Ah, Lord of the Rings. So much has already been said about it, what could I possibly add? Hah! Never think I will not come up with an excuse. In this case: LOTR TFOTR. Cause, please, beginnings, dude_ette, everybody loves beginnings! It’s just that in the case of Lord of the Rings people are all like: uuh, Rohan, and uuh, Aragorn becomes king, and hell yeah, 2 and 3 made a shitload more money than the first movie (in case you wondered: this is going to be about the movie), yadda yadda alla that. But me sez: hell to the no, Fellowship of the Ring all the way! Gee, I distinctly remember seeing the trailer with my best pal Janine and we were all giddy with excitement, and then the feeling of deep-rooted content and happiness leaving the theater, just having seen this beautiful piece of movie art. It was heaven!
I’ve probably watched The Fellowship of the Ring about 25 to 30 times by now. I bought the expensive box set the day it hit the stores, for whatever reason. And I guess I just can’t really remember because the later instalments have thoroughly disappointed me and my LOTR enthusiasm that I’m still surprised by how much love I have for TFOTR every time I see it. So let us have a look at the YEAHs!, the BLAHs…., and the ARGHs!!!
To approach this very scientific review from a technical rather than emotional side, I first have to give major shout-outs to the structure of the Fellowship of the Ring. I, for once, absolutely love the prologue and was really sad that we never got an epilogue at the end of Return of the King (as was promised in the TFOTR audio-commentary by Peter Jackson and pals on the DVD). I’ve seen a lot of people hating on it, but I love the overall feel of it and since I was a total LOTR newbie at the time the first movie hit German theaters, I felt thoroughly introduced to the concept of The Ring and the conflict that awaits us. But of course it’s not just the epic yet concise prologue, it is also the warm beginning in the Shire, where every human being in their right mind would want to live anyways (yeah, I just wrote that) and a lot of the credit has to be given to the adventuresque tour-de-force of the whole first movie. Basically we’re moving from expositiony intro to place A, run to place B, stop shortly at place C, solve a riddle at place D, escape to place E…. you get the idea. And it serves the movie tremendously, because, as IMHO the latter movies show, the characters and their relationships alone are too cookie cutter and stereotypical to carry plot and story. But since they’re all running all the time, this problem never really shows in TFOTR. Phew! I am also very happy about the decision to put Boromir’s death in the first part (can you imagine dragging that over into the second one?) and the ending that splits up the fellowship and creates the constellations that are so important for what happens afterwards.
Following closely on the heels of overall structure is the pacing of the movie, which I think is fantastic, since I never get the sense that we linger too long at one particular point either in the story or on the map. There are a few moments of rest, and they are of course needed, but all in all this movie moves forward and gets us through the events without ever leaving me feeling: bwrah, another shot of XY and when do they finally leave this place Z?
So I give major credit to the pacing for enhancing the illusion of a vast world. Both structure and pacing create the sense of travelling through countries and landscapes, making the passage of time believable and bearable, which is a feature that the other two movies do not accomplish. They are plagued by having to move the Rohans to Helm’s Deep in ridiculous extras-stolling-the-plains-shots or by Aragorn meeting the ghost-army of neon-green ants in his little detour, both instances that feel strangely disconnected to the overall passage of time and distance in relation to other events. Once again, the structure is a major factor in that, especially when it comes to characters, because TFOTR admittedly has it easier in that it has all the main characters assembled and move together through Middle Earth, while part 2 and 3 have to jump back and forth between stuff happening at a variety of places. By picking up a few characters here and there or meeting important ones in places passed, the first one succeeds in introducing it’s sequence of locations and ground it in the narrative through the people we meet there and the things we learn.
One of those instances is the whole segment taking place in and around Moria, where we solve a little riddle, fight a lake-monster, find out about the annihilation of a whole city of dwarves, meet Gollum and learn a little tinsy tiny bit about him, meet some Orks face to face and see Gandalf battling (and apparently losing to) the Balrog. While it is one unit in the film’s structure, there is a broad variety within it, it keeps moving and it excites me, even the admittedly sort of ridiculous scene on the staircase of horrors.
