Editor’s Notes: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens wide Friday, December 13th.
Little can be said about Peter Jackson’s trilogy of Tolkien-based fantasy epics that hasn’t already been heartily exclaimed since the release of the first installment almost ten years ago, but the impending release of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug requires a little reflection on just why Peter Jackson can do no wrong. J.R.R Tolkien, when writing various endeavours into his fantasy realm, fashioned an entire universe of characters, mythologies, worlds and even languages with his Middle Earth and, as reflected by the sheer scale of Jackson’s adaptations, the relatively unknown director has managed to capture and (fairly) accurately portray Middle Earth as if it were pulled from the very imaginations of the readers themselves. Though some would argue otherwise, Jackson has succeeded in going above and beyond in translating the depth, wonder and vision of Tolkien’s beloved trilogy from the pages of the book to the grandeur of the screen. Once deemed ‘unfilmable’, Peter Jackson and his vast team of talented associates have accomplished the impossible with The Lord of the Rings.
“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie…”
An adequate synopsis of the first of the trilogy can be drawn from Tolkien’s wondrous words in place of the usual summation that cannot surely contain a film on the scale of The Fellowship of The Ring. But in an attempt, the film centers around the One Ring, an ancient relict forged by the ominous antagonist Sauron. Though the film doesn’t have time to delve too deeply into the history or background of this villain, Tolkien, in his further published works, has answered every question concerning this character to a satisfying extent and for those with a curious mind, it is certainly worth seeking out. The Ring is perhaps the most antagonistic of all subjects in Middle Earth, inanimate or not; it has the power to corrupt and manipulate its bearer into acting on its own behalf. As chillingly remarked by certain characters in the film: “It has a will of its own”. After several millennia of falling into the hands of weak-hearted men and a certain skulking mountain-dweller, the Ring comes into the possession of a young Hobbit; our bright protagonist, Frodo Baggins. And thus, the quest for Middle Earth begins! To summarize the film (that tops the three hour mark!) from this point on would be to write a several hundred-word essay, so a sentence further will do. Frodo, along with eight companions that comprise the Fellowship of the Ring, set out on a long and perilous journey across the unimaginably vast Middle Earth to the one place that this hellish creation can be destroyed: the very fires of Mount Doom in which it was created.
From the opening monologue delivered in the whispy, morbid voice of Cate Blanchett to the chilling deliveries of Sir Ian McKellan, Peter Jackson expertly crafts atmosphere. He is undoubtedly a master of mise-en-scene and in The Fellowship of the Ring, gets to flex his talents on numerous occasions.
From the opening monologue delivered in the whispy, morbid voice of Cate Blanchett to the chilling deliveries of Sir Ian McKellan, Peter Jackson expertly crafts atmosphere. He is undoubtedly a master of mise-en-scene and in The Fellowship of the Ring, gets to flex his talents on numerous occasions. The trademark and so easily recognizable score of Howard Shore complements Jackson’s creative decisions substantially. Though an aspect to consider later, Shore’s score arguably is what makes the film. Independent of this, Jackson and his set designers have spared no expense in bringing Tolkien’s vast fantasy setting to life; the audience is lavished with incredibly and occasionally overwhelmingly visually rich set pieces. To use The Shire as an example, every effort has been made to breathe life into the bustling Hobbiton settling. Each shot of The Shire simply oozes life and energy. With the use of bright colors and sheer vibrancy, The Shire is a safe haven of flourishing visual imagery. Along with Shore’s charming score (‘Concerning Hobbits’ is a memorable one), Jackson has seemingly constructed The Shire that lies in the imagination of every person who has read the book. This is true on most counts; the expansive long-shots of the Middle Earth landscape and wide-shots of the infinite terrain are utterly engrossing; one can’t help but be reeled into the seductive fantasy realm by Jackson. The mysticism of Middle Earth is fully (and surprisingly) justified in The Fellowship of the Ring. Effective shots of our protagonists journeying through valleys alongside very real mountains fully capture the scale of Middle Earth. Though dabbling is inevitable in a film of this nature, Jackson limits his use of CGI, opting for the challenging task of choosing to use live-action where possible. Arguably, this is just an illusion but even so, the commendation still stands; the CGI blends in so harmoniously with the magnificent set-pieces that the audience are more often than not, none the wiser to it.
There are countless nods to be made to a vast cast that outwardly appear to understand Tolkien’s vision for their character. A rarity for modern films, there isn’t one dud performance in the film.
As glorious a visual experience that The Fellowship of the Ring may be, perhaps the true merit, as always, lies with the casting. Though the characters would be lessened without the convincing Middle Earth attire they don subsidized by the outstanding wardrobe department, the convincing performances of every on-screen presence only adds to the enticingly immersive nature of the film. Sir Ian McKellan is a force to be reckoned with, delivering a strong yet subtle and complexly multi-layered performance of the enigmatic Gandalf; the youthful Elijah Wood proves he is worth his weight in gold with his increasingly conflicted interpretation of Frodo; Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler contribute a balanced and thoughtful element of romance to the film and prove their commitment to the cause by actually learning one of Tolkien’s elven dialects. There are countless nods to be made to a vast cast that outwardly appear to understand Tolkien’s vision for their character. A rarity for modern films, there isn’t one dud performance in the film. In summary, The Fellowship of the Ring has little area to fault. The action sequences do leave some to be desired however; the tight editing and repeated use of close-up shots during these scenes do mean that the audience is left slightly bereft of the wider scope of action, but the sequences are riveting no less. With a musical accompaniment that plucks at our very heartstrings and intensifies the emotions of the audience, cinematography of infinitely beautiful and engrossing landscapes, set-pieces and costume design on par with our imaginations and a director at the helm with a clear and focused vision of the film, the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy ticks all the boxes. The Fellowship of the Ring is a film that is arguably worthy of the unequalled Tolkien himself, doing justice to his most beloved work and moreover, a film that will be forever remembered as one of the best ever made. [notification type=”star”]97/100 ~ MASTERFUL. The Fellowship of the Ring is a film that is arguably worthy of the unequalled Tolkien himself, doing justice to his most beloved work and moreover, a film that will be forever remembered as one of the best ever made.[/notification]