Number one: it is precious to me.
Maybe you're a fan already. Maybe, like me, you have been a little too obsessed with the Shire and wizards and magic rings for a little too long. Maybe hearing a few notes of Howard Shore's "Concerning Hobbits" shoots you right back to the early 2000s and fills you with nostalgia. Maybe not.
If you haven't seen Peter Jackson's monumental fantasy trilogy, this holiday season could be the perfect time to jump into Middle-earth. And if you're already a Halfling at heart, you likely already reach for the extended editions every December.
Either way, I think we should all do a mass rewatch this month. Here's why.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary
The Fellowship of the Ring was first released in theatres on Dec. 19, 2001. That's 20 years ago.
Cue the "I'm old, Gandalf. I know I don't look it" jokes—we know, we know.
I was still in school at the time and had binged all the books the summer before, and it led to a years-long obsession with the movies, my first real involvement with fandom, and a deep dive into Tolkien's extensive works. So returning to the movies is like returning to my childhood.
Fellowship also came out at an incredibly challenging time, just months after the 9/11 attacks. I was young in a time filled with uncertainty, but being able to escape into this world where characters faced horrors and chose, over and over, to keep fighting evil until they physically couldn't anymore—it was a truly inspiring message to me and many others in 2001.
We've had some hard times of our own in 2020 and 2021, and maybe the encouragement we all need is to see, through these characters, that trying matters, even when everything seems impossible or maybe a little meaningless.
Elijah Wood, who played Frodo, spoke with Looper about the cast's reunion plans.
"It's a tough time," Wood said. "This particular year is a little hard for a variety of reasons, which is a shame, because we do, and we have, over the years, and certainly over this last year, talked about wanting to do something. I suppose the one benefit is that we do have at least two more 20th anniversaries to celebrate, so that's kind of nice. At least we have that."
You can still learn from them
I just attended an anniversary screening of Fellowship of the Ring this month, and it was almost a totally fresh experience for many reasons.
Admittedly, it's been a while since I saw the films, and literally decades since I watched the first one on the big screen. Coming back to the movie as a more mature viewer who has worked in film (rather than a fanatic teenager) was like watching the movie with new eyes.
For one, it really holds up in pretty much every way, and that's a testament to the entire filmmaking team and the power of the story they agreed they should tell. The first book, in particular, wanders so much initially and has so much story to introduce, I imagine it would be a nightmare to adapt. The screenwriting work from Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson is really miraculous.
How do you balance dozens of characters? How do you transition between multiple storylines seamlessly? How do you make sure every story has a clear climax, even with scattered characters? Where do you find the natural breaks between films? Just look at these movies as examples.
For me and many of the friends I made at the time, these movies were formative. It was probably a lot of viewers' first exposure to the hero's journey, and it's one of the best and most beloved examples of high fantasy you can find. Tolkien was a master of worldbuilding, and Jackson lets that shine through in the films. It's inspirational for any writer to see the extent of Tolkien's work, from languages to maps to family trees to thousands of years' worth of backstory, come to life on screen.
But one thing I really noticed on this rewatch is Jackson's willingness to linger in the small, human moments. Sure, there are enormous things going on in this world and exciting set-pieces to get through, but what does the tragedy look like in the hobbits' faces just after the fall of Gandalf?
How does each character face their own mortality? For Sam, it's acknowledging they won't leave Mordor, but reaching for Frodo's hand anyway. For Denethor it's a full-on breakdown on the walls of Minas Tirith. A less experienced storyteller might have lost these small moments to the sheer scope of the story.
And what about Howard Shore's score? Stunning.
The caliber of the performances is also incredible. Ian Holm is the perfect Bilbo. Ian McKellan as Gandalf hams it up a bit in the beginning, but as the films go on he brings an astounding gravitas to every scene. And in the first movie, Sean Bean somehow balances Boromir's pride, insanity, and guilt. They act the heck out of those roles, and it's so fun to watch.
But everyone is good, especially as the movies get bigger and darker. Bernard Hill as Théoden? Get out of here. And I absolutely live for Billy Boyd's Pippin in Return of the King. (He's so small. So very small but so brave!)
On my latest rewatch, I'll admit I was concerned about the VFX, because 20 years is a long time in the film industry, and things can get gross quickly. But I think Jackson's commitment to practical effects where possible is a real benefit here. Sometimes you'll see a bit of blurry greenscreen work (at least in 4K, which is not at all forgiving), but Gollum still looks great, the environments are fully realized, and the CG still works.
The technology of the time helped realize their vision fully, but remember there's no replacement for tactile characters and sets.
Check out the lessons you can learn from Fellowship of the Ring, a peek behind the scenes of the adaptation, and ways the music adds meaning to the story.
They are holiday films
Last year trilogy should be counted as Christmas movies. Funnily enough, Megan McCluskey argued the same in Time. And I tend to agree.
On the surface, you can say this is a world with Elves, there's a snowy adventure on Caradhras, and Galadriel hands out gifts. Gandalf is a Santa-like figure with his wisdom and white beard. The Eye of Sauron could just be a big orange Christmas light in the sky.
And as these writers
The holiday breaks were the perfect time to pull out the movies, sit down with family or friends, and spend hours revisiting these characters.
I've found that holds true now, leading up to the 2021 holidays. I just sobbed my way through Return of the King a few nights ago. ("You bow to no one"—don't even look at me. I'm in my feelings.)
These films remain invaluable examples of when storytelling, effects, and performances meld perfectly, and of the importance of grounding even the biggest fantasy epic in characters and their interactions.
So give them another watch and let me know your favorite parts in the comments.
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