Alphabetical Movie – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Let me tell you about what convinced me I was watching a truly great work of cinema when I first watched this film.
It wasn’t the extraordinary characterizations by the lead performers. Although they were extraordinary.
It wasn’t the scope of the film that seemed to stretch beyond the frames. Although that was brilliant.
No, what sold me on the film was the way Peter Jackson managed to make an inanimate object terrifying.
The trick to this trilogy was making the ring itself something evil and dangerous. Something that had to be destroyed.
In order to do that, you have to convince your audience that a loop of metal is dangerous. If that metal loop isn’t scary, you just aren’t going to give a crap about a couple of hobbits trying to get to Mt. Doom.
What Fellowship managed to do was make me hate that fucking ring. I remember the preview audience audibly gasping when Frodo was tricked into putting on the ring in House of the Prancing Pony. I mean holy shit! Doesn’t he get it?
Gandalf tells us the ring wants to be found. Until we see the ring trying to be found, those are just words. When we are shown how wearing the ring focuses Sauron on Frodo, we get it. We can see the ring forcing itself on Frodo’s psyche and the minds of those around him. We feel it happening. The viewer can grasp just how bad it would be if Sauron gets his hands on the ring.
Not bad for an object that really just sits there, right?
Tolkien could describe the way the ring was affecting those that came into contact with its power. Jackson had to show it and he had to do so in a way that didn’t seem cheesy.
He did so in ways that were subtle and ways that were dramatically obvious. Watching the way the ring lands when Bilbo drops it is subtle. The shadow world we see when someone puts on the ring is obvious. Both establish the ring as something that is unnatural and twisted.
In the next two films, Gollum will become the embodiment of how the ring twists those who interact with it. In Fellowship, we just needed to understand that the ring has the power to twist. Then, when we see Gollum, we don’t need an explanation of why he is the way he is. We already have a context. We know what the ring can do.
Knowing what the ring can do establishes the stakes involved. The movement of massive armies and the desperate trek across miles of dangerous terrain become essential for the survival of the hero races.
We all know this now. But back in 2001, it all could have gone horribly wrong before it had really begun. The set pieces of Helm’s deep or Minas Tirith would have been just for show because we would not have been able to fully grasp the danger that lurked just beyond the frame.
Victory in those battles served only to buy time for two hobbits that had to destroy the ring.
It is one thing to say that to an audience. It is quite another to convince the audience how imperative it was that the ring had to be destroyed. The Fellowship of the Ring established that need.
And yeah, I was pretty impressed.