I saw The Fellowship of the Ring only once, during its initial theatrical run back in 2001. Not being especially partial to the fantasy genre to begin with, I found myself squirming with boredom throughout its three-hour running time. I avoided it like the plague thereafter—until now, with the standalone Blu-ray release of the extended cut. Peter Jackson’s entire adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy – Extended Edition, was first issued on Blu-ray in 2011. This is the first time the extended versions have been available separately on Blu-ray. I decided to give the first film another shot and see if my generally negative opinion had softened at all.
It hasn’t. Fellowship, though undeniably impressive on a technical level, is among the most overrated films I’ve seen. For me, the worst part about Fellowship is that it misses the mark as a complete story. The ending point of the film is merely the stopping point before the The Two Towers picks up the narrative for another three hours (before reaching its own non-conclusion). The most exciting sequence, a confrontation in the Mines of Moria between the Fellowship, the Orcs, and a Balrog, isn’t even the climax of the film. After that sequence, it limps toward a stopping point that isn’t so much appropriate as it is simply necessary—they had reached the three hour point so it was time to roll credits. Adding an additional 50 minutes to the running time, as this extended version does, is almost an act of sadism on Jackson’s part.
Ah, but there’s a catch. Of that 50 extra minutes, a confounding 20 of them are nothing more than an endless list of Lord of the Rings fan club members’ names added to the end credits. Personally, I was relieved that so much of the extension was given over to a marathon list that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone outside of the people whose names are included. When accounting for the already lengthy filmmakers’ credits, the actual movie ends 28 minutes before the listed running time of 228 minutes.
Yes, I strongly believe this is a morbidly obese movie, padded with an overly indulgent array of minutia that actually has little to do with effective storytelling. We’ve all heard the old adage “less is more,” but for Jackson, that kind of thinking apparently doesn’t apply. Most everyone knows the basic story by now. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) has been in possession of the lost magical ring of the Dark Lord Sauron (Sala Baker), which is tempting fate, as the ring’s power could potentially drive him mad (as it did to the previous owner, Gollum, who we see only briefly in this film).
Bilbo passes the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Woods). Frodo must resist the temptation to use the ring’s power while making his way, on foot, to Mordor to dispose of the ring by throwing it into a volcano named Mount Doom. The “Fellowship” of the title consists of his travelling party. The motley crew consists of three more hobbits (Sam, Merry, and Pippin—the last two are deadweight as far as the narrative is concerned), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), and Boromir (Sean Bean).
The wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), formerly an ally of Gandalf’s in the Istari Order, has turned to evil and now seeks to capture Sauron’s ring from the Fellowship. Numerous obstacles, Orcs and such, are dispatched to try and secure the magic ring, but just when it seems the Fellowship is in real danger, the use of magic cancels out the antagonists’ efforts. That’s my other problem with The Lord of the Rings. How can there be any logic to the proceedings when such a wild card element like “magic” can be employed to get the good guys out of just about any tight situation? Frodo and the other hobbits often seem to have difficulty using good judgment, putting themselves and other members of the Fellowship in harm’s way. But magic is frequently used as a way out. It feels like a shortcut to clever problem solving.