While FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (FOTR) was in theaters, it probably received about $80 dollars of my own money. I even made a special trip to a midnight showing further in its run only to see a preview of second installment: THE TWO TOWERS. I've been maybe about 8 or 9 times in theaters and the over-under on how many times I've seen it since?. At least triple that amount. To make a bet that I like these movies, is a safe one.
A running theme throughout this post is the trilogy's ability to convey the immense sense of history within this world (created by author J.R.R. Tolkien). THE LORD OF THE RINGS is by no means the beginning of this story. There are many histories - elf, dwarf, hobbit, and others - that stretch back many years. For the purposes the movies, a history of the ring itself is necessary. Thus, director Peter Jackson and fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philipa Boyens use a prologue to orient those not familiar with the novels.
And it begins creepily with a blank screen and an ominous voice-over delivered by Cate Blanchett (or is it Galadriel? a fair question I think!). Both elvish and english languages are used immersing even the uninitiated. Even though this is just a prologue and we know that a bigger more urgent story follows, this 8-minute opening builds tremendous tension and anxiety. This is quite possibly my favorite sequence in the entire trilogy.
Related to the prologue, is how the filmmakers convey a sense of the history of this world. Production designer Grant Major and costumers Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor assist in channeling the history. Take the hobbits homeland, The Shire. The production team began building about a year before shooting so as to allow the environment to exert its influence and make the environment look more natural. Compare this with the synthetic, yet geometrically pleasing city ruins of the dwarves. Not only do we understand something about the history of each race, but about their personalities as well.
Some of the details are hardly noticeable, but when you do recognize them it only helps the trilogies believability. Notice the White Tree of Gondor on Boromir's (Sean Bean) gauntlets. Notice the intricate threading patterns on Arwen's (and many of the elves) cloak. While these design choices on their own may not mean anything, the attention to even minute details lets audiences know that these filmmakers mean business. In the extended version of FOTR, there are explicit mentions of history through dialogue, but its interesting to find these trinkets of the past in the architecture and costumes.
While music plays a big role in the entire series, the music - composed by Howard Shore - is at its best in this first film. Three themes are established in this film: The Ring Theme, The Fellowship Theme, and The Isengard Theme. In college my friends and I developed this tradition that whenever you hear the Isengard theme, you must pound your fist in the air in sync with the melody. A little geeky, but it speaks to the power of the theme. I remember thinking that the music on the whole was especially energetic. There is so much choral in this scoring and as the film progresses, it seems to only get bigger (adrenaline inertia?).
However, in the final battle against Saruman's Uruk-Hai the music settles nicely, but not without loss. For me, Boromir's death is one of the most emotional moments in the entire trilogy and the music only helps this moment. Perhaps its because what directly preceded this battle: a confrontation with Frodo about a selfish strategy regarding The Ring. As far as the trilogy has played out so far, Boromir's represents the first casualty that has succumbed to the power of The Ring, trying violently to wrestle The Ring from Frodo. Boromir's role for the rest of the fellowship is to show just how dangerous this little thing can be. He showed his vulnerability and not too long after, he shows his courage in protecting the halflings. The arrows that pierce his body appear to have a diameter of quarter. We feel for him because we know that perhaps we would fall to the power of The Ring too.
More importantly in the music department is the use of new age artist Enya as the feature musical act. Not only is her presence invaluable, but Enya - perhaps best known for "Orinoco Flow - knows and appreciates the Tolkien creation herself. On her album SHEPHERD MOONS, there is a track titled "Lothlorien," a forested haven for the elves and Galadriel. In watching the touching moment between Arwen and Aragorn, there is a sense that Enya's voice so belongs in Middle Earth which might make you wonder if Enya comes this world organically.
So, just some thoughts on why I like FOTR. There'll be an update on THE TWO TOWERS coming.