On the 15th anniversary of his first theatrical viewing of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Missing Frames host Shawn Eastridge reflects on his memories of the experience.
I was a 15-year-old freshman in high school and I knew little of the world J.R.R. Tolkien had created. I’d read The Hobbit for a book report a couple months prior and I was only about a quarter of the way through the first part of Tolkien’s trilogy, but I was by no means a huge fan. While I enjoyed the books, I found Tolkien’s sprawling, descriptive text to be overwhelming; it was difficult to wrap my head around his world and characters. (I recall reading the scenes with Tom Bombadil rescuing the Hobbits and instructing them to frolic naked in the fields while he gathered new clothes for them and wondering how in the world that would translate to the big screen.) The film was on my radar, but not nearly to the extent that the first Harry Potter film had been the previous month.
So, on the Friday after its initial release, with little to no expectations, my dad, brother and I sat down in a dark theater to watch the first chapter in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited adaptation of Tolkien’s masterpiece. And while I might never know the joy and wonder of seeing the first Star Wars film in theaters back in 1977, I imagine my first viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring is probably the closest I’ll ever get to that experience. Never before had I been so utterly captivated by a cinematic world, so involved with its characters, so thrilled by their adventures and struggles, so terrified by the villains, and so affected by its story. For 3 hours, I was transported and in total awe of the accomplishments of this incredible cast and crew. Not one moment rang false; everything felt real, like it actually existed. I even bought into the characters that were obviously computer-generated because Jackson and his crew had done such an effective job rendering a believable, lived-in universe and integrating practical and visual effects.
By the time the lights came up, I felt exhausted, emotionally drained and completely exhilarated. I’d never experienced anything like The Fellowship of the Ring in all my life, and to this day, few moviegoing experiences come close. It elevated my love and appreciation of cinema and inspired me to learn more about the art of filmmaking. I ended up seeing it three more times in theaters and, by the time The Two Towers came around, I was there for its midnight release (my first ever!) as well as The Return of the King’s. (The latter remains the single greatest movie experience I’ve ever had in a theater.)
Watching The Fellowship of the Ring 15 years later, being twice as old as I was when I first saw it, I’m struck by just how well it holds up. It works on every level and its special effects still give modern day attempts a run for their money. More importantly, I'm impressed by how well it maintains the integrity and spirit of Tolkien’s original work, while simultaneously infusing it with an urgency and energy necessary to make its story work on the big screen. It is, without question, one of the great films of all time. And while I love its two sequels, The Fellowship of the Ring remains my favorite of the trilogy, simply because it was such an unexpected gift.
Do you remember the first time you saw The Fellowship of the Ring? Does it stand as one of your favorite moviegoing experiences? Tell us all about it on @joinnerdparty or reach out to me directly: @yayshawndorman and let’s celebrate the 15th anniversary of this monumental achievement in cinema history!