Tolkien’s colourful world of Middle Earth has been a place of escapist adventure in the minds of many since its humble beginnings in the mid-1950s. Ever since his novel The Fellowship of the Ring debuted, it has inspired minds with its epic tales of unheard bravery, touched hearts with its scenes of sacrificial love and graced people’s souls with its deeper philosophical comments who we are as a society and as individuals. It was the responsibility of carrying these elements into a new medium that Peter Jackson gladly received in 1997 when he won the rights to begin producing a film adaptation. Although under much pressure to recreate the world of The Lord of the Rings accurately, Jackson excelled, creating a film which reflects the book almost seamlessly and is a classic in its own right. Effective casting, award winning soundtracks and captivating film techniques are all used to enhance Jackson’s detailed and accurate retelling of a timeless story. Readers of the novel connect emotionally with Tolkien’s characters, and creating a consistency in the movie required the casting of appropriate and effective actors.
Characterisation is always a major aspect in any adaption from one form media to another. The way that characters are portrayed in order to meet previous expectations of readers is a pivotal element of any successful adaption. Actors were chosen in The Fellowship of the Ring to reflect the appearances, mannerisms and personalities of the original characters. Jackson went to great lengths in order to cast actors who effectively fulfilled their characters, and one clear example of this dedication is found in the casting of the character Aragorn. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn is a confident, knowledgeable, and strong character. His rough appearances are somewhat deceptive, as he is actually an heir to the throne, and this regality becomes increasingly evident throughout the novel. After Stuart Townsend’s offer to play the role was declined, Viggo Mortensen was chosen; because of his commanding presence, older appearance, and his capability to demonstrate the concerned yet confident personality of Aragorn. The main character throughout the film and the movie is Frodo Baggins, an inexperienced, knowledgeable and somewhat introverted hobbit with whom the duty of destroying the Ring is bestowed. In casting this character, a young adult was required who could portray the immense emotion experienced by Frodo in the novel while also playing the role of a happy, carefree young man found in the opening chapters. Elijah Wood was extremely successful at developing the dynamic characterisation that is found in the literary character, and his wealth of acting experience; in both comedy and philosophical drama, made him appropriate for the role. Due to the fantasy nature of the novel, makeup artists and visual effects were utilised in order to match appearances with the characters dwelling within the imaginations of readers. These attempts at creating characters which reflected the comprehensive descriptions from Tolkien were award-winning, with the film being receiving Academy Awards for ‘Best Makeup’ and ‘Best Visual Effects’. The cast of The Fellowship of the Ring film successfully reflect the characters in readers’ imaginations, seamlessly bringing them to the silver screen. However, other elements of a novel must also be considered when transferring a story from one medium to another.
Iconic scenes are one such element, and as they are etched in the memories of readers, great care must be taken to successfully retell in another medium. Tolkien’s novel is filled with iconic scenes, masterful strokes of detailed narration, which provide the reader with vivid visuals of the environment, characters and actions that take place. Due to the time constraints imposed on films, however, many scenes must be shortened or omitted. Straight omission often leaves readers dissatisfied, and not all scenes can be shortened. For these reasons, Jackson combined several scenes, retaining the meaning and significance of the original scenes whilst shortening the time taken to portray them. One such scene is present when the Fellowship is introduced to the Ringwraiths. Various cinematic techniques are deployed in order to bring tension and a sense of innate horror to the scene. As they are travelling down a forest path, the sound of horse hooves is heard, and they quickly dive off the path, aware that they are being chased. They take refuge beneath a large tree root, and all ambient bird noise ceases. The camera pans low, looking up through the undergrowth at the hiding hobbits and the Ringwraith above. This low angle gives a sense of vulnerability, and vilifies the Ringwraith immediately, showing its immense power and evil intent. The sharp, angular iron armour that he wears provides strong connotations of cruelty and strength. The next camera angle positions the hand of the Wraith directly above the hobbits, revealing how close he actually is. Insects and worms then squirm out of the soil around the hobbits, showing the repulsiveness of the Wraith, that even nature is repulsed. At this point, quiet, eerie music rises, deepening the tension and providing an element of suspense. The evil presence of the Wraith begins to overpower Frodo, and he goes to place the Ring on his finger. The soundtrack’s volume increases, signalling the importance of this action, and close-up shots of the characters convey their emotional reaction. The Wraith is then distracted and leaves with a hideous shriek. The Foley used for the shriek utilities various animal-like noises to create a terrifying sound effect which reflects the book. Tolkien writes, “darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death”, and this is accurately depicted in the film. This timeless scene is a result of combining two pivotal experiences from the book. In one, Frodo “threw himself down in a patch of long grass behind a tree”, with the other hobbits hiding in a dip off the side of the road. The second scene in the book describes how the Hobbits “had no time to find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the trees.” In this scene, they hid behind a tree trunk, and Frodo cautiously crept towards the road to view his enemy. The clever mixture of these two scenes retains the scenery and actions of characters, as they hide behind a tree from an unknown enemy. It also conveys the intense fear and horror of the Ringwraith which is present in the novel. This scene in the film uses multiple semiotic codes in order to successfully meets reader’s expectations and convey the concepts present in the book.
