The reviewing continues …
Well, here it is. Almost two years later, here follows the continuation of the massive The Lord of the Rings review.
I’m ashamed to state it took me so long. But finally, here it is.
Mind you, this is only Part 2 of 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring, which I’m hoping won’t take as long to write. In the meantime, you’ve got much reading to do in this second part.
I hope you enjoy 🙂 …
After having gone through such dark moments and being scared to death thanks to shrieking Ringwraiths, we emerge in the blissful setting of Rivendell. Just by the aesthetic qualities of the bright visuals, one can immediately recognize the stark contrasts between the sequences.
Being in a place of safety and comfort, it is natural that the colour palette of the overall imageey will have very gentle and soft, warm tones: accompanied by vivid lighting that surrounds our characters. There are few magical places in fantasy films that can elicit such strong emotions in a viewer: making you believe that such detail and rich history behind this location has to be real.
The scene between Frodo and Bilbo is touching and reminiscent of the opening Hobbiton scenes just witnessed a few minutes earlier. The dialogue is heavy with nostalgia, and accompanied by Shore’s theme is an assured golden moment in The Fellowship of the Ring.
But the warm, inviting atmosphere of Rivendell soon turns dark and sets us once again onto the more pressing matters and the central quest of the film: the Ring.
17.The Fate of the Ring
As Elrond and Gandalf debate what needs to be done with this terrible burden, we are presented with a flashback of the prologue, as the Elf lord remembers the day Sauron was defeated. We are given an expanded view of the sequence and the true outcomes of that victory. Isildur’s failure to destroy the Ring heightens the tension and raises the stakes of the quest. Elrond’s pained face as he cries back at his doomed companion, contrasts beautifully with the mellow, sad face in the next shot: as we’ve just traversed 3,000 years in a single cut. The camera angle on the face is the same, but the lighting changes dramatically to highlight the two starkly contrasted moments.
The score rises in majesty to greet the arrival of the, as yet unformed, Fellowship: Boromir galloping proudly on his horse, Legolas leaping off lighty from his steed, and the staunch grimness of Gloin. Although we know how terrible and difficult the quest to destroy the Ring will be, we cannot help but feel hopeful at the arrival of these most distinguished individuals in Middle-earth. The good side has yet the ability to resist evil.
18.The Sword that Was Broken
Shifting back to a night scene, Rivendell basks in a lush of silver and blue light as Boromir and Aragorn meet for the first time. Whilst their greeting is courteous, one cannot help feel the tension between the two: even before knowing that the fate of a kingdom lies between them. As any great film can testify, introducing characters through actions is one of the pillars of fine storytelling.
Jackson presents Boromir’s personality with apparent ease and preciseness. His simple act of handling the broken sword of Gondor and his eagerness to leave the place under the gaze of Aragorn, outlines a character who is strong and proud, but also loyal and brave.
Following this scene, we are introduced to another side of Aragorn’s story, and his shame and fear in reclaiming the throne of Gondor following the failure of his ancestor. Jackson brings in the character of Arwen, both as his mentor and companion.
The relationship between the two, which will become pivotal as the story progresses, blossoms in the next scene. The two solitary figures on a bridge, enshrouded in a magical light, find themselves conversing on their first meeting. The interplay between the elvish language of Sindarin and the use of the Common Tongue, serves to deepen the history between the two and further emphasizes the differences between the two races. Accompanied by Enya’s sublime voice, the entire scene stands out as a truly ethereal moment, where the couple finds itself within a pure and innocent world, before the storm breaks.
20.The Council of Elrond
Unjustly criticised as a lengthy chapter in Tolkien’s masterwork, Jackson handles the entire 60-page chapter with deftness and clarity, and a precision that defies belief in what is probably one of the most pivotal moments in the entire trilogy. Taking the shape of a committee meeting, we are presented with “the full picture”. The Council of Elrond feels like an explosion of motives, themes, tensions and goals as the various loose ends established until now, are finally tied up. The rift between Gimli and Legolas is introduced, Boromir’s own motives and his conflict with Aragorn are highlighted, the threat posed by the Ring is amplified and the primary goal of the entire story is established by Frodo’s tremendously brave decision to take the Ring to Mordor.
Subsequently, the formation of the Fellowship takes place. Apart from the four or five characters we’ve already started to sympathise with, we become instantly attached to the other, lesser-known members via their determination to assist in this monumental task.
Technically, the entire sequence basks in the orangey autumnal tones of Andrew Lesnie’s gorgeous cinematography. The editing, undoubtedly a nightmare for John Gilbert, is pristine in its pacing and execution. A shift between terror and humouristic elements gives this scene a feeling of being a mini-film within the main story.
As Aragorn stands before the grave of his mother, we learn more about this character’s motivations and obstacles. His fear of failure shown a few scenes earlier, come back to haunt him as he refuses Elrond’s advice to take up the throne of Gondor.
