Peter Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released in 2001, and notably made a few changes from the source material—changes that help make it the best film in the acclaimed series. Jackson’s trilogy is widely regarded as one of the best of all time, receiving critical acclaim as well as being a major box-office success. The trilogy was completed with the back-to-back releases of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2002 and 2003 respectively.
As mentioned above, The Lord of the Rings movies are universally acclaimed, owing in part to the equally applauded book series the films are based on, written by J.R.R Tolkien. The book series was published in three separate volumes, with each title being attributed to each film in Jackson’s trilogy, between 1954 and 1955. Since then, the books have become one of the best-selling series ever written. Tolkien’s works have become the basis of countless adaptations, as well as other derivative interpretations, across film, TV, video games, and other book series, having helped create and shape the modern fantasy genre.
Jackson first pitched a Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1995, with the first film being an adaptation of The Hobbit and the following two movies adapting the three LOTR books. This proved difficult in terms of acquiring the film rights for The Hobbit, a series Jackson later directed, and eventually, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was greenlit at New Line Cinema. Production then began in 1997, with the three films shooting concurrently between 1999 and 2000. While the films are known to capture the essence, characters, and overall story of Tolkien’s novels very well, there were a few changes to certain elements across Jackson’s films—particularly The Fellowship of the Ring—that helped it become the best film in an already acclaimed trilogy.
Fellowship Of The Ring’s Missing Book Characters
Arguably the biggest change from the first volume of the book series comes in the absence of certain characters in Jackson’s film. In the book, shortly after Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, the four heroic Hobbit characters, set out to take the Ring to Rivendell, they take a detour through the Old Forest, encountering a humanoid creature of an unspecified race called Tom Bombadil. Bombadil appears when Frodo and Sam call for help after Merry and Pippin are captured by Old Man Willow, an evil willow tree that wants to dominate the Old Forest, and sings the tree to sleep, rescuing the two Hobbits. Tom Bombadil then saves the Hobbits a second time, after they are captured by a barrow-wight in the Barrow-downs. These events take up three of the twelve chapters in the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring, clearly playing a big part in the early stages of Frodo’s journey.
Peter Jackson’s film adaptation completely omits this section, with no appearance, nor even mention, of Tom Bombadil, Old Man Willow, or the Barrow-downs. The film simply shows the Hobbits evading the Nazgul before making it to Bree. Jackson’s reasoning for this omission, however, is warranted. When asked about Tom Bombadil’s absence from Fellowship, Jackson explained that he and his co-writers felt that the character did little to advance the overall story, and would’ve made the film feel unnecessarily long. With the film already having a runtime of 178 minutes, and the extended edition sitting at a massive 228 minutes, it is understandable why Jackson felt the need to omit characters and events that don’t directly influence the driving narrative of the series.
In the appendices for The Lord of the Rings DVD extended edition, Jackson justified his exclusion for this section of the book, citing Old Man Willow as an example: “So, you know, what does Old Man Willow contribute to the story of Frodo carrying the Ring? … it’s not really advancing our story & it’s not really telling us things that we need to know.” From this, it is clear Jackson and his team had Frodo’s journey at the center of their minds when crafting this film, choosing only to omit sections of the book that don’t directly affect that story thread. Arguably the only impact Bombadil had on the Hobbits was his gift of weaponry, giving the four Hobbits each a sword, something attributed to Aragorn in the film version. Not only does this make sense given Aragorn’s mission of protecting the Hobbits from Bree to Rivendell, but the scene is incorporated into other sequences of the film, shortening the runtime as Jackson intended the Old Forest’s absence to do.
Fellowship Of The Ring’s Added Uruk-Hai Fight Was Great
The Fellowship of the Ring ends with a party of Uruk-Hai fighters, sent by the ancient White Wizard Saruman, attacking the titular Fellowship to retrieve the One Ring from Frodo. In the books, however, this sequence is in The Two Towers, at the beginning of that book. The decision to move the scene to the ending of Fellowship was a great one on Peter Jackson’s part. Not only does the film then have a climactic battle sequence, giving characters like Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir a chance to put on heroic displays, but giving the latter a more emotional death scene than if it was kept at the beginning of The Two Towers.