But the crowning jewel of all of that is, of course, Lothlorien. Awww, Lothlorien, how I love thee! Seriously, the forest is beautiful and it helps that they are major art-deco fans there, those elves, cause I’m a big fan of art-deco designs as well. But Lothlorien would only be half the fun without Galadriel, and yeah I better admit it now: I’m a huge Galadriel fan. I love the hilarious irrelevance of Celeborn (he gets a pompous intro just to be of no importance whatsoever), but I love the test that the Ring represents for Galadriel, and I love that she passes it. Since we’re in confession mode already, I got to say that the major fascination of Lord of the Rings for me lies in the power of the Ring itself. The notion that it is a tiny object with an own will that it can force upon those who possess it and turn them into its evil servants fascinates me, for it is somewhat of a metaphor for real-life concepts of evil doings in order to get either things or power. And it is of course particularly interesting to see characters being able to withstand that power. It is fascinating when Gandalf does, when Sam does, when Frodo ultimately fails, but what makes the moment with Galadriel so impressive for me is that she is this thousand year old super-wise being who already possesses a Ring of power and yet has to admit that she is tempted deeply and has to muster up all her courage and strength in order to withstand the power of the Ring. That of course makes it all the more gratifying that she actually succeeds in resisting.
All character-strength aside, I love how she seems to be this super-scary ice-queen bitch when she talks to Frodo at night, but then again seems to be mother earth with golden smiles for everyone later on, especially in the deleted scenes on the DVD, which features some more art-deco goodness to salivate on. Oh, and did I mention: Cate Blanchett. ‘Nuff said.
Loving the power of the Ring so much, I have to mention Tom Bombadil of course. I only read the novels after seeing Fellowship of the Ring, so at the time I fell in love with it, I didn’t even know about Tom Bombadil’s existence. Having found out about it, I was sad to see him cut, cause I loved the scene in the book and of course the mystery he represents. Who is he, that he can easily resist the powers of the Ring? But I’m not super-sad, and I guess it’s rather just a BLAH than an ARGH because I’ve seen TFOTR before reading the book, so: lucky me!
And all the raving about Galadriel aside: While I really enjoyed her little power-rant the first time around, I can’t watch the scene anymore without grinning sheepishly at the tacky special effects employed there. They are really kinda ridiculous.
The Uruk-Hai. Not only do they kinda suck in their crawling-out-the-mud-and-kill-the-Orks introduction (cause it’s ridiculous…”yeah, we’re born evil!”) but my oh my, those racist underpinnings. Let’s just revisit: The wise-beings who everybody loves and wants to be are tall, blond, white elves. The super-evil killer-creatures that everyone fears and does not want to get in contact with are built, black, and have dreadlocks. Ermh, yeah, what could possibly be wrong with that depiction? It perpetuates racialized stereotypes even further and acts all so what, how could that be a problem? AAAAARRRRGHHHH!! Really, I love TFOTR, but I’d love it even more if we had black elves with dreadlocks and the Viggo Mortensens and Sean Beans of this world as evil Uruk-hai. Dear everyone involved in the making of these movies: That is one horribly racist misstep that was really unnecessary.
Not to excuse the racist undertones of the movies, but the problem lies of course first and foremost with the books themselves. Middle Earth is not only highly racialized with its distinct categories of elves, humans, hobbits, dwarves, orks and whatnots, but it is also super-racist, cause the tall, blond, white guys are all super and yay, while all those who are smaller, darker, and supposedly uglier are stupid and of course evil. Yuck at that message. And the movie obviously never has any hint of intention to question that, celebrating their Orks as highly inefficient inter-racial (or even sub-racial?) beings (cause yeah, “mixing races” seems to be a horrible thing …*headdesk*) who are not only to be considered ugly but are also of course very stupid. Oh my. Don’t you also wish to just see the whole story retold from an Ork perspective? A la: The Great Story of Suffering of the People of Orkdom, or something? I sure would.
I could write a whole paragraph about the sexist structure of both LOTR books and movies. But I won’t go there now. It is there and I see it and I just do not want to discuss it right here. Apologeeeeez!
One minor issue that bugs me thoroughly (I mentioned it in my The Last Unicorn review) is the scene where Gandalf says to Frodo in Rivendell: “It’s October.” Red Zombie Rage! Srsly, elves and shit, outrageous places and the invention of new languages and then I’m supposed to believe that they just happen to use the same calendar as ours? With the same names for months? Every time people come with the “Tolkien’s worldbuilding is the most comprehensive and most impressive” argument I just roll my eyes because of this. October! What the hell?
Altogether, The Fellowship of the Ring is a movie that is firmly seated in the top 10 of my all-time favorite movies. There is a lot of goodness, but there is also enragingly stupid wrongness, and I guess my ongoing appreciation is less due to the fact that there are some great visuals and nice moments, but because as a movie it offers itself to closer scrutiny and fruitful critical readings. I can see that there are things wrong with it, but I can also say why and I can relate it to other issues of the movie and at the same time debate it in a wider cultural context. And yes, I think that is even more gratifying than sitting there being entertained and excited while gobbling down popcorn and hoping for Arwen to dump Aragorn’s stupid ass. So yay for cinematic criticism!
Yep, you better watch it!