Introduction by Phill Lytle, Bearer of the Flame of Arnor and REO1:
On this day fifteen year ago, the world J.R.R. Tolkien created came to life on screens around the globe. For many, it was their first introduction to Hobbits and Elves, wizards and rings of power. For others, it was their first chance to see the words professor Tolkien had spent decades meticulously crafting become light and sound, color and image. The Fellowship of the Ring wowed critics and audiences alike, earning over one billion dollars at the worldwide box office and garnering 13 Oscar nominations.
I was there on opening day fifteen years ago. I was there for the midnight screening early December 19th, back in a day when midnight showings were a rarity. I came back twelve more times over the next few months. I could not believe how perfectly Peter Jackson, the writers, and the amazing cast and crew had captured the spirit and soul of the book. After one viewing, I knew it was special. After two, I knew I was witnessing greatness. After three views, it had unequivocally become my favorite film of all time. And nothing I have seen since has come close to changing my mind.
In honor of the fifteenth anniversary of the release, I have asked a few people to submit their thoughts about the film and the series. Enjoy!
We’ll kick things off with some thoughts by REO writer/editor/mastermind, Benjamin Plunkett:
I have been a rabid Tolkien fan since birth. I came into the world speaking fluent Sindarin and wielding a wizard’s staff. Kidding. Just since I was twelvish. Get it? TwELVISH. Little play on words there. Seriously though, twelvish. I have always wanted to see someone bring Tolkien’s world to cinematic live action. I have long been especially hopeful that this would be the case for The Lord of the Rings. That being said, I never actually thought anything in this regard would do old J.R.R.’s magnificent work actual justice. His world that he created was so deep: The language, the cultures, the history, the incredibly complex characters and their stories. For crying out loud, Tolkien spent 14 years of his life painstakingly perfecting every aspect of his Lord of the Rings epic story. This isn’t even including his lifelong development of the entire Middle Earth mythology. There are scholars and writers who have even dedicated their entire lives to Tolkien lore. (Tom Shippey may be the best of these Tolkien scholars.) Anyway, I just didn’t think anything was ever going to be even close to the quality of Tolkien labor of love. After Peter Jackson took the reins of leading the project, I think the minds of many Tolkien fans were put at ease—not all, but many. At least I was sold. The result was phenomenal. In 2001, The Fellowship of the Ring opened the door to a breathtaking visual world that brought Middle Earth to reality. At the time, I was experiencing some serious problems with water on the brain and would have a seizure and go into a coma the next month, but there was just enough time for my mom to wheel my chair into the theater for this cinematic masterpiece. While The Two Towers is probably my favorite among the three movies, I hold the entire trilogy at the top of the apex of movie greatness. I still don’t think the movies are as good as Tolkien’s most epic work, but they are far, far, far from being a disappointment. A better live action film representation of The Lord of the Rings could absolutely not be done. On this day of days, I don’t know about ya’ll, but I will be joining Sam, Frodo, Gandalf, and the rest of the walkers on their quest very, very soon.
(Phill’s note: Ben is the progenitor of our Tolkien obsession. I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time when I started college back in 1995 and he encouraged me to keep reading. He actually let me borrow his one volume copy to continue reading after I finished the paperback copy I owned.)
REO writer/editor/cheerleader extraordinaire Gowdy Cannon shares his Tolkien conversion experience:
I saw The Fellowship of the Ring opening weekend 15 years ago as a Senior in college. I had never read the books and didn’t go on my own accord, but to hang out with friends. It was okay, I thought. Legolas was cool. I didn’t get most of it. It didn’t impact my life. But years later, through the indirect influence of the sheer love of this work of my fellow contributors here at Rambling Ever On, I was convinced to give it another try. Book and movie. I now love them both. I never disliked Tolkien or Peter Jackson, but I never really gave them a chance. But just as Gandalf helped Frodo change his mind about mercy and Gollum, my friends helped me change my mind. I love that about fantasy and real life: when people change for the better. By improving the profundity of my imagination, enhancing my views on friendship and camaraderie, and just flat out entertaining me in a healthy way, this movie changed me for the better.
