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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:

Final Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:

Colin:

This sure feels weird after having spent the last four weeks on the four weakest Star Wars films. I have a lot of nice things to say about this movie.

It’s nice to have a solid cast of actors all working together. I think that whatever the writing may be (and it’s usually not bad), the acting in these is pretty solid. The same cannot be said for all of the Star Wars or Harry Potter films. This movie is pretty much about an ensemble cast, being about the “fellowship,” as it is. There isn’t really an actor that I’m disappointed with. I don’t love Orlando Bloom, but there’s not really much for that. Legolas sort of needed to be a bit girly. I guess I’m not overly fond of Liv Tyler, but…eh. It’s not like either of them both me enough to really hurt the film or the franchise — more one of those, “it would have been nice to have seen Montana someone else, but…” kind of things.

The story is pretty solid. I like the way it starts all rather innocently and slowly builds to a state of urgency. That’s a luxury afforded to them by the books; it’s less something they got right than Tolkien got right. And I’ll say it right out — Tolkien is WAY better than Lucas or Rowling. Like, insanely better. The Star Wars universe is pretty awesome, but a lot of the cracks are filled in by the extended universe. You only get what’s essential for the story. It’s like Lucas spent all night making the replica of Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles, with only the facades, because that’s all you would see in the film. And then extended universe added the depth to it, or whatever. Rowling was sort of the same way. It’s pretty rare that we see or hear about stuff unless it’s going to be used in the plot later, which makes for a rather two-dimensional universe that feels limited in spite of its majesty. Tolkien spent decades and built a perfect replica of Rock Ridge, down to the graining of the wood on the saloon door. That’s what it feels like. If you read his notes, the books’ appendices, the other books (like The Silmarillion, in which so much extra stuff is explained), you can see that he was most engaged in creating the universe for the story to inhabit. This is why I will always say that this series was more about the universe than Star Wars ever was or could be — Lucas was telling a story and provided just enough to give the illusion of a rich universe. Tolkien produced a universe that was then given as the setting for this one baller story to happen. The most obvious example of this is how the man invented MULTIPLE, WHOLE languages with unique vocabularies, pronunciations and grammars. Just think about what it takes to invent a whole grammar structure, several thousand individual vocabulary words and derivations complete with etymologies, and to establish the actual script and pronunciation of the new alphabet. And then consider that he did this more than ten times just for Lord of the Rings, as well as several other times over the course of his life. So Greedo’s language doesn’t mean shit, but anytime Elvish or Entish or one of those languages is spoken in one of these movies, someone could break down the sentence and translate that into English. It means something. It’s incredibly dorky, but this level of dedication must be acknowledged.

To put it into perspective, Tolkien started his first concept work on Middle Earth and its stories in 1917, before the US had even entered World War I. He was still filling in details and compiling unpublished works on it when he died in 1973, as we were pulling out of Vietnam. Rowling wrote her shit in a couple of years. Lucas did several drafts of whatever and cranked out his movies while sitting in a chair. Your universes…simply do not compete. Not even close. People might argue about Star Wars extended universe, but we all know what Mike has to say aboutthat stuff. The reason Tolkien’s shit counts is that he wrote it himself and it’s all behind the stories themselves as support and in appendices here and there. The Star Wars extended stuff comes afterwards and a lot of it serves to fill in cracks after the fact. I’m not saying I like Lord of the Rings MORE than those other series; I’m just saying that the depth and scope of this universe, as created by one man, is insanely greater than anything they’ve got.

One thing that did surprise me a bit was how, if you look at this film objectively, it doesn’t look nearly as good as I thought it would. It doesn’t look flat out bad like I thought the first Harry Potter movie did, but a lot of the CGI is clumsy and there were a few awkward shot choices here and there. I will say that they were kind of saved by the fact that a lot of the worst CGI appeared in dimly-lit shots, which helps to partially contain the awful. It doesn’t look nearly as bad as a lot of Lucas’ stuff in the prequels, which was too often shown on a cloudless day on Coruscant or in a wide open, sunbathed field on Naboo.

I feel like I have to mention — and I’m not saying I take issue with it at all — we give this franchise a huge pass for being a little…less manly that we might normally be willing to go along with. Like, any other movie with this much man kissing and hugging and drama, and we’d be talking about it. We’d be okay with it, but it would be acknowledged far more plainly. When we were talking about starting these articles, Mike told me that he was going to [mostly] refrain from making gay jokes because it would be too easy and get old way too fast — and I completely agreed with him. You just accept this level of man-on-man fondness as the default for the series and go from there. So what if Aragorn kisses Boromir? He’s a badass. But it’s something to consider, and something we really aren’t going to address beyond this and whatever Mike has to say about it.

I do enjoy the shit out of these movies, though. When this came out, I was at just the age to be first getting into Tolkien. The scale of it all, the gorgeous setting, and the cast were all major factors in getting me into this franchise as a kid. It wasn’t just a sucky first movie that I went to and loved because the book was popular first, which is more than I can say for our next franchise’s first installment. It’s a little rough around the edges, but this is a seriously good movie.

My Final Thoughts:

I’ll start by echoing Colin’s sentiment that this universe is, hands down, the best created fictional universe we’ve had so far, and that we’ll probably ever have. It’s one guy, who created it all, down to etymologies of languages he CREATED HIMSELF. So right there, anything negative you can say about the universe is completely negated. In terms of pure universes, it’s this and Harry Potter for me all the way. They’re different, so I won’t bother picking between them, but they’re clearly the best, for completely different reasons.

As for this film in particular — I like how it slowly brings us into things. It has the benefit of being pared down from long ass volumes of books with indexes upon indexes of extra information. So Peter Jackson was able to be very deliberate about what he chose to show and what he didn’t. He had an abundance of material rather than having to go with what was on the page, like they did with Harry Potter. Which is why the first movie comes off so much better than that first movie did, because they had so much more to work with.

I like that they set up the story with the little history lesson, since it gets you all the exposition you need to know. Dark lord, rings, evil. One ring to rule them all. He takes over shit. They fight him. The ring gets cut off by accident, evil is vanquished. The ring doesn’t get destroyed because men are weak. The ring is lost for centuries. It is found by a hobbit. Now evil is returning, and the ring is in danger of being found and ending the world as we know it. Time to start the story. Great stuff.

And then we get the first hour in just the Shire, which is terrific. We completely buy into the hobbits and their world and are gradually brought into the story in such a laid back way. The party, and Bilbo, and Frodo, and Gandalf, and all that. And then there’s the ring, and once we know what it is, the plot really starts.

And even then, it’s a pretty slow burn in terms of the big story. It’s just Sam and Frodo going to an inn to meet Gandalf. And then there’s the wraith encounter, which tells us, “Whoa… there’s a lot more stuff going on here than we know,” and little by little, we’re brought into this (essentially) global conflict. Which I really love.

The story for this franchise is absolutely amazing, and I really can’t find fault with it at all. Not even a little bit. Mostly I have faults with little things here or there, but that’s the same with everything, and that’s just what these articles are about, embellishing and nitpicking.

My only real issues (if we can even call them that) with this movie are the fact that some of the CGI is really obvious. But even then, it’s not that awful, and you’re willing to go along with it most of the time. What really got to me is some of the staging and directing choices. There are parts of this movie that really make it seem like it was shot on a small budget for TV. There was that random quick zoom when the wraiths are chasing Liv Tyler, and some of the other scenes are staged in such a way that it’s as if they’re shooting on this tiny ass set in a small studio that’s between a gym and a furniture shop or something. Parts of this film just look so much smaller than the scope of the story. The franchise doesn’t really open up visually until the next two. I’m not sure how much of that is budget, but it did take me out of the movie for a second whenever it happened.

And yet, there are parts of this movie that are absolutely flawlessly directed. That wraith encounter in the woods is incredibly shot and edited. The battle scenes at the end are so much better than I gave them credit for. I always thought the battle scenes were pretty unmemorable, and the real intrigue of those scenes was Frodo and Boromir and all that stuff. But when I went back and watched it, there’s some great shit that happens with Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli fighting the uruks. It’s intense as shit. Way more intense than most fight scenes you see nowadays. And I’m a huge fan of that.

Another thing I noticed more this time that took me out of the movie was the editing. There are parts of this movie where it’s very clear that Peter Jackson edited it down from a longer version. He uses a montage of landscape shots more than a few times to cover edits, and throws ADR dialogue over it to cover himself and get the necessary exposition across. It happens with Sam and Frodo between the moment Sam steps foot out of the Shire and before they run into Merry and Pippin, and it happens later when Aragorn is traveling with the hobbits before they reach Weathertop. It’s very clear he cut out some scenes to get the run time down, but the way he did it was very clunky. I guess I only noticed it now because I was watching extremely closely, but it is something that is noticeable if you’re paying attention.

Other than that, I have nothing bad to say about this movie. All three of them are incredible, and are top three movies for their respective years. The cast is incredible. Ian McKellen is amazing, Viggo Mortensen does a terrific job, John Rhys-Davies was great casting. And no one else really detracts from their roles. I mean, you do start to notice some things more and more as you watch the movies (like Liv Tyler speaking entirely in breathy whispers and Orlando Bloom speaking nothing but exposition all the time), but it’s not like they stink up the joint.

So, that’s really all I have. The movie is amazing, and I think we all know this.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow, we start Two Towers.

(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)

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