The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)

Directed By: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Bean, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, and Ian Holm

"One ring to rule them all.  One ring to find them.  One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."
-Gandalf (Ian McKellen)

In the world of movies, there is no finer trilogy than Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings series.  His adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien's classic novel of the same name are undoubtedly some of the greatest cinematic works of all time.  The trilogy offers grand worlds full of wizards, elves, dwarves, and hobbits.  It's full of epic battles and breathtaking landscapes.  It ultimately delivers the powerful emotional tale of one little hobbit's lonely struggle to bear the One Ring, the Ring of Power.  Before we return to Middle Earth with Jackson for The Hobbit in December, we should all revisit the iconic, beloved trilogy that made this prequel possible.  There's no better place to start than with The Fellowship of the Ring.

Several thousand years ago, three rings were given to the elves, seven to the dwarves, and nine to the men.  The will to rule these peoples lied within these rings.  One ring was secretly created by a dark wizard known as Sauron to rule them all.  Within this ring, Sauron poured his will to dominate all life on Middle Earth.  When the dark wizard began his quest to rule them all, there were those that fought back.  An alliance of elves and men resisted, and Prince Isildur (Harry Sinclair) of Gondor managed to cut the ring off the dark lord's hand on the battlefield.

Sauron's forces were defeated and Isildur had the Ring of Power.  Upon Isildur's death, the One Ring was lost and buried deep at the bottom of a river.  Millennia later, the ring found its way into the hands of the person who would eventually become known as Gollum (Andy Serkis).  Giving him unnaturally long life, the ring remained with Gollum for nearly 500 years until it was taken by a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm).  As was the case for Gollum, the ring gives Bilbo unnaturally long life.

On the eve of his 110th birthday sixty years later, Bilbo lives in the Shire with his nephew Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood).  As the hobbits plan a grand celebration for this milestone in Bilbo's life, the elder hobbit is visited by his old friend Gandalf the Grey (McKellen), a wizard.  As the festivities get under way, Gandalf makes his magical presence known with a few fireworks.  Young hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) do the same by stealing some of Gandalf's fireworks.  It's old Bilbo that takes the cake though when he announces his departure from the Shire and pulls a public disappearing act using the Ring of Power.

Not a mere magician who conjures only cheap tricks, Gandalf is wise to Bilbo's act and catches up with him before he departs.  Curious about the ring that Bilbo protects so jealously, Gandalf convinces the elder hobbit to leave the ring with his nephew Frodo.  Afterward, Gandalf informs the young hobbit that his uncle has left him a ring as a gift and tells him to keep it secret and keep it safe while he tries to learn more about this ring.  Believing it to be the One Ring, Gandalf goes to research the Ring of Power.  Meanwhile, Sauron (Sala Baker) sends the Nazgûl, his deadliest servants, to find the ring.

Middle Earth is a place I really do love.  With monsters, magic, elves, dwarves, and hobbits, how could you go wrong?  With an amazing cast under the direction of masterful filmmaker Peter Jackson, everything just clicks in The Fellowship of the Ring.  The film offers grand storytelling and impressive performances from an outstanding cast.  It delivers stunning visuals with some gorgeous landscapes from New Zealand.  It even offers epic battles brought to life with awesome special effects and incredible set and costume design.  All in all, director Peter Jackson has done the impossible in bringing Tolkien's classic novel to life on the big screen. 

Peter Jackson is a masterful storyteller, and it's evident throughout The Fellowship of the Ring.  He can really build the drama and suspense and keep you on the edge of your seat whether he's delivering an action-packed battle in some desolate part of Middle Earth or a tense, ugly conversation about how to handle the Ring of Power.  At the same time, he can do the more fanciful, lighthearted storytelling with the hobbits and their carefree life in the Shire.  While these scenes could have been boring in the hands of a lesser director, Jackson fills these extended sequences with lots of fun.  It doesn't hurt that all the characters are smoking weed and drinking ale in these scenes.

Jackson assembles an impressive cast for the film.  For Frodo Baggins, he finds the perfect actor in Elijah Wood.  To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone, and Wood kicks this tough, lonely journey off with a touching, emotional performance as the lead hobbit.  He really is able to translate the emotion and the burden of this struggle to the big screen.  Jackson also selects the perfect road warrior for him in Sean Astin as fellow hobbit Samwise Gamgee.  Astin brings a protectiveness to the character of Sam that's ideal.  Frodo is bearing an unbearable burden, so his companion is someone who must be willing to fight his other battles, and Astin captures this quite well.  Aside from this, these two have great chemistry on screen.

In terms of our heroes, Jackson wisely casts Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey and Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn.  As the wise old wizard, McKellen gives a powerful, authoritative performance.  The Shakespearean actor is a hilarious grouch in his interactions with the hobbit characters and a fierce advocate for them on the battlefield.  McKellen brings the right dose of wisdom in a grandfatherly way to the film.  As the ranger from the north Aragorn, Mortensen brings a dark bravery to the big screen.  He's a brooding, heroic character in the traditional sense and one badass dude in a fight.  Mortensen delivers a strong performance as this iconic character.

Jackson has a way of bringing evil to life in a very authentic way, and his casting choices reflect this.  Selecting Shakespearean actor Christopher Lee to play Saruman is a stroke of brilliance.  For such limited time on camera, he makes his presence known in a potent performance as the corrupt white wizard.  Though I can't credit an individual actor for this, I would also like to say that the depiction of the Nazgûl on screen is incredible.  These vile servants of the dark lord just ooze with evil.  Their horses even look sinister!  They bring a terrifying, menacing presence to the big screen every time they're on camera.

For comic relief, we also have quite a few solid cast members.  As Merry and Pippin respectively, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd are definitely worth mentioning as their antics on screen lead to quite a bit of humor.  However, the two actors who deliver the most laughs for me are John Rhys-Davies and Ian Holm.  As master dwarf Gimli, Rhys-Davies just gets to talk trash about everyone and everything.  It's certainly amusing for us.  As Bilbo Baggins, Ian Holm delivers a grouchy yet crafty hobbit with quite an entertaining dark side.  His concern for his "precious" may be riveting, but it’s also worth a few chuckles.

One actor I've yet to single out is Sean Bean in his performance as Boromir, a son of Gondor.  As the member of the fellowship who falls from grace, Bean delivers a career-defining performance for which I have nothing but the utmost respect.  Bean gives us a headstrong hero whose heart is easily corrupted by the temptation of ultimate power.  In his redeeming final moments, Bean puts on one hell of a show in one of the most moving, courageous deaths on the big screen I've ever witnessed.  I would love to say more, but there are still those out there who have not seen The Fellowship of the Ring.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible score from composer Howard Shore.  He really serves as a tag team partner for Jackson throughout the film.  His score adds a layer of emotion and depth to everything Jackson shows us.  The music is charming and fanciful while everyone is having a good time in the Shire.  It's bombastic and full of bravado when introducing grand new worlds and gorgeous landscapes.  It's thunderous when swords and shields are clashing on the battlefield.  Shore's score is everything we need it to be when we need it.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the greatest fantasy films of all time.  The film marks the first of three masterpieces crafted by Peter Jackson and a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience.  He's really brought the first volume of Tolkien's novel to life in the best way imaginable.  The Fellowship of the Ring gets a sober rating.  If I had a higher rating to give, this film would get it.