Today! Because I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve –
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Directed by Peter Jackson (x5)
Starring Elijah Wood (x6), Ian McKellen (x7), Sean Astin (x4), Hugo Weaving (x5), Cate Blanchett (x6), Viggo Mortensen (x3), Liv Tyler (x3), Ian Holm (x5), Christopher Lee (x6), Orlando Bloom (x3), John Rhys-Davies (x4), Billy Boyd (x3), Dominic Monaghan (x3), Sean Bean (x2), Andy Serkis (x6), Marton Csokas (x3), Bret McKenzie (x3), Sarah McLeod (x2)
I was no Lord of the Rings snob going into these films. I had read The Hobbit in middle school, I want to say, and had an awareness that these other books existed, but I never sought them out to read until that first amazing trailer for Fellowship appeared around Christmas 2000. After that, though, I was quickly all in – I read one book a year as the films were released, just to keep it fresh, and like the rest of the world was generally blown away by the movies as they unfolded. I don’t think this is much of a stretch, but it has to be said – Fellowship of the Ring is the greatest fantasy film of all time, and a nearly perfect movie. The other LOTR films are great, too, and made this list, and carried over so strong that even the first Hobbit film holds a special place for me, but they all kinda pale in comparison to that first incredible film.
Had the Academy been able to get over their weird sci-fi/fantasy bias earlier, Fellowship would’ve been the obvious Best Picture choice in ’01, over a very mediocre group of movies including Moulin Rouge and A Beautiful Mind. I remember Gosford Park being good (even though I’m not a huge fan of British period drawing room intrigue) and In the Bedroom too (even though I can’t remember a single thing about the plot), but this still was an easy pick, compared to, say, Return of the King‘s win over a better group, with the likes of Mystic River and Lost in Translation (and Master and Commander and fucking Seabiscuit, so okay, the early ’00s are not a great era for films, overall).
When I was starting to compile this list, I was tempted to just include the entire trilogy here as one item – being all filmed together and representing one unit tale, I thought it could work. But whenever I reflect on these movies, I’m always struck by how superior I consider the first movie over the others. I’m not exactly in the majority here – if the IMDB ratings are to be considered, Return is the consensus best film, and Fellowship is only marginally ahead of The Two Towers. That prolonged, baggy ending of Return doesn’t bother anybody else? What about the deus ex machina ghost army robbing that final battle of most of its impact? That’s cool with everybody?
But again, I think I give more credit to first films in series than most people – so much of the heavy lifting is taken care of by the time you get to the sequel that the focus can change and the pacing can tighten up on its own. Remember the first half hour of Fellowship? That could’ve been a slog if it wasn’t handled right – just all exposition and furry feet – and it wouldn’t have mattered how many hardcore wizard duels that followed – we’d already be half checked out.
But no, the whole movie – the whole movie! – is just phenomenal. The casting was terrific, from Ian McKellan’s Oscar nominated turn as Gandalf to Cate Blanchett’s ethereal Galadriel (the odd choices in the above gif notwithstanding) to Viggo Mortensen’s future king Aragorn to some classic Sean Bean villainy (I always forget he was in this, much like I always forget about him in Game of Thrones) to the gaggle of hobbits (What is the name for a group of hobbits, like a pride of lions or a murder of crows? An Elevenses of Hobbits, maybe?).
While it was snubbed for the top honor, Fellowship did win four Oscars from its whopping 13 nominations, including Cinematography, Visual Effects, Make-up, and Score, and got Peter Jackson the first three of his seven total nods for the series (His first ever nomination, incidentally, was for the Heavenly Creatures screenplay in 1994! Huh!). It just pulled up shy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by four million for top grossing domestic honor in ’01, but served to launch the trilogy to $2.9 billion worldwide, and $5.8 billion when including the Hobbit three. Who knows how seriously the world would take fantasy/sci-fi films if it wasn’t for the Lord of the Rings movies. Maybe all the superheroes would’ve changed minds by now, or maybe, I don’t know, The Shape of Water? But more than likely it would still be a popcorn genre with a sole aim to rake in dough and win technical awards.
Also – Chicago now has direct flights to Auckland, NZ, and we can go see the Shire in person. Who’s with me? Sure it’s a 16 hour flight, and there are no direct Auckland to Chicago returns, but come on! This is way cooler than going to Malta to see the Popeye set, isn’t it? Let’s see if we can get a group rate on second breakfast!
This is Peter Jackson’s fifth and obviously final film on the list, following #179 Two Towers, #102 Return of the King, #362 The Hobbit, and #258 King Kong (sorry, Bad Taste fans!), and there were no first time cast members in the above, as everyone appeared in multiple of these films or, in the case of Sean Bean, died elsewhere on the list (We’ll never forget your #175 Patriot Games demise!).