For those of you not in the know (you know who you are), today marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. And for those of you know know me (you know who you are), you know that I think LOTR is the greatest movie trilogy of all time. Seeing The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time ten years ago changed EVERYTHING for me. It changed the way I watched movies, it changed the way I heard music, and it changed the way I saw Elijah Wood, the Forever Hobbit.
These movies were – and still are – ridiculously successful, and it’s obvious that I’m not the only person whom they affected. They came at the time when the movie industry desperately needed a spark, and Fellowship arrived with a bang. So in honor of ten years of LOTR, I’ve compiled a list of the things I believe have changed since the arrival of these movies. May their influence be a lesson to us all.
1. It forced other movies to be better.
When Fellowship came out on December 19, 2001, it raised the bar for all other movies. Before that, we were pretty satisfied with the stuff coming out of theaters. Titanic was a huge movie, made billions of dollars, and won an Oscar. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace wasn’t what everyone wanted, but it still made a butt-loads of money. And we were cool with that. But when Fellowship came out, it made people realize how freaking good movies can be. And suddenly making a movie like Titanic wasn’t good enough anymore. That bar was high.
2. It put sci-fi / fantasy movies on the map.
Before Fellowship hit theaters, the only sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters that were successful were the Star Wars movies, with a sprinkling of random Spielberg movies like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jurassic Park (but that’s not fantasy…dinosaurs can come back any day). But if you look at the top 50 highest grossing movies of all time, 41 of them came out after the year 2000, and 35 of those are sci-fi/fantasy movies. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
3. It gave The Finger to the Academy Awards
Up until 2003, all the movies that have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards were either long, dramatic epics like The Godfather and Platoon and Lawrence of Arabia, and – very rarely – comedies like Annie Hall and Shakespeare In Love (which I don’t consider a comedy, but whatevs). And throughout the years there have been some sci-fi/fantasy movies nominated for Best Picture like Star Wars and E.T. But no one ever thought a sci-fi/fantasy movie would actually win Best Picture – that is until 2003 when The Return of the King swept every single category in which it was nominated, including Best Picture. Nerds everywhere were rejoicing with a collective “FINALLY”.
4. It made people realize that film scores weren’t just background music.
Film composers like John Williams have always known that the music in a movie can make the entire movie. Just watch Star Wars and you know what I’m talking about (or read this previous blog here). But Howard Shore’s film score for the LOTR trilogy is a freaking masterpiece. The scores from all three films blend seamlessly together, which makes listening to them from the very first note in Fellowship of the Ring to the very last note in Return of the King an amazing experience. If you buy the Director’s Extended Edition DVDs, you have the option to watch the movie with only the score playing, and Howard Shore even released Lord of the Rings: The Complete Recordings, which features all the music from the extended movies as opposed to what you just hear in the theatrical releases. Ah-maz-ing.
Let’s all push Jar-Jar Binks out of our minds for a moment and focus on the real CG star: Gollum. Before Gollum, the most believable CG character I had seen was the T-Rex from Jurassic Park (which is still pretty freaking realistic. Thank you, Stan Winston). But when Gollum appeared in the second LOTR installment The Two Towers, he was so realistic that you forgot you were watching a computer-generated character. Thanks to the amazing Weta Digital and the insane motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis, Gollum / Smeagol was the first CG character who was ever considered to be nominated for an Oscar, it was that good. And because of Gollum, we got more awesome CG-ness in King Kong, Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and the upcoming The Adventures of Tin-Tin. And all because of a decrepit, schizophrenic River Hobbit who loves his “precious”.
Ya’ll know I’m talking about Orlando Bloom, right? Not that I don’t love all the other people in the movie, but Elijah Wood and Sean Astin were already famous as kids, everyone knew who Liv Tyler was, and Viggo Mortensen was in a Sandra Bullock movie. But when moviegoers – especially those of the female kind – saw Legolas the Elf first appear on screen…well, let’s just say that they stuck around to the end credits to see exactly who that long-haired blondie was. It’s safe to say that Orlando was definitely the breakout star of the trilogy, landing the part in another huge trilogy right after LOTR and becoming the most Googled person in the world (I admit, I Googled as well). Not bad for a British kid right out of drama school, eh?
Excluding the CG effects, every location you see in the LOTR trilogy is in New Zealand. Peter Jackson was smart enough to keep his film in his home country, and it provides the perfect backdrop to J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories. And because of this, people suddenly started flocking to New Zealand, not just to see the filming locations, but to see just how beautiful that country really is. My husband and I even chose New Zealand as the location for our honeymoon, joining an awesome tour group called Red Carpet Tours, which began in 2001 and is still going strong today. We were there for two weeks, starting our LOTR tour on the North Island in Auckland, traveling all the way down to Wellington, hoping over to the South Island, cruising through the mountains, and ending up in Queenstown. It remains to this day the best trip I’ve ever been on, and not just because we got to see our favorite locations from the movies, but because it connected us with some amazing people and created memories that we’ll never forget.
Honeymoon in Hobbiton
8. It gave us Figwit.
This may be totally random, but there is a scene in Fellowship the members of the fellowship are at the Council of Elrond and Frodo has just announced to everyone that he’s going to sacrifice everything and take the Ring to Mordor. This surprises everyone, including a mysterious Elf of whom we never know the name, mainly because he’s only on screen for about two seconds. For some reason this mysterious Elf caught the eye of many people (most female, again) because he was, I don’t know, handsome, I guess, for an Elf. He was given the name Figwit, which is an acronym for Frodo Is Great…Who Is That? Figwit became an internet sensation, getting his own website, and even appeared in several newspapers. He is a real person, actually, and goes by the real name Bret McKenzie, and became a real star when he co-created and starred in the HBO series Flight of the Conchords. He even got to appear again as Figwit in The Return of the King, much to all his fans’ excitement, and had an actual speaking line (he said “My lady” to Arwen). He’s still going strong today, and created all the music for the recent movie release of The Muppets. Pretty awesome for a guy who was only on screen long enough for you to sneeze.
Or at least until The Hobbit comes out next December. The countdown begins!