Now as you know, this isn’t exactly a one-night endeavor, and so this will be the main focus for the next few weeks. Particularly since we are watching the extended editions (which in my mind are superior – yes they are), this is going to take us some time. Tonight, we watched The Fellowship of the Ring up to the Council of Elrond. (Fun fact – my computer’s spell-check recognizes the world Elrond.)
There’s not a lot to be said about this epic set of films that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseum. For me, Peter Jackson’s three films represent one of the finest, most perfect filmic storytelling masterpieces of our time, alongside Ben Hur and Spartacus and Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia (and more). I’ve discussed the music at length, and there is little more to be said about that, but there are always new things I notice in terms of the film itself.
In the area of cinematography, Peter Jackson has shown himself to be a genius. Beyond the basic settings of his native New Zealand, the direction is subtle, ingenious and masterful. Tasked with the hideous job of making a 5’6″ actor appear half the size of a 5’11” actor, Peter turned to some innovative effects. While multiple shots against green screen were used when possible, there are moments in the film when such things are simply impossible. A fantastic example of this is in the early scenes when Frodo is riding side-by-side with Gandalf in a cart; both actors – not doubles – are sitting next to each other, and the illusion is perfect. It’s only on extremely close inspection that it appears the cart was specifically built with one side of the seat further away from the camera than the other, thus placing Elijah Wood further away than Ian McKellen.
Peter’s faithfulness to the book is also commendable. I’m aware this is somewhat of a contentious issue, as there are indeed areas where Peter and his wife Fran Walsh took considerable liberties, but there are in each case a wonderfully good reason. The most common reason for changes is Hollywood dramatics; no one is interested in a character called Tom Bombadil. One of the things that impresses me continuously, however, is Peter’s respect for the pace of Tolkien’s books. The Fellowship of the Ring, like the two that follow it, is not a fast-paced film (their 4-hour running times is ample evidence of that). The fact that the opening half hour of the movie revolves around the Shire showcases this, but it serves an important job: it retains the gradual building of tension and the destroying of Frodo that is so incredibly important in the books. Take a moment and look at Frodo in the earliest moments of The Fellowship of the Ring, and compare it to the final moments before the destruction of the ring in The Return of the King. It hardly seems to be the same person.
This insidiousness is, ultimately, what draws me and Little Satis into the movie so deeply. The turning points are many, but subtle. The way Frodo looks at the ring after barely escaping the Nazgûl shows clearly that the deadly seriousness of their plight has only just dawned on him. Later, on Weathertop, the three other hobbits are cooking in the night, and only Frodo has the presence of mind to realize their fire could give them away. These are further things that change as each character experiences their own life-altering experiences.
Perhaps the most compelling scenes in the first half of this film are those at the very beginning, where Bilbo Baggins is musing on the story to write in his home under the hill. He says that a Baggins has always lived there, and always will. In these few words, we see both the beginning and the end of the tale, and are set up for all the bitterness that is to follow.
More to come next week!