For a book that was so massive and published in three volumes, it seemed unfitting and impossible for filmic translation, but Peter Jackson managed to make a movie that was equally massive and made into three films. It’s still heavily condensed for a book that was thick on descriptions of landscapes and cultures and backstories, yet Jackson successfully made The Fellowship of the Ring in its three hours explanatory enough, from the first half hour devoted to telling the History of the Ring and the life of the Hobbits to the last hour and a half of the real story of the Ring-quest. Its length and plot is almost parallel to The Godfather, in how it spent a great amount of time showing the lifestyle of the Mafia at the same time before getting to the real story of Michael Corleone. The amount of time spent with looking at Middle Earth while also following the story of the Ring-Quest makes it an equally gratifying experience of witnessing an epic fantasy spectacle and following an dramatic story of the small heroes and big warriors standing together against the odds that’s similar to Hollywood epics of the past.
Because Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings with more time spent on trying to develop his mythology of Middle Earth in its places, languages, and cultures, it took a while for him to reach a solid story, yet his details are what enriched his story. Jackson in turn made sure that the cultures, languages, and places of Middle Earth would be detailed enough on film to provide each character with their own specialties as the Fellowship itself is made of up of people with their own differences. The prologue of the film quickly describes the differences of the Elves (“immortal, wisest, and fairest of all beings”), the Dwarves (“great miners and craftsmen of the Mountain Halls”), and Men (“who above all else, desire power”), before telling the story of how the Dark Lord Sauron created the One Ring and what happened after he lost it, leading up to its discovery by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. From there, it jumps 60 years later to the setting of the Shire, where we are introduced to the life of the Hobbits as a nature-loving and peaceful race of people who live snuggly in their small homes and eat and drink at the pub. The whole birthday party for Bilbo is also parallel to how The Godfather spent the whole first hour devoted to the Corleone wedding reception, as they both show a joyous time for two different cultures before the darker story rolls in. Once Gandalf finds out that Bilbo’s ring is in fact the One Ring of Power and advises Bilbo’s young cousin Frodo take it out of the Shire, it sets the film on the dark and perilous story of a small hobbit leaving his comfort zone behind and walking into the massive world that he has never ventured into.
The whole journey of Frodo and his friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin from the Shire to Rivendell takes up about an hour as we see the Hobbits trying to stay ahead of the dreaded Ringwraiths and gain help from Aragorn aka Strider, which closely resembles a fairy tale devise of going into dark woods and hiding from evil forces. The presence of the Ringwraiths provides a very Gothic style to the first stage of the Hobbits’ journey before they arrive at the blissful Elf haven of Rivendell, where the Fellowship of Nine is finally formed to carry the Ring into Mordor and destroy it in the Fires of Mount Doom. This is where the real story happens that it’s a wonder why Tolkien called the first book The Fellowship of the Ring when the Fellowship isn’t fully formed until the second half. I think it’s a fitting title because the story is about how the Fellowship gradually forms from the grouping of the Hobbits, to their meeting with Aragorn, to their final forming with Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir the Council of Elrond.
The surroundings that the Fellowship treads through their quest are treated with a great amount of attention in the mountains, the valleys, the dark caverns of Moria, and the shimmering Elf havens of Rivendell and Lothlorien. They are worth the attention, especially as most of the landscapes were filmed right in New Zealand and gives a picture of what the islands are like if no one had ever been to New Zealand. It makes Middle Earth more of a central character to the film and appear authentic to those who know it’s all a fantasy, also in how real the languages of the Elves and the look of the peoples and creatures appear. It captures the essence of epic Hollywood films like Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and Braveheart that contain historical contexts and Lord of the Rings looks like a historical epic of a mythical world, which is in a way how Tolkien envisioned it. Luckily, LOTR isn’t a historical epic in the way Braveheart and Gladiator were defined as historical since they lied about what the histories they depicted. LOTR is the biggest lie for an epic, only it can get away with it without any complaints since it’s set in another world and another time that can’t be found anywhere in Earth history.
Because it resembles a historical epic and and less of a whimsical children’s fairy tale, that’s probably what made The Fellowship of the Ring and its two follow-ups worthy Oscar contenders. Its three hours is worth the time in seeing how an ancient world of elves, wizards, and monsters can be brought to life in a vvid imaginary reality and throw in enough hard-core performances from actors like Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett, and Sean Bean to the legendary characters that kept the story alive. The fact that this epic fantasy was made possible to be brought to life within the first few years of the 21st century shows what a long way Hollywood had to come with epic films from its Golden Age to the present time that any epic that revolves around the impossible is possible. In a way, it has defined a trend of epics for the 21st century that it takes on a unique place in blockbuster filmmaking in the same way that Star Wars accomplished during its time.