Fair warning, "you shall not pass" from here on it if you still care about any 'Lord of the Rings' spoilers. As each review progresses us further towards Mount Doom, I feel fit to do a "when we last left these characters" segment before getting into each review. So these reviews are done with potential spoilers in mind... again, if you care at this point (give or take 20 years later).
Soo, when we last left these characters, the Fellowship of the Ring was formed, consisting of Hobbits, Frodo (Elijah Wood), Samwise (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), and Pippin (Billy Boyd); Gandalf the Wizard (Ian McKellen); Humans, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean); Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies); and Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom). They are in possession of a magic ring that will spell out certain doom for their world of Middle Earth if it ever finds its master; a dormant, dark entity known as Sauron.
The Fellowship's mission, which Frodo reluctantly takes responsibility for - bring the ring to the dark realm of Mordor, toss it into Mount Doom where it was created, vanquish the forces of evil that are slowly brewing thanks to a helping hand from powerful White Wizard, Saruman (Christopher Lee). While the first part of 'Fellowship' is a fun little adventure on its own, it's sole purpose is to set things up. For my money, the real adventure begins here, and for this film, the second half is much more entertaining.
While the mission remains "get the ring to the volcano", certain things about certain characters develop them as we move forward. One nice touch is Bilbo (Ian Holm) giving Frodo his sword, "Sting", and mithril chainmail from his own adventure (aka the upcoming 'Hobbit' prequels). We learn more about a history between Aragorn and Boromir in which reveals Aragorn as the rightful heir to the throne of the kingdom of Gondor - where Boromir hales from. We also run into Gollum for the first time, as a creepy little figure that follows them, and nothing more. Gollum wouldn't be the creature we all know and love until the next chapter.
What really stuck out about this movie, especially seeing it on the big screen back in the day, is the overwhelming setting of the whole thing. While filming on location in New Zealand, they managed to find a whole lot of perfect spots. But some of the set pieces alone are just incredible. This chapter really captures the scope of Tolkien's world, and gives us incredible works of the imagination that more or less match his written descriptions. Personal favourites among them; the elven forest of Lothlórien, where they meet Elf-queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and the Mines of Moria - possibly my favourite 'LOTR' locale for overall atmosphere.
In the background, this whole time, we see Saruman creating an army of Uruk-hai Orc soldiers, who we find we get a sort of "leader" for each movie. In this one, it's a fellow by the name of Lurtz (Lawrence Makoare). If you think of these guys as video game bosses, he's pretty suitable for level 1; a brute who just sort of blindly, but loyally, follows Saruman's orders. His whole thing - lead a group of orcs to find and kill the Fellowship to bring the ring back to Saruman for him to hand over to Sauron and take things over, making it all dark and evil.
Much of Saruman's side of things is actually somewhat metaphorical (in a literal sense), as to build his army, he needs to destroy the environment. So there's a fairly heavy-handed message about environmental friendliness, and what we as selfish humans can do to the world. But considering this book was fully published in 1954, written in '48, you can kind of see where it's coming from, what with that whole War that just happened, marking our most significant blow to ourselves in human history.
Another thing to appreciate about this (especially if you haven't read the books and basically know what happens) is that it ends with a total divide of the Fellowship. Again, full-fledged spoilers; Frodo goes to set off on his own with the ring, but Sam catches up to him and tags along as a promise he made to Gandalf. Merry and Pippen are taken by Uruk-hai soldiers, just to put a bit of worry into you before the next chapter. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas accept Frodo's departure, but soon chase after the orcs that took Merry and Pippin, so you're also left with a sense of heroism to come.
But then we get down to the fates of Boromir and Gandalf, which I'm actually gonna be a bit of a jerk about and leave for my next review. This is just to leave some people hanging (y'know, those who don't care about spoilers but haven't seen or read anything to do with this, anyway) like the movie does (although we're well aware of what happens to at least Boromir by the end of this). The film does a great job with its cliffhanger, giving us a mixture of dread, hope, and overall curiosity for what ever is around the corner. I always loved the way this ended, despite various audience outcries during my first viewing at the theater.
One does have to go into these movies fully realizing how much there is to cover. Even if you're not watching the extended cuts, these are pretty long movies and take a bit of dedication. This is why with the extended cuts, I do them one part at a time - each a good 2hrs plus on their own. One could do the extended cuts in a day, but you're looking at a total viewing time of about 11.5 hours. So yeah, one disc at a time is fine for me with so much to absorb. But I do love getting swept away into this world, I have to admit. So try not to fall asleep during part one of this, because part 2 is so much more imaginative and fun. And we haven't even seen anything yet!