Two of the greatest fantasy film franchises of all time began in the year 2001: the Harry Potter series launched with Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone in mid-November with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring hitting theaters a month later, with both films approaching (but not quite reaching) the billion dollar mark in worldwide box office receipts. Of course, the big-budget, special-effects-driven action/adventure blockbuster continues to dominate at the box office, from James Cameron’s Avatar grossing a whopping $2.7 billion in 2009 to five films this year grossing over a billion dollars (three about explosions, one with dinosaurs, and one with little yellow monsters in overalls), it is beyond doubt that the blockbuster genre that started with Jaws in 1975 is only going to keep growing. And I think we can tentatively be ok with that. While crap like Jaws and Furious 7 always has and always will be made (and we’ll keep saying “they made another one of those movies?!”), the legacy of The Fellowship of the Ring lives on – the kids can still have their explosions and cool monsters and toys and the adults can still have a movie that’s actually good. Peter Jackson hit a mark that many other blockbuster directors often miss. Fellowship isn’t a great movie because he made the orcs look sufficiently scary or because the Balrog kicks some ass; it isn’t great because he stuck closely to great source material (he didn’t); it isn’t even great because the story of the battle between Good and Evil resonates with everyone, no matter their age or race or any other factor. The Fellowship of the Ring is a great movie because its director invested in talent over marquee value. Let’s get the easy part out of the way: Elijah Wood and Sean Astin as Frodo Baggins and his loyal companion Samwise Gamgee, respectively, are mediocre actors who did the best they could, and that was all the movie required of them. Ditto Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler as the elves Legolas and Arwen. We can consider ourselves lucky that both Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart turned down the role of Gandalf the Grey, as Ian McKellan’s performance (which earned him an Oscar nomination) is one of the finest of his film career, especially since he started phoning it in so hard on the later X-Men movies before trying again in Days of Future Past (2014). Viggo Mortensen also gives a career turn as Aragorn, the reluctant would-be king of the race of Men. Aragorn seems to live for combat and feel awkward in social situations, an aspect of the character that Mortensen absolutely nails. At times though, he seems literally afraid to speak, choosing instead to brood on some kind of breakup with his elf girlfriend. Side note: this might be the film’s one major failure, a four-hour movie should have time to develop its only love story but we really don’t see enough of the Aragorn-Arwen relationship to care if they end up together or not. The real star of The Fellowship of the Ring, for me, is Sean Bean as the warrior Boromir. Though he is not introduced until about the halfway mark, when several representatives of the races of Middle Earth are holding a council to decide what to do with the Ring of Power, he makes his mark quickly, taking the high ground in the discussion with a passionate reminder to his fellow councilmen that he and his people have kept their lands in Middle Earth safe for centuries from their stronghold, Gondor. You can almost feel the flaming Eye of Sauron staring into your soul as he describes its all-seeing position atop a tower in Mordor. Bean’s crowning achievement as Boromir, though, occurs in the character’s final moments: consumed at last by the malign influence of the Ring, he tries to take it from Frodo and we see the true power of the Ring played out on Bean’s rugged features, as he moves quickly from rage to deep sadness while the Ring toys with his mind. His redemption comes as he sacrifices his life in the fight against the Uruk-hai, enemy “super soldiers”, while taking a few dozen with him to the grave. Bean’s last gasp as Boromir reveals both the frailty and strength of Man, and encapsulates the theme of the entire trilogy. Though Boromir dies almost as quickly as he is introduced, Bean’s is an awe-inspiring performance for an all-around awe-inspiring film.
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen