CC Issue 11 / Film / TV

Opening Night: The Fellowship of the Ring

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

I remember it so clearly. The theater was packed. It was opening night. A midnight screening on December 19th, 2001 for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. My dad was directly beside me on my right. On his right was my brother. The lights went down and everybody cheered. It was finally here: The Lord of the Rings.

I promised myself I’d keep this really short tonight. So I won’t go on and on. I’ll save The Lord of the Rings for it’s own blog Trilogy. But if you’re wondering why I can remember exactly where I was sitting and all that, it’s because Tolkien’s books are tangled up with my soul. The influence The Lord of the Rings has had on my life and the impact it’s had on my character and my imagination is so far reaching that I can’t begin to put it into words. I read it a lot. It relaxes me.

I became a fan in High School. It’s so strange looking back because I really had no idea what I had in my hands the first time I cracked open The Fellowship of the Ring. That’s the thing about life: you can’t really appreciate the big things as they are happening to you. And you shouldn’t.

It was pretty soon after I finished reading The Lord of the Rings the first time that I found out they were making a movie. The prospect was bittersweet. On the one hand, the books had so fired my imagination that I was drooling at the prospect of seeing some of my favorite scenes come to life. On the other hand, how can you make a good movie out of The Lord of the Rings? You can’t. You can only ruin it.

In the early days I didn’t know anything about Peter Jackson, or Weta, or Richard Taylor, or anyone else involved in making The Lord of the Rings. All I knew was that there were rumors of Sean Connery for Gandalf and that Elijah Wood was supposedly going to be Frodo.

My expectations were low.

And now here I was, packed into a theater with my dad and brother waiting for the movie of all movies to start.

The film lost me in the first minute when it showed Sauron clenching his fist like a cartoon villain, wreathed in flames at the crack of doom. I almost walked out when Sauron came on to the battlefield and started golfing Elves and men around. I hated it. I just HATED it.

But there was no denying that the movie was beautiful: the exquisite sets, the epic miniatures, the costumes and the special effects. Middle Earth had come to life, far more than the actual story. It looked so real, so much like I’d imagined it, so much like I’d seen it in John Howe and Alan Lee’s paintings. Parts of the story seemed to jump right out of my imagination. The entire Moria sequence, starting with the watcher in the water and culminating in the absolutely perfect confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog on the bridge, particularly stands out in my memory as one of the many highlights of that first viewing. Moments like that, or when the boats are going through the Argonath (pictured above) more than made up for all the botched bits.

It’s been ten years since that December night and by now I’ve seen The Fellowship of the Ring more times than I can count. And it’s not because I don’t recognize the movie’s flaws. It’s a terrible movie in some ways. It’s even a terrible Lord of the Rings movie. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin alone make the movies almost unwatchable. But it’s still Middle Earth. It’s still Lord of the Rings.

Of all three ‘Rings movies, The Fellowship of the Ring is, by far, the best. It comes the closest to getting it just right. I told you that when I was younger I thought you couldn’t make a good movie out of The Lord of the Rings, you could only ruin it. Well Peter Jackson did both. And now he’s going to do it again.

Ten years ago I was sitting in a dark theater waiting for Peter Jackson to take me to Middle Earth. A year from now I’ll be sitting there again, waiting for him to take me back.

Jackson has put the band back together for one last hurrah – a trip back to Middle Earth in 3D to accompany Bilbo on his journey to The Lonely Mountain. Sure they’ll butcher the source material and change treasured characters – sure – but I can’t wait to see it.

I can’t wait to hear those first Howard Shore notes and see the green Shire again. I can’t wait for another adventure.

Ok, fine. I’m a huge geek.

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