The music is melancholic and accompanies the slow, fluid motions of Aragorn. The camera peeks from behind the trees to give us an insight into the relationship between him and his mother: demonstrating his affection for her and the sadness that afflicts him. Elrond, as a strong paternal figure, urges him to take on the path destined to him, but Aragorn refuses and this decision creates a new tension in the narrative; an unresolved issue that will be tackled later on in the story.
As the old hobbit hands over his sword and mithril vest from his previous adventure, the presence of the Ring is yet again introduced. Following the tense scene in the Council of Elrond, Jackson does not allow us to breathe a moment’s peace, as he stresses again on the terrible danger of the Ring, by channelling it through Bilbo.
This has long passed into LoTR legend as one of the most shocking moments from the trilogy. As Bilbo notices the Ring hanging around Frodo’s neck, he lunges forward in this reptilian expression with bulging eyes and fangs. The transition from tempted hobbit to horrible creature and back to a wizened hobbit is superb, and it all boils down to Ian Holm’s performance. As he slumps back into his chair, ashamed and in fear for Frodo, the relationship between the two harks back to their beautiful encounter a few scenes earlier.
23.The Departure of The Fellowship
The Fellowship prepares for the quest and bids farewell to Rivendell. Elrond declares the mission of their journey and asserts them of their free will in abandoning it at any moment: with each member’s face following shot after shot accompanied by the elf lord’s proclamation.
One cannot fail to notice the tenderness with which Frodo, tasked to lead the Company, walks past the towering figures of his companions as the camera assumes a point-of-view perspective to put us right into the hobbit’s shoes (or lack of). A touch of humour eases the moment as Frodo warily asks the wizard whether Mordor is left or right. This simple piece of dialogue strengthen’s the concept of Middle-earth as a real geographical location, and the believability of a character’s lost bearings is proof of that.
The music reaches a climax of mesmerising purity and beauty as the two shots of Arwen and Aragorn’s faces is enough to convey the apparent doomed relationship between the two: the warrior bidding farewell to the maiden, perhaps forever.
24.The Ring Goes South **
A montage follows the Company walking through the vast plains of Middle-earth. Shore’s score soars once again to reveal the full majesty and power of the Rings theme as the Fellowship is dwarfed by the enormous landscape surrounding them.
Throughout this sequence we get to know more about some of the characters as the Company is posed with its first test: go over the mountains or under them. Gandalf’s doubtful expression at Gimli’s suggestion to venture into Moria starts to reveal that, after the peaceful stay in Rivendell, dangers lurk in every corner. This first test against the Fellowship escalates with the arrival of the crebain: spies of Saruman. The camera glides over the concealing rocks, intercut with several faces of the Fellowship. The smooth, whirling motion replicates those of the birds circling above: creating a dynamic and visceral moment accompanied by Shore’s ever-evolving score.
25.The Pass of Caradhras
With the Fellowship facing its first obstacle in the quest, it must now cross over the mountains through the Pass of Caradhras. Sean Bean’s performance as Boromir shines during this scene as he comes face to face with the Ring. He’s soft voice, as he yearns for the power of the Ring, is masterfully executed. The shot of Aragorn letting go of his sword’s hilt speaks volumes about this tense moment. A simple shot can convey so much meaning. That is the mark of a true director.
The blissful sun a few moments earlier turns into a raging snow storm as our heroes trudge through the thick snow. The symbolic duel that ensues between the roaring voice of Gandalf and that of Saruman, for control of the storm, is both powerful and fascinating in execution. It feels like a duel at a distance, but also foreshadows a final, direct confrontation between the two later on in the trilogy.
With the storm now far away, and as the Company travel towards Moria, each progressive shot from now on becomes murky, darker and less saturated in colour. Frodo feels the weight of the Ring growing heavier and confides in the wizard, who warns him that its evil has begun to spread from within the Company. Jackson cleverly retains a medium to close-up shot during the two characters’ conversation. When Gandalf, referring to the Ring’s evil, states “Evil will be drawn to you from outside the Fellowship. And, I fear, from within” he looks up at a passing figure.
As an audience, we do not know who it is. It could very well be Boromir or Aragorn. Although clues point more towards the former, this ambiguity heightens the wizard’s suspicions and increases the tension. The shot of Frodo, veiled with the cloak over his head, is strongly reminiscent of religious paintings. There is a saintly quality to the way in which the helpless expression of the hobbit looks up at the wizard.
The sequence, although visually consistent, rises to a majestic level as we are faced with an impressive wide shot of the walls of Moria. But the following shot dips us back into the suspicious and the uncomfortable as the Fellowship staggers forward under moonlight, trying to avoid disturbing the murky waters before the Gates of Moria.
Jackson plays with the editing by intercutting two different reactions. He metaphorically splits the Company in two, leaving Frodo and Gandalf to ponder on the riddle at the gates and the rest to determine the cause of ripples in the water. There is a rising tension parallel with the predicament of the Company. The inability to enter Moria, accompanied by our vexed and confused mentor and wizard and the unknown threat from the water leaves us praying that Gandalf can find the solution to the riddle and seek the relative safety of the Dwarven mines.