As mentioned above, the character of Boromir, played by Sean Bean, dies towards the end of the battle, after sacrificing himself to try and save the lives of Merry and Pippin. This scene comes shortly after Boromir of Gondor is corrupted by the Ring and tries to steal it from Frodo, therefore forcing Frodo to leave the Fellowship behind. The film portrays Boromir’s sacrifice as redemption, similarly to that of the books, however moving this scene to the end of Fellowship gives both Boromir’s character, and the film as a whole, a greater sense of closure.
If the movie had shown the Fellowship realizing Frodo is missing before abruptly ending, it would have been anti-climactic, to say the least. While this does work for the book, given the different ways novels and films can structure stories, it goes without saying that it would not have worked for a major blockbuster film. The film, therefore, needed a climactic action sequence, and what better to use than the scene that immediately follows in the next book, an attack from the Uruk-Hai on behalf of the powerful Saruman, the trilogy’s secondary antagonist. This decision makes the film, despite being the first part of a three-part story, feel self-contained, including its own beginning, middle, and end through the use of this battle sequence, and Boromir’s emotionally compelling sacrifice.
Fellowship Of The Ring’s Timeline Changes Streamlined The Movie
One of the biggest strengths of The Fellowship of the Ring is the film’s sense of urgency. While the runtime is long, sitting at just under three hours, the film never drags and always keeps the viewer engaged. If the films had included certain elements from the books, however, this may not have been the case, severely weakening one of the biggest advantages of the film. For example, in Tolkien’s story, once the Ring is passed down to Frodo by his uncle Bilbo, Gandalf leaves the Shire, beginning an inquest into the Ring as he suspects it to be the One Ring forged by the Dark Lord Sauron. Gandalf doesn’t show up again until seventeen years later, confirming to Frodo that his ring is indeed the evil Sauron’s Ring of Power. While the film doesn’t specify the time in which Gandalf is away, it certainly doesn’t provide any evidence of the absence being seventeen years long. In fact, the film portrays Gandalf’s exit and subsequent return to the Shire across a few scenes, indicating only a matter of days has passed.
This decision gives the film a much greater sense of urgency, propelling Frodo into his journey only a few scenes after being given the Ring from Bilbo. Having Frodo age seventeen years between these two events wouldn’t have been as impactful, with Frodo’s youthful demeanor in the films allowing audiences to sympathize more with the Hobbit. It also solidifies the relationship between Frodo and Gandalf, the trilogy’s friendly yet powerful Grey Wizard, by having them keep close contact. If the film had shown Frodo as not seeing Gandalf for seventeen years, the estrangement between the two would’ve negatively impacted scenes later in the film, such as Gandalf’s apparent death and Frodo’s intense grief at this event.
Another small, yet important, timeline change begins in the prologue. Jackson shows the War of the Last Alliance fighting against Sauron on the slopes of Mount Doom during the Second Age of Middle-earth. In the books, this battle is more of a siege, lasting seven years in total, before Isildur cuts the Ring from Sauron’s hand. Jackson shows this battle in the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring, instead choosing to portray it as a single battle, as opposed to the years-long siege of J.R.R Tolkien’s books. This change again simply makes the film flow better, telling the story in a less complex, yet streamlined fashion.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the most acclaimed trilogies of all time, winning a total of seventeen Academy Awards out of thirty nominations and earning a combined total of over $2,9 billion at the worldwide box office. It is evident, given the director’s love and admiration for the source material, that Jackson’s trilogy and its exceptional craft go hand-in-hand with J.R.R Tolkien’s beloved books of the 1950s. However, that isn’t to say that some of the changes made from page to screen didn’t benefit the films. More specifically with The Fellowship of the Ring, these changes helped elevate the film above its successors. If the omitted book elements were included, despite them working within the original text, it is no secret they would have severely impacted the tone, characters, urgency, and overall plot of the film, dragging the quality down. Jackson’s willingness to change these elements, however, helped The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring become the best film in a trilogy that is already regarded as one of the very best in modern cinema.
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