The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month and looking back, it’s clear now, how influential this highly successful film has become. Peter Jackson’s epic start to The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy paved the way for a fantasy film revival that is still going strong today and led to similar adaptations such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time, and other fantasy-themed films and shows. The Fellowship of the Rings’ success wasn’t a sure thing though, as author J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive novel was deemed unfilmable due to its intricate plot and long back story which spanned thousands of years.
The earliest film version was the animated adaptation from Ralph Bakshi in 1978. Tje animated version of LOTR was well received, but due to time constraints the film only told half the story. Jackson’s take is a fully fleshed out world that showcases his native New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes and scenery that show the viewers what Middle-earth would look like if it really existed. He also takes his time in setting up the tale of the diminutive hobbit Frodo Baggins and his quest to destroy an evil mystical ring created by the sorcerer Sauron. His journey would culminated in casting the ring into a volcanic pit in the dreaded land of Mordor.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring starts off by showing some of Tolkien’s back story and the history of Middle-earth where the rings of power were created for men, elves and dwarves, as well as the epic battle against Sauron where he is defeated, but only temporarily. After the battle, the all-powerful one ring was lost and found its way to the distant land of hobbits known as the Shire.
Frodo’s journey begins when the wizard Gandalf arrives at the Shire and enlists him and his companions Samwise Gamgee, Merry and Pippin to accompany Gandalf to Mordor to destroy the one ring which Sauron needs to conquer the world. Along the way, the group encounters the heroic ranger, Strider (later to be known as Aragorn) and the stalwart dwarf, Gimli and his rival the elf, Legolas as they all join forces to become the Fellowship of the Ring. Together they vow to end the threat of Sauron once and for all.
Their journey through the elf kingdom Rivendell and the mines of Moria are all classic set pieces that are fully brought to life and culminate in an epic battle against swarms of orcs (Sauron’s minions) and a final clash between Gandalf and a massive demon known as a Balrog. Fate has the fellowship splinter and go their own way as Frodo and Sam are left to go on alone to Mordor while Strider, Legolas and Gimli race to rescue the other hobbits who were captured by orcs. This sets up the excellent sequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which was just as successful as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
The success of The Fellowship of the Ring was crucial as it paved the way for the subsequent films and established LOTR as a huge cinematic franchise that spawned further adaptations of the earlier Middle-earth book The Hobbit, as well as a new TV series coming from Amazon that will explore the earlier time periods of Middle-earth. It also led to the groundbreaking success at the Academy Awards of the third film in the trilogy The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won 11 Oscars including Best Picture. This was the first time a genre film won this honor and led to increased respect and awareness for genre films as valid, cinematic art. It was also a blueprint for how book adaptations can be done, even for complex works, such as the recently released Dune or even earlier films like Watchmen.
The film studio New Line Cinema committed to Jackson’s vision and gave him the required financial resources and time to have his ideas come to life and Jackson committed to filming all three LOTR movies back to back, which was a massive undertaking and spanned multiple years. This was seen in throughout all three movies as the details of the imaginary world are incredible to see and experience. Of all three movies, I think The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the best one as its story is paced very well and has elicits a whirlwind of emotions for viewers. It has moments of terror, such as when Frodo first encounters the ring wraiths who were hunting him and the ring; instances of wonder when the group arrives at Rivendell; and pure excitement when the Fellowship has its last battle in the mines of Moria. It is also the only time you see all of the main characters together until the end of the last film as they are separated at the end of the first movie and go their own separate ways. Their interaction as a group is a highlight as their differences in personality and stature are humorous and flesh out their characters.
Overall, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a masterpiece film, not just in the fantasy genre, but in all of cinema with superb storytelling mixed with unforgettable characters and stunning visual effects. Its impact is still being felt and will continue to be enjoyed and imitated for decades to come, as will its sequels. Hopefully the upcoming Amazon series will be able to recapture some of the magic that was apparent as soon as Frodo walked out of his home and we saw the Shire and Middle-earth in live action for the very first time.