(Phill’s note: It took some work on our part to get Gowdy to see the light. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth when it was discovered that he thought The Fellowship of the Ring was only “okay.” Through much persistence and prayer, his heart and mind were radically transformed and there was much rejoicing in the land.)
Next up, REO writer/stats/research prodigy Michael Lytle and his never-ending store of homespun wisdom:
I remember my brother Phillip being obsessed with the release of the LOTR films. He followed every aspect of the film making process for about two years before the first movie was released. He was so immersed in the world that Tolkien had created that he stopped wearing shoes and insisted that we call him Philbo. It was weird for a while, but somehow his marriage and most of his friendships remained intact. I read The Lord of the Rings books for the first time in the late 90s. I liked them quite a bit, but was not as passionate about them as some of my friends and family members. I decided to read them for a second time right before the first movie came out so it would all be fresh in my mind. This second reading solidified for me how great these books were. At that time especially, I tended to be pretty critical of films based on books that I loved. My first impression after sitting in the theater watching The Fellowship of the Ring was that everything moved so quickly. This is an odd thing to say considering the movie is almost three hours long and would be considered very slow paced to most viewers. Compared to the books, though, things moved quickly. My second impression was that I had seen something truly great. I watched it a few more times at the theater and even more times at home. The Fellowship of the Ring remains one of my top five movies of all time. I will still never forgive Russell Crowe or the Academy for giving A Beautiful Mind the Best Picture Oscar that year.
(Phill’s Note: The shoes thing is a complete fabrication. I have no comment about being called Philbo Baggins.)
Jonathan Postlewaite, REO fan and possible future contributor if we can ever get him to commit to actually writing something, shares his thoughts:
About sixteen years ago, several of my good friends in college started getting very excited about the fact that a live-action version of The Lord of the Rings was being made. I remember one of them showing me the first original trailer that starts with the ring and a voice over reading those famous words “One ring to rule them all…” I was intrigued by what I saw. The same friend who showed me the trailer told me that he thought I should read the books before the film released, so I did. I literally could not stop reading The Fellowship of the Ring. I even went out and bought a book light so that I could read it while riding in a car one night. Of course my newfound love for the books made me equally as excited about the upcoming movies. As the release of the movie moved closer I couldn’t help but get caught up in the buzz that surrounded the movies. Several friends and I went to a special preview event at a Davis Kidd Bookstore and I’m pretty sure I still have the “Frodo Lives” pin that I received that day. I didn’t end up going to the midnight show, but I did go on the official opening night and I loved every minute of it. One thing I can remember thinking when it was over was “A year is too long to wait for the next one.”
(Phill’s note: I wish I still had my “Frodo Lives” pin. That could have been an heirloom I passed down to my children.)
REO tech wizard/writer/all around facilitator/curmudgeon Nathan Patton divulges too much:
I read The Lord of the Rings at age 11 on the recommendation and with the encouragement of fellow REO contributor Ben Plunkett. It literally changed my life. I would’ve been a different (and probably cooler) person had I not read it.
Several years later, my college roommate (and also fellow REO contributor) Phillip Lytle and I followed the making of The Fellowship of the Ring movie religiously (possibly sacriligiously, seeing as how we were students at a Bible college). We went beyond Lord of the Rings geekdom. I was a Lord of the Rings nerd. Phill was a Lord of the Rings dork. (He had a flaming three ring binder of news related to the making of the movie that he carried around from class to class for crying out loud. He probably still has it.)
I also went to a special preview event at a Davis Kidd Bookstore (possibly the same event as Jonathan attended). I still have the magnet (see the picture at the bottom of the article for proof) from that event on my fridge despite the most valiant attempts at destruction by my kids.
