“In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a master ring, to control all others. And into this ring he poured all his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life. One ring to rule them all.”
In the 50s and 60s, epics were fairly common and frequently looked forward to. Movies like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and Seven Samurai are regarded as some of the finest films of their decades. But then began a long dry spell for epics through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some films came close, such as Dances with Wolves; but there wasn’t a good straight-up epic movie for a long time. Then Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Hobbit) got the green light for an epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with an epic budget (estimated at $93 million for the first movie alone). When the first of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was a smash hit, it was clear: epic movies were back.
Before embarking on this epic journey, be warned: it’s a commitment. It’s three movies, and each is over three hours. This one, the first, begins in a little hobbit town called The Shire where Frodo is given an evil ring that he must destroy. It corrupts everyone around it, and many end up succumbing to its power and trying to use the ring for their own purposes, which makes Frodo’s journey that much harder. The main plot point of this movie is putting together a small group to help Frodo complete his quest—the fellowship of the ring. There are a few epic fights along the way and plenty of interesting tidbits about Middle Earth, but the heart of everything is this group.
I will take it! I will take the ring to Mordor! Though I do not know the way.
Though the story and characters are interesting, the best thing by far is the immersive world which they create on screen. A mixture of beautiful New Zealand countrysides, some excellent CGI pieces, and some very innovative filming techniques (many of the scenes with hobbits and humans together were achieved using optical illusions) craft a world unlike anything that had been shown in cinema before it. They not only built a hobbit village, but they did it one year before filming so it wouldn’t look new. That level of detail is present in every scene. You’ll really feel like you’re in a different world.
I actually had the privilege of watching this movie on the big screen when it was first released, and I was blown away. Watching it now, 16 years after it came out, it wasn’t quite as breathtaking as I remembered it. It took me a while to figure out exactly why. Lord of the Rings reignited America’s interest in epics, which spawned many imitators in the following years. The fact that parts of this movie seem familiar and even a bit tired now is a testament to its importance: it changed cinema. It brought epics into the new age, with a wide assortment of new tools to work with, and it brought in audiences to marvel at them. If you watch this now, bear in mind that it was revolutionary and breathtaking when it was released.
I normally try to give fair warnings if I feel that any group would not enjoy a movie, but I really can’t think of a case to recommend against seeing this movie (aside from being too young to appreciate it). This is a great movie, and it’s part of a great trilogy. I would classify this as an absolutely essential viewing.
View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!
Runtime: 2:58 (theatrical); 3:48 (extended)
Director: Peter Jackson