresh air. The cinematography and camera work are nothing less than astounding; New Zealand is Middle-earth with its gorgeous panoramic landscapes and massive mountain peaks. The Fellowship of the Ring is of a stellar quality with no foreseeable seams, nothing to pick apart. It is the first episode in one of the greatest film trilogies of all time.