Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) - Scott Mendelson

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring:  Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Sean Bean, Billy Boyd, Cate Blanchett
Rated: PG-13

A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins.  Nor is he early.  He arrives precisely when he means to.

Well, my next guest needs no introduction.  Forbes' Scott Mendelson returns to Naptown Nerd to discuss one of my favorite films in the LOTR series, The Fellowship Of The Ring.  You can of course find Scott's work on Forbes.com and check him out in featurette on the 25th Anniversary Edition of Tim Burton's BATMAN available now.

There is a reason that so many of our so-called favorite films are comprised of movies that we saw as children. When we are young we are more easily impressed, both because we still possess so-called “childhood wonder” and because we haven’t seen all of the tricks and gotten use to the narrative tropes. But every once in a while a so-called “new” movie will impact us, impact me at least, on such a level that it equals the impact of our childhood favorites. Like Ratatouille’s Anton Ego being instantly transported to his childhood kitchen, some films can act as a shock to our systems, giving us the kind of “discovery of cinema” wonder that often seems impossible in our more cynical older age. One such film, one such gift, was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
2001 was not a terrific year for mainstream film. We had just exited a summer season so weak that trifles like The Mummy Returns and A Knight’s Tale were considered among the season’s best. We were starting to see the full potential of what CGI could do for movie special effects, and it was frankly not a pretty sight. Filmmakers were using this new tool to make anything possible, but often without any attempt to make it look possible to our naked eye. The notion of a preordained blockbuster, which began with Batman and plateaued with Men in Black, began to make the concept of a blockbuster less exciting and less magical.
What was once the thrill of discovering that yes, Independence Day was indeed as exciting as its trailer gave way to would-be blockbusters that merely served as the anti-climactic final act for a marketing machine. When every would-be big movie was a preordained smash hit, a big film willed to relative blockbuster status by sheer force of will, then none of these films were really special. 2001 was the first year where the effects of what we now consider modern marketing began to rub off on the very enjoyment of the so-called event films. I was still a college student, not quite 22 years old, and I began to wonder if the thrill was already gone.
But Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring proved to be an exception to the rule, a glorious exception indeed. It used a mix of CGI and practical effects to tell its fantastical story in a way that felt less like a machine-made corporate product than a searing work of historical fiction. As an adaptation of the first of J.R.R Tolkien’s three Lord of the Rings novels, Fellowship was not a preordained smash hit. Heck, based on a cult novel and starring actors that were at-best “known,” New Line Cinema’s “make all three films at once and hope for the best” strategy was the kind of bold risk-taking that either ennobled the studio system or exemplified the kind of “this has to connect on a worldwide scale just to break even” risk that would drive me mad in later years.
But the risk did pay off, not just financially but artistically as well. The first film was a glorious, exciting, scary, and emotionally devastating adventure story rooted as much in character as spectacle, as much in real-world locations as soundstages. The Fellowship of the Ring was the rare blockbuster that actually lived up to the title, a leggy and critically acclaimed genre film that touched audiences all over the world and proved to be a rousing holiday gift to a nation still traumatized by the terrorist attacks of the previous September.
We can debate which of the three Lord of the Rings films was better. But nothing of its sort can equal the sheer wide-eyed wonder of that first chapter, with that “Holy god, this is more wonderful than I could have imagined!” artistic triumph that exposed modern-day hype for the con that it so often was. Be it the mournful and sorrowful first act that touched on the notion of growing old with regrets (Howard Shore’s hobbit themes still move me to this day), to the stunningly frightening and intense battle sequence in a dark mine, to the unexpected goodness of one friend racing into a river, surely to his death, so that the other friend would not have to continue on his terrible journey alone (“I made a promise…”), The Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t just a fantastical fantasy adventure with top-notch special effects and spectacle, it was a superb and dynamic motion picture.
The restoration of the very idea that a new film could touch me and thrill me on a level like the would-be classics of my childhood (Field of Dreams, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, etc.), the notion that perhaps the best film I might ever see was one I had yet to discover, that was the gift which Jackson gave me in December of 2001. The Fellowship of the Ring was the glorious pay-off to a stunning artistic endeavor, an affirmation that the world of big-scale cinema still had so much potential even as it transitioned in content and in distribution. The Fellowship of the Ring is one of my all-time favorite films, partially because it restored my faith that I could experience such films into adulthood and beyond.  

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