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20 Years of Fellowship: celebrating the anniversary of the Lord of the Rings

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On December 19, 2001 The Lord of the Rings the Fellowship of the Ring, premiered world wide and 20 years later it’s still as timeless as ever.

Whilst I wasn’t there myself, I remember seeing it for the first time back in 2012 during the lead up to the Hobbit and for me it changed what a film could be.

Bringing the Lord of the Rings to the silver screen was a huge risk that the majority of Hollywood believed wouldn’t work. However, thankfully due to the determination and creativity of director Peter Jackson and the New Zealand film industry the film was more than a success and is considered the gold standard for fantasy filmmaking.

The film is an experience that brought Tolkien’s world to life, and like the Elves of Middle Earth, it has an ageless quality to it. 

Peter Jackson set out to create a world that was tangible and felt real. Unlike the fantasy films that came before and after it, Jackson directed the film like a historical epic and in the process created a world and a film that feels like it’s always been there. 

Everything from Weta and Richard Taylor’s design work to Howard Shore’s iconic score feels like it’s a part of the world, as if it had always been there and was dug up from the Earth itself. 

The late great Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography is also remarkable and his work on the film should really be more readily recognised. He brings Alan Lee and John Howe’s art to life and makes every shot count.

Just about everything in the film has survived the test of time, and a reason why it’s held up so well is the blend of practical and CGI effects. Whilst not all of the CGI effects have stood up to today’s standards, the blend of CGI with practical effects makes it less noticeable. The use of miniatures in particular, really makes the film feel real and is something modern escapism could learn from.

Frodo and Gandalf. Image Credit; [New Line cinema]

All these different elements come together to create a truly special fantasy world, but it’s the characters that inhabit it that keeps me coming back year after year.

Whilst the film is full of fantastical and iconic characters, like Ian McKellen’s Gandalf and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, it’s the smaller ones that bring the film to life.

To me, the Hobbits are the key to the film’s success. They are our gateway into this big world and represent a simpler life that many desire to have. The Hobbits are not action stars, super heroes or leading men; they’re not even tall. Instead we have four ordinary characters fighting to preserve a simple life, which is no bad thing.

This innocence is something many modern blockbusters are missing, in my opinion films like Dune don’t connect as well with me because they lack the heart that this trilogy has. Whilst many may find the Hobbits boring, without them the film wouldn’t work.

The film is full of optimism and love. The characters are open with each other and unlike other action films there is very little toxic masculinity to be found. Whilst it is an epic fantasy, writers Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens make sure to prioritise the gentleness of the books. If ever someone told you it was boring and just about walking and fighting then somebody lied. It’s about fellowship, innocence and putting aside your differences for the greater good.

There is a reason why the Lord of the Rings is the only major franchise to achieve Oscar glory and for me it’s because it doesn’t prioritise spectacle over its characters. The films are driven by the story of it’s heroes, not the story of the Ring. 

The cast and crew in a reunion zoom call in 2020. Image Credit; [Josh Gad] 

Overall the film only gets better and better, with every aspect of it becoming cemented into our culture. The music is played weekly on the radio, Hobbits and Elves are a part of our vocabulary and New Zealand itself has become known for hosting Middle Earth. It’s reached a level of impact that’s almost impossible to rival.

Whilst the celebrations of the anniversary were small compared to Harry Potter, limited to a modest parody on the Stephen Colbert show and a zoom reunion last year, the achievements and impact of the film speaks for itself and it’s sure to live on for years to come.

Image Credit;[New Line Cinema]

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