I joined my friends for the midnight showing before opening day even though it was my third day of work at my first real job post-college. I managed to not get fired the next day. I watched it a total of 14 times in the theater. (One more than you, Phill. I win!)
Boromir’s redemption (which is at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring movie despite being at the beginning of The Two Towers book) remains among my favorite film scenes of all time.
(Phill’s note: First, Nathan would not have been cooler. That ship had sailed way before he turned 11 from what I have been told. Second, I did have a binder full of LOTR info. I am not ashamed of that in the least. I might have occasionally taken it to class, if the class was extra boring, so I could lose myself in the world of Tolkien and Jackson for a few minutes. And yes, I think I still have that binder, unless my dear wife finally won the battle and made me throw it away.)
Daniel Plunkett, REO friend/family/should be writer in a perfect world, deigns to participate in this little trip down memory lane:
Fifteen years since The Fellowship of the Ring came out? A little quick math left me surprised…that would mean the movie came out in December 2001, which would have been in my third year of college. I had to look the release date up online to confirm this, because I knew that basically from the time I entered college until the movie came out I was anticipating its release. So yes, for two and a half years(!) my friends and I eagerly waited for the release of this movie. For two and a half years, we would gather at Phill and Amy Lytle’s house on weekends or perhaps skip the cafeteria to go to the all-you-can-eat Golden Dragon buffet, and in the midst of all the other discussions, arguments, and laughter, there was always The Lord of the Rings. We discussed all the latest casting news, analyzed every rumor, laughed about the old Ralph Bakshi version of The Lord of the Rings, and picked over every scene as we hoped it would appear in the new movie. We watched entire movies because they featured actors who would be in the film. We attended a movie at the theater with enormous anticipation, not because we had any particular interest in the movie (though it was decent; Thirteen Days with Kevin Costner), but because it would be preceded by the first teaser trailer for the film. I fired up the dial-up internet on my computer in my dorm room and waited hours for that trailer to load so I could watch it some more. Our band of Lord of the Rings enthusiasts even made our own t-shirts. Phill was the leader in feeding us all the latest news and happenings, but since I had been a massive fan of the books since childhood2, as were all of the guys in the group we eagerly ate up Phill’s news. So, to say that “the anticipation is the best part,” would be a little bit of an understatement, though we were all pleased with the movie (I think the first is the best of the three). No, I don’t think any of us were comfortable enough in our nerdiness to dress up, though we did get Dave to give a halfhearted black rider scream at the front of the theater shortly before show time. This movie brings up two and a half years of fun memories, and that’s before I even saw the thing!
(Phill’s note: Fun fact: We saw the three members of D.C. Talk at the showing of Thirteen Days. And Dave’s black rider scream is amazing.)
Conclusion by Phill Lytle:
I think that pretty much says it all. I realize we really didn’t discuss the film very much. It’s been fifteen years since it came out so there are no doubt, thousands of reviews to be read. We did write a little bit about it in our Top Ten Movie Franchises of All Time, if you want a little more detail about the film. I will say a few things though. The Lord of the Rings, and The Fellowship of the Ring specifically, is one of the rare times that a film has taken fantasy seriously. Peter Jackson and the filmmakers did not treat it like a joke. They didn’t wink at the audience. They didn’t apologize for making the world feel real and believable. That is one of the main reasons it worked. Beyond that, the cast was excellent across the board, with many giving the performances of their careers. If you enjoy good vs. evil stories, there really is nothing better out there. The special effects and make-up work are without equal, and award after award confirmed that. And the music created by Howard Shore is iconic, mesmerizing, and emotionally rich throughout. Fantasy is a hard sell for many. I’ve never understood that but I know it’s true. I’ve known too many people that just don’t “get” fantasy, whether it’s on the page or on the screen. But many of those people, when they gave these films a real chance, found that it wasn’t fantasy they hated. It was the poor stereotype of fantasy that exists. These films won over many fantasy “haters” and will win over many more as the years go by.
Happy fifteenth anniversary to The Fellowship of the Ring!