When successfully utilised, Semiotic Codes provide deeper meaning and understanding to viewers of a film, better recreating aspects of a novel in a movie. Howard Shore’s musical composition for The Fellowship of the Ring is extremely clever in the way that it utilises the musical device of leitmotifs throughout the film. This technique involves assigning a musical score to a particular group of people, or a place, and creating variants of that score to mirror the tensions throughout the story. One especially effective leitmotif is that of the Fellowship. This simple tune is played with varying instruments, in different keys throughout the movie, revealing the emotions of the group of hobbits. Initially, it is played with a single French horn, in a happy major key. In the following scenes, two additional French horns join the ensemble, representing the growing nature of the Fellowship. When enemies begin chasing the group, a timpani drum beat signals a sense of urgency. Much later in the movie, the score is played in a minor key, as they are overcome by dark forces. Finally, in the closing scenes of the movie, and entire brass band and orchestra play the tune loudly, providing a sense of joy and accomplishment. The musical score compliments the book excellently, conveying the same emotions and tensions that are found in Tolkien’s novel. Whilst composing the score for the film, Shore is recorded saying, “Tolkien spent fourteen years writing The Lord of the Rings. And now you’re writing a musical image, creating a musical mirror, if you will, to his writing. “Jackson had similar thoughts when selecting a composer for the film. He stated, “I wanted the music to reflect Tolkien. I wanted the music to also bring the world of Middle Earth to life.” Music is one aspect which aided the adaption greatly, and contributed to its overall success, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. However, not all aspects of the adaption are this successful.
For instance, many scenes and characters are overlooked in the film, and this has a major impact on the film due to preformed expectations from readers of the novel. One such character and his corresponding scene is completely omitted from the film, to the dismay of many readers. This character is Tom Bombadil, the whimsical, benevolent and generous man who saves Frodo and Sam before inviting them into his home. This scene was omitted in order to reduce the length of the film, and also to avoid overcomplicating the plot. However, this scene is also a place of great character development, and by removing it from the film, significant characterization and plot structure is lost. Tom Bombadil is the first and only person that the Hobbits meet who is not affected by the power of the ring, and this development reveals to them that there is a greater, stronger good in their world than the evil which seems ever-present. This provides much needed relief to the plot, and gives Frodo and Sam a sense of hope, and strength to continue their journey. The omission of various scenes, including Tom Bombadil’s, which aid characterization in the book conflicts with the preconceived ideas of the readers. However, effective casting, visual effects and makeup, combined with semiotic codes, supplement characterization, reflecting Tolkien’s text accurately.
Peter Jackson’s adaption of The Fellowship of the Ring from novel to film is very successful, despite several omissions of characterization and plot structure. Appropriate casting and makeup enabled the viewers of the film to recognize and relate Tolkien’s characters. Howard shore’s musical composition employs various leitmotifs, cleverly weaving a musical and thoroughly emotional response throughout the film, bringing an additional element and another level of accuracy to the storytelling. This musical brilliance is present in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, when the Hobbits first meet a Ringwraith. This scene epitomises the utilization of cinematic techniques and semiotic codes which are present throughout the duration of the film, each mirroring certain aspects of the original novel. Peter Jackson has masterfully created a classic film, which captures the heart of Tolkien’s novel, and brings it to an even wider audience than ever.