The Hobbit Rings twice.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 10 out of 10: There are certain film and television properties that when one looks back with years to reflect, one wonders how did this get made so well?
Like the first five seasons of Game of Thrones or the Harry Potter series, I am amazed that the Lord of The Rings trilogy is so damn good. Peter Jackson was almost an unknown director when he somehow wrangled hundreds of millions of dollars from two film companies. The fact the trilogy holds up so well, so many years later, is a testament to Jackson’s skill and the quality of the underlining work.
Now technically this is not the first time someone attempted The Lord of the Rings on film, though one can certainly be excused with not being familiar with Ralph Bakshi’s rotoscoped fiasco, The Lord of the Rings from 1978. Peter Jackson has stated that Bakshi’s film was influential on his own production. Peter Jackson is a kind man.
A Philosophical Aside
There is a great Stoic saying in Fellowship of the Ring “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” which is repeated twice in the film for emphasis.
But fans of the Epicurean philosophy do not despair. The Hobbits are an offshoot of humans in Tolkien lore and are clearly the Irish. There are of the great fictional examples of Epicurean philosophy as embraced by an entire community as opposed to Gandalf’s Stoicism.
The clash between the two cultures and the overall story of Frodo is a great example of these philosophies in action. The Hobbits disinterest in the outside world and the danger Sauron poses is a demonstration of the stinging criticism often placed at the feet of Epicureans while the joy and peaceful existence of the Hobbits among themselves is a great example of the appeal of the philosophy in the first place.
Is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring racist?
You can’t just say yes and leave it at that.
Fine… if The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring were produced today, would there be changes due to greater sensitivity about inclusion? I would say yes. Does that mean one of the Hobbits would be black and Merry and Pippen gay lovers? I would love to say, of course not. But recent history has shown that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the original source material or, in some cases, common sense. (I am looking your way Frozen II.)
It is the Friends conundrum. Friends is one of the most successful sitcoms ever produced. If a showrunner came to a major network today with a half-hour sitcom about six white cis people living in New York not just would the show be summarily rejected, someone at the pitch meeting would out the showrunner on Twitter and ruin his or her’s life.
So could you have a movie series today where the good elves are so pure white they practically glow and the bad elves (Orcs) are dark-skinned, corrupted evil creatures? I am thinking at the very least we will be casting a minority as Aragorn. I mean, it is a fantasy novel. There is no reason that Aragorn has to be white. It isn’t jarring, like putting a clearly Southern American black female as a secret black jujitsu master in 1884 London. (Look Enola Holmes, having a black female American abolitionist and suffragette is fine. Though I doubt Sarah Parker Remond actually talked that way, being from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. However, having her be a jujitsu master is, in a strange way, an erasure of the rather large Asian community in London at the time and the popularity of all things Japanese in Victorian England. (Anglo-Japanese style has its own Wikipedia page about this very era)
The Fellowship Themselves
Where were we… oh yes, The Lord of the Rings. Let’s look at our adventurers.
Frodo: I swear I have more screenshots of Elijah Wood below than I have of Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice. In all fairness, Elijah is cuter. He is truly an innocent among wolves and a perfect Hobbit. Slightly more mature than his peers, but still full of fear and wonder.
Merry and Pippen: These two are peas in a pod. They are our trickster types who will get the group in trouble. As they do when Pippen knocks a skeleton down a well in Moria, waking up an entire army of orcs. (Those literate among you might note the change from the book where he actually tossed a pebble down the well. I am surprised Jackson changed this as the careless action is much more on point for the character and story than accidentally bumping a skeleton.)
Sam: Sam is the heart of the story. Fat, slow and loyal to a fault, Sam wants what is best for Frodo. He is like a dog in Hobbit form.
Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen competes with Frodo in the “I don’t need this many screenshots, but good lord those eyes” category.
Boromir: Boromir has the most famous line of the first movie (One does not simply walk into Mordor.). Boromir has grown in stature and fame over the years due to the continued success of actor Sean Bean and as yet another example of poor Sean never quite making it to the final credits.
Legolas: I feel that Director Peter Jackson did not fully trust brand new actor Orlando Bloom to do much more than look pretty. So for the first film, at least he does little more than look pretty.
Gimli the Dwarf: Gimli has the best line of the movie “Nobody tosses the Dwarf” but other than that, he seems under used to me. In many ways, large chunks of the film are Gimli’s story since so much action takes place in the mines of Moria.
Gandalf: Thanks to the incredibly helpful CGP Grey (whose videos I have included below) I now know that Gandalf is not human. He is an Istari which is a kind of lowish level angel, which is why he can face a Balrog and explains the whole fight with Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). Honestly, CGP Grey’s videos explain a lot of the film. And yes, I did read the original books as a youth. Hell, I read the Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings. I even watched the Misty Mundae (Erin Brown) classic The Lord of the G-Strings: The Femaleship of the String. I am practically scholar at this point. No, I never did make it past the third page of The Silmarillion? Why?
I could go on for a dozen or so more pages. There is so much that works in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The acting is excellent across the board. Except for one flying eagle shot, the special effects are spot on. The scenery is awe-inspiring, with New Zealand’s Middle-earth practically a character on its own.
I saw the extended version of the film and I highly recommended it. The four or so hours fly by and there seems to be little, if any, bloat. Something Peter Jackson had trouble with in later films such as his King Kong remake. The idea of filming more than one film at a time has been copied many times since the Lord of The Rings Trilogy and often with diminished returns. This trilogy seems like magic in a bottle, never to be captured the same way again. We are fortunate to have it.