2001: Looking Back At THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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In a hole in the ground there lived a Hannah…
The year is 1996, my Father tucks my sister and I into bed and then, instead of pulling one of our familiar bedtime stories from the shelf, pulls a grand tome out from beneath the chair. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. I guess he thought it would make us fall asleep quicker and he could enjoy what he was reading for once, but I was mesmerized. Taken away by the sweeping narrative, each night I dreamt of Hobbits and Elves.

It should come as little surprise that five years later when I saw the first film of my beloved bedtime story advertised at my local cinema, I begged my Father to take me to see it. It came as a great surprise to my Mother, however, when he did.

Flashforward twenty years and as I sit here after my annual re-watch of Peter Jackson’s faithful adaptation, I find myself wondering what exactly it is about The Fellowship of the Ring that brings me back every year. I certainly don’t read the books annually although my obsession with Tolkien’s works has only grown over the years and I now have an entire bookshelf dedicated to literary think pieces and encyclopaedias of the world of Middle-Earth, not to mention all manner of fancy Hardback editions of the text itself. I digress…
The narrative of The Fellowship of the Ring is a simple coming-of-age story, admittedly with a bit more doom and gloom than puberty usually brings along, but the idea of Frodo stepping out from the delicate pastures of Hobbiton into the much wider, crueller world is one that we can all relate to. When Frodo reunites with Bilbo in Rivendell and tells him:

“I miss the Shire...I spent all my
childhood pretending I was off somewhere
else...off with you, on one of your
But my own adventure, turned out to be
quite different...I'm not like you,

We remember that point of no return, the point where longing for adulthood morphs into mourning the loss of our childhood. The forging of Fellowship reminds us of the friends we have made on our journey, those who would go to the end of the Earth with us without questioning why. In every moment of the film, every character we meet, we can see sections of our life unfolding on screen, albeit in a much more fantastical world.

And what a fantastic world Middle-Earth is! Thanks to some amazing on-location filming, we are swept through all sorts of landscapes. Starting in the green fields of Hobbiton, contrasted starkly by the working village of Bree. On to the sparkling city of Rivendell, to the sweeping vistas of the path of Caradhas straight into the enveloping darkness of Moria. Peter Jackson beautifully allows us to feel the company’s emotions through the environment they are in. The juxtaposition between the white spacious mountaintops and the murky tomb of Moria is sublime. As the Fellowship plunge further into the mine and the darkness presses in, we don’t need expositional speech about how much danger they are in to be gripping the sofa cushions; the feeling of fading hope and incoming peril is palpable.
These feelings are heightened by a breath-taking score by Howard Shore. I didn’t know a tin whistle could make me cry through anything other than agony until the first time I heard Concerning Hobbits and even listening to it now as a backdrop to my musings, I feel at home. Shore is a master of evocative soundtracks and every character theme flows seamlessly into the backing piece almost as if the great spirits of the Ainur were orchestrating our hero’s journey themselves.

The locations and iconic soundtrack are the reason that Fellowship of the Ring stands the test of time. With minimal CGI usage, Jackson’s preferred use of physical effects and forced perspective to relay the adventure don’t seem dated after twenty years: compare Fellowship to The Hobbit and it’s hard to believe the latter came out over a decade later. Even the CGI in The Fellowship of the Ring doesn’t seem too out of place in 2021, the Balrog and the Cave Troll still feel as real as they always did. The only downside twenty years on is (whilst it’s use is limited) the green screen is very obvious; Sam and Frodo look a bit too crisp in front of the blurry backdrop of Rivendell.

“I thought you wanted to see the Elves, Sam.
More than anything.”

“I did, it’s just, I didn’t realize I’d have
to squint to see them.”

It’s in Rivendell that we truly see the all-star cast coming together. Ian McKellen is exactly how I envisaged Gandalf as a child and Sean Astin (who is apparently better known for Stranger Things than The Lord of the Rings these days) plays Samwise with all the warmth and naivety that we see in the original texts. The late, great Christopher Lee strikes an imposing figure as the treacherous Saruman (a role I believe he was born to play) and Sean Bean … gets to die for the umpteenth time. Throw in Hugo Weaving doing a brilliant job at playing himself and the fantastic Ian Holm’s portrayal of an aging Bilbo and you can really feel the pages of Tolkien’s work playing out in front of you.
I think what really makes The Fellowship of the Ring as cinematically relevant today as it was on its release in 2001 is its religious dedication to its source material. The Lord of the Rings was written as an homage to folklore and mythos and that is something that ultimately shines through in Jackson’s adaptation. Tolkien’s idea of the familiar unknown serves to introduce us to this new world whilst reminding us of our own, bringing a sense of nostalgia to this fantastical landscape.

So, if you’re wondering whether you should re-watch The Fellowship of the Ring, or indeed watch it for the first time, I implore you to take a couple of hours out of your evening and do exactly that: you certainly won’t regret it.

Preferring the company of fictional characters to living, breathing people; it should come as no surprise that Hannah is a connoisseur of all things geek. Whilst their body resides in the capital of Wales, their heart resides in Middle-Earth and their mind remains firmly lodged in the memory of that embarrassing thing they did when they were eight.

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