The Fellowship of the Ring, 10 Years Later – A DIY Filmmaker Looks Back
On this day, ten years ago, New Line Cinema – then an independent production company – released the first film in a long-gestating film series. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring hit cinemas on December 19, 2001.
Before December 2001, I was only loosely familiar with Tolkien. I was – and still am – more of a C.S. Lewis guy, and I hadn’t seen a decent fantasy film since my VHS copy of Willow had worn out. Personally, I was in a kind of self-imposed movie drought. After my experience with Jurassic Park in 1993, I took a keen interest in movies, reading as many Starlogs and early movie sites as I could find. I was ten years old when I saw Jurassic Park, but by high school I had lost interest in movies, cynically believing I’d never be able to make the leap from fan to practitioner. I dove into comic books and television, but The Fellowship of the Ring pulled me back into the fold.
Join me in remembering the blockbuster movie landscape of 2001. Up until December, we had seen Hannibal, The Fast & The Furious, Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, American Pie 2, Rush Hour 2, The Mummy Returns, and Pearl Harbor. Sure, we got a Harry Potter movie that only hardcore fans could love, and some solid Soderburgh and Pixar, but by winter I had tapped out. Then a funny thing happened. A friend dragged me to Lord of the Rings, and something clicked in my brain.
First of all, I had no idea what was going on. I assumed Gondor was some sort of deity. I figured Gandalf was dead forever. I paid little attention when the main characters referred to some troll thing floating on a log. I was uncomfortable at the level of Enya I was having to endure.
Despite the film’s apparent impenetrable nature, it worked. In fact, it worked extremely well. The way Jackson’s camera moved, the way he wielded a vast array of movie magic tricks, and the deadly serious tone that the script and performances conveyed re-ignited my love for cinema. I was ten years old again.
Looking back now, the film isn’t as perfect as I had assessed at the time. Tolkien purists take issue with missing or misappropriated characters, or questionable attempts at comedy. Even in 2001, general movie audiences bristled at its length and open ending. I have found myself less intrigued by Jackson’s ever-roaming camera, as it floats and tilts all over the place, with no discernible motivation other than pacing. Although verisimilitude must have felt pretty special in a fantasy film from the era of Dungeons & Dragons, some of the film’s emotional moments can feel overwrought and over-emphasized.
All that said, is there a more dynamic example of mainstream cinematic culture-making from this era? The Matrix had wowed audiences and inspired a whole chic of its own, but its convoluted mythology and cynical approach didn’t seem to stick to the ribs. Lord of the Rings, however, arguably became our generation’s Star Wars, rivalled only by the Harry Potter or Batman series, and for good reason. The Fellowship of the Ring is an all-encompassing adventure movie that takes the audience across a wide array of topographies, emotions, and relationships.
Possibly the best example of The Fellowship of the Ring’s breadth is its opening and closing action sequences. The film opens up with a massive, computer graphic-laden battle scene between generalized characters we’ve never met, composed in wide, swooping establishing shots. The movie closes, however, with a dirty, intimate fist fight between a hero and villain that have been separated and established slowly through the entire story. Jackson starts his film wide and on a soundstage, and ends close-up and in the forest. Much like Jurassic Park, Jackson’s film features every special effect discipline available to the medium up to that point. Both films are almost demo reels for the history of movie magic.
Ten years after The Fellowship of the Ring, I find myself a cinephile that’s wandered from criticism to filmmaking. This movie helped to unlock a talent that I hadn’t tapped into in before. It helped to re-establish and initiate a life-long dream. Come to think of it, I cannot have been the only one. I’d be willing to bet that many of today’s DIY genre filmmakers – as well as stereotypical modern “internet movie nerds” – were forged in the fires of Star Wars and The Matrix, but took their form during the release of The Fellowship of the Ring and its sequels. I’d love to hear some feedback to see if anyone else’s movie fandom intensified after the release of the The Lord of the Rings.
It’s that time of year. The weather’s cold, the food is good, and your schedule is cleared. What a perfect time to re-visit Middle Earth.
In other news, the Film Nerds podcasters have been busy with preview screenings! Check out Cinematrimony’s Tintin preview, as well as Aspect Radio’s discussion on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo! For more information on my films, check out the sites for The Nocturnal Third and A Genesis Found, or visit the Wonder Mill Films Facebook page or Twitter feed.