The Fellowship of the Ring (PG, 178mins) Directed by Peter Jackson ****
It was the movie that put New Zealand on the blockbuster film-making map.
The audacious attempt to bring to life a beloved fantasy novel that many considered unfilmable. The film that not only established our country as the home of Middle Earth, but a hub of creative and talented individuals who are still making an impact on Hollywood and the global film and television industries two decades on.
Viewed 20 years after it first wowed the world (it had a premiere in Wellington on December 19, 2001, nine days after the red carpet was first rolled out in London), The Fellowship of the Ring still holds up as a rollicking adventure, filled with moments of magic, jaw-dropping set pieces and showcase for the well-cast, impressive deep bench of acting talent.
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Whereas the similarly aged, first Harry Potter outing feels even more twee and slightly bloated now than it did back in 2001 (there’s also far too much manipulation of the house points undermining that story’s credibility), this still does a terrific job of reflecting the original 1954 book’s tone and themes, while also very much establishing Peter Jackson’s own vision for what he’d – somewhat incredibly – negotiated as a trilogy of tales.
Hampered somewhat by having to not only world-build, but also wade through the aeons of backstory, that the Kiwi film-maker manages to make the 178 running-time (at least in the version that originally appeared in cinemas) fly by and leave viewers hungry for more is a hell of a triumph.
Sure the series-ending The Return of the King might have taken home a record haul of statuettes, but the four Academy Awards here (for cinematography, makeup, original score and visual effects) are extremely well-earned, even if the following instalment – The Two Towers – is actually the most satisfying and thrilling film of the bunch.
Part of The Fellowship’s charm is that while Weta Digital’s wizardry was deployed to terrific effect (the forced perspectives creating the required height difference between various characters is magnificently executed), there’s still an organic, made-in-Jackson’s-backyard feel to some of the battle and character scenes.
This was a time when local audiences still cheered and delighted at the sight of actors best known for Shortland Street appearing alongside internationally acclaimed stars and The Fellowship also helped establish the “which New Zealand geographic location is this” game that would grip the nation in the ensuing decade or so, whenever an international production shot here was unveiled.
Not all of it works. Gandalf does his isolation, imperilment and disappearing act one too many times, Christopher Lee’s double-dealing Saruman feels somewhat sidelined, there’s a bit too much “fatal wounding” that doesn’t result in death and the absence of Tom Bombadil entirely was too much for some fans.
However, before the cyclical nature of the storytelling began to wear down audiences when The Hobbit trilogy came around a decade later, this felt fresh, innovative and genuinely exciting.
Howard Shore’s score was pitch perfect in reflecting the tale’s epic nature and sense of foreboding, all of the Fellowship members, from Elijah Wood and Sean Astin’s hobbits to John Rhys-Davies dwarf, Orlando Bloom’s elf and Ian McKellen’s wizard made these fantastical characters their own, while the battle scenes set the template for many an epic fantasy adventure to come.
Without The Fellowship’s success, there would almost certainly have been no 300 or Game of Thrones (although Sean Bean may wish a certain trait wasn’t shared between here and that series), and New Zealand’s film and television industry’s wild rollercoaster of the past 20 years may have turned out very differently indeed.
- A special anniversary screening of The Fellowship of the Ring is taking place at Wellington’s Roxy Cinema, tonight, December 3 at 6.30pm. Various versions are also available to rent from Neon, iTunes, GooglePlay, YouTube, AroVision, Academy OnDemand, Roxy OnDemand and Deluxe AtHome.