A struggle ensues between the tentacled watcher in the Water and the Fellowship. Score’s spine-tingling score creates this very alien-like moment, highlighting the creature’s unnatural being. The collapse of the gates shuts the Company inside the mines and symbolically marks the shift of The Fellowship of the Ring into a new stage of the journey and a change in the tone of the film.
27.A Journey in the Dark
Andrew Lesine’s cinematography shines, ironically, in the darkest of sequences. Moira is a massive subterranean mine, abandoned by the Dwarves. The shining light from Gandalf’s staff is the only source of light in this bleak place, but each shot is meticulously lit to reflect the oppressing shadows and the constant threat to the Fellowship.
This sequence of the Company trudging through precipitous walkways and tunnels conveys the gloom and apathy of each member: but as an audience, we are constantly on edge lest the sinister silence be broken. By now, we are so invested in the quest and empatise so strongly with the characters, that we are literally absorbed in the world and our hearts race in fear and anxiety as those on screen.
But this sense of tension is momentarily doused by the beautiful dialogue between Gandalf and Frodo, where the wizards reassures the frightened hobbit that he was meant to be on this journey. The word-by-word use of Tolkien’s own extraordinary text is superbly executed.
Yet again, Howard Shore demonstrates his versatility and flare for genius in establishing the deep, cavernous world of the Dwarves. Using subtle choir vocals, he creates a sense of majesty mixed with brooding dangers that accompany the scenes and the Fellowship through their journey. This score reaches its climax in what I consider to be the pinnacle of Shore’s contribution to these films: a rousing piece of music that accentuates the skill and grandeur of the Dwarven culture as the Company walks through the enormous cavern hall with countless stone pillars.
This sense of awe soon shifts back to fear as Gimli dashes through an inner chamber and realises that Balin is dead. The shaft of pure blue light penetrating from a high window, falls on the tomb in an almost divine way: splitting the shots into a kind of monochromatic tone of dark greys and bright blues. The music dies down and makes way for the next test the Fellowship is forced to face.
In the hushed silence, Gandalf’s voice booms whilst declaring the doom of the Dwarves. The camera pauses on ever member of the Company, in turn showing us the creeping fear on their faces.
The music starts to build up once again reaching a mild climax with the final statement: “They are coming.” Within a split second the score is pulled out from the film as Pippin touches the skeleton: thereby maximising the shock of this terrible incident.
Following the impressive prologue, Jackson reaffirms his ability to direct and edit a close-quarters skirmish as the Fellowship is pitted against the orcs of Moria. Jackson cleverly holds back as long as possible before revealing the terrifying creatures: opting instead to show the savage blows falling on the rotten doors (somewhat reminiscent of a seminal moment in Kubrick’s The Shining). Once the doors fall down, the frenetic music makes way for the onrush and howls of the orcs.
The action set pieces are dynamic, breathtaking and frequently employing handheld camera shots that take place right in the midst of the fighting. This sequence of pure adrenaline rush is contrasted by the mellow, but equally-tense moment as we fear for Frodo’s life at the hands of the troll.
29.The Bridge of Khazad-dûm
What follows is a grand moment as the Fellowship rushes forward seeking a way out whilst hassled intermittently by orcs and the Balrog: introduced with the perfect amount of gravitas as it lights the entire hall with its fire. After the running and the fighting, audiences are given a moment’s chance to breathe, but not before realising there is a worse danger than orcs. The slow rumble of the approaching Balrog signals an imminent threat, and this is no more clear that the gentle track-in shot on an exhausted Gandalf.
But before we’ve had time to process what this terrible foe may be, the sequence picks up pace again as we dash off with the Company through more stairways and bridges, until the confrontation between the Balrog and the wizard takes place.
The titanic duel between two powerful spirits is fantasy cinema at its most breathtaking. What the filmmakers managed to achieve is astounding: from the visual and sound effects, to the overall execution of the climax to such a riveting sequence.
Jackson, once again, plays with the pacing of the scene by slowing everything down to let us (and the members of the Fellowship) process the fall of the wizard. From Frodo’s cry of pain to Aragorn’s expression of despair, Shore’s sweeping masterpiece envelopes us with a strange mixture of nostalgia and deep melancholia. The visuals justify the score with an impressive wide shot as the Company emerges on the other side of the Misty Mountains – until, one by one, each member’s deep emotions are laid bare before the audience.
The light of day, whilst dazzling, seems to be tinged with a hint of obscurity, as if in acknowledgement to the fact that no bright day can ever be as bright for the Fellowship, now that they have lost their leader. Jackson closes off this operatic sequence by another track-in movement on Frodo’s grief-stricken face: bringing to an end the first stage of the quest.
That’s it for now! Part 3 to follow soon 😉
Copyright of all images belongs to New Line Cinema