December 23, 2001 [The Fellowship of the Ring]

Before The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson had done ultra-gore gore comedy, art-house psycho-drama, and Hollywood horror.  And I know composer Howard Shore mostly from his apocalyptic scores for David Cronenberg.

So how did they find themselves at that most hospitable of round green doors, the one where you knock and are given a second breakfast and more help than you would've at first imagined, the homely treasure of a quiet life uninterrupted?  And what made them so at home there, where tender feelings are not a sign of weakness, where the Shadow may eventually fall but the fire still crackles and sends little sparks up like smoke-rings--right until the moment all light and air are swallowed up if no one leaves that front door to ways that lead to ways?

The loss and misery of the pictures they'd worked on don't seem so far from Tolkien after all.  They show up and see the mark on the door and know they're expected--true, unexpectedly. But if there's anything like a Fellowship it has to come from the need to look at the dark corner and the things that wait there, if only to throw another log on the fire to make it cheery again--but not yet, not in the first part of the story.  Despite all the breathless majesty the movie gives the elves, the steely resolve of Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, the comfort of Gandalf, the shame and sorrow of Boromir, the light, strong hearts and pug noses of most Hobbits, The Fellowship of the Ring really begins when Sam pauses in the field, realizes he'd never been farther from home, and takes one more step.  Not even Frodo slipping the Ring around his neck is enough--the two of them, along with the others, have to walk all the way to an abrupt end, the Fellowship broken before it had barely begun--but the Road still there, the one that Sam makes when he takes that one more step.

I've returned to The Lord of the Rings a number of times over the years.  It's a book that, if you love it, stays near, and like a Ring calls you every now and then.  And now there's the movie, which I think will do the same.  And while I look forward to the next two--Jackson has done all anyone can in adapting a book, especially one beloved by many: He felt the tone of them like a deep note in his chest, and heard their questing, tragic, affectionate heart, their need not to win but to protect things worth keeping--I'm content to have Frodo and Sam solemnly moving on, wishing they were home--"not for the last time"--but still walking There--Back Again not even yet a wish.


  1. A lovely tribute to a film I find ever-renewing my deep affection for the characters and their quest. I recently, last month in fact, watched the entire trilogy, and this was my first time to see the extended version of "Return of the King". I'm certain Peter Jackson and company take the same affection and care in bringing "The Hobbit" to the screen.

  2. I'm re-re-re-etc.-reading The Hobbit now. Thanks for your comment; you're right in using the word "affection": more than anything, the books--and the movies--ask us to see the characters (at least the good ones, especially the Hobbits) as fond family members, welcome visitors.

  3. If I may follow-up with an additional observation: I found Gollum in the films a far more sympathetic character than he was portrayed in the books. I was exasperated with Tolkien for disposing of him with so little emotion, after all, he was a former hobbit. I still weep when Gollum confronts his "alter-personality" (or is that "uber"?).

  4. It's been a while since I've read the books--and I'll bet my view of them will be colored by the multiple viewings of the film. As The Constant Viewer obliquely mentioned, Jackson captures the overall tone of the books--which is infused, I think, with Tolkien's Catholicism--a combination of reverence for authority and sympathy for the innocent--but also with the abrupt morality of the older epic quests/sagas. We are asked to feel bad for Gollum--but he's on the side of the Ring, and so he loses our fullest sympathies. This happens with other characters--I think it's sometimes a matter of the focus Tolkien wants to maintain rather than any broader considerations. Some have argued that Jackson errs too far on the other side, lavishing attention on melodrama and pathos.

    In the end, though, I think Jackson does the best job a fan could hope for--and Tolkien's books, despite their flaws, remain important and worth our attention and affection.

  5. I have a special attachment to the filmed version of the Fellowship. I still believe it is the most perfectly paced film of all time. Jackson was right to call the theatrical release his director's cut and simply refer to the version with additional footage as an extended cut.

    Whilstlinggypsy said she felt more sympathy in the films. Screenwriter Fran Walsh mentioned in the extended cut commentary that she believed Boromir's death was a failure of Tolkein's and amped up the dramatic scene.

    For fun, if you get a chance and haven't yet seen it, there is a Lord of the Rings fan film called Born of Hope I reviewed a while back. It is a very charming film with a surprisingly consistent tone with that of Jackson's canonical trilogy.

  6. Aaron, I agree that Fellowship is a well-paced film--although I recall a review (by whom I don't remember) who complained that the plot was Frodo-in-trouble-is-rescued again and again. Well, sort of. But even though (as Ebert pointed out in his not-so-enthusiastic review) I wish Fellowship had been a bit more leisurely, I continue to be satisfied with the film Jackson made. And again, the pacing is much of the pleasure of it: For a longish film, it moves along with economy and purpose.

    As for the "amped-up" scenes, I understand how one becomes invested in characters and wants to see more of them, have them do more, etc. Let me say I accept Walsh's changes as a highly evolved form of fan fiction--and I say that without condescension. It is wish-fulfillment of a satisfying sort.

    Speaking of which, I'll have to check out the fan film, at least your review. Thanks for dropping by my site. (Although I think simply writing anything about Tolkien movies tends to draw people out, like a little summoning spell!)


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