MOVIES YOU LOVE: COREY ATAD – THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)

This time around I got a chance to sit down with Corey Atad (check out his blog and follow him on twitter) and discuss the movie that helped him fall in love with films which happened to be Peter Jackson’s first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. Hope you enjoy the interview below:

Me:  You wanted to talk about Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and I find it very interesting because most people I talk to about this film, or this series of films, they don’t usually specify one. Even though I told you in the email to pick a film, you know people will cheat, and I found it very interesting that you didn’t even bother to try and just lump in the trilogy. What made The Fellowship of the Ring stick out over the other two, or is it just the fact that you didn’t think of it?

Corey:  I think, first of all, I would say that Fellowship is my favourite of the three. So when you say “choose one film” that was the obvious choice, but even then that’s sort of the movie that did it for me. That’s the one. It got me into that series of movies. When you ask the question “what movies developed my love for movies” Fellowship of the Ring is really the one that crystallized everything for me.

It wasn’t the first movie that I loved, obviously I loved movies before Fellowship of the Ring, but that was the one where it kind of all came together and I really realized that I’m totally into this.

Me: Well, the film was released in December 10, 2001 and I’m assuming you saw it for the first time around then in the theatre?

Corey: Yeah, I’m pretty sure opening day.

Me: Tell me about that experience about going and seeing the film.

Corey:  What I remember was that I went with this friend of mine and we had been following the development of the movie and I had read The Hobbit a while before that and I had read The Lord of the Rings, I think, a couple years before the movie came out. Then I think it was a year before Fellowship was released they did a trailer for the entire trilogy. I don’t know if you remember that? They just did a trailer with them sort of just walking on mountains and it’s like “Lord of the Rings: Christmas 2001, Christmas 2002, Christmas 2003” and that sort of blew my mind. I was just, “Oh my God. They’re making a Lord of the Rings movie. Three of them!” So at that point I started following the entire progress of the trilogy.

That was one of the first movies that had a really big online presence, thanks to Peter Jackson. There was the official website and a lot of information on there and I was kind of following it and I had this other friend who was really into it, so we were following it together. Then on the day that the movie came out we went, there’s a theatre (I live near Toronto)just north of Toronto that has an IMAX screen and they were playing Lord of the Rings, just 35mm but projected onto the IMAX screen so it was really big and we were like, “we gotta go see that.” I remember that we went to the theatre and at the time I was still 13 and the movie was rated 14A, it’s the rating we’ve got here in Ontario, and I didn’t realise it was rated 14A. I mean, why would I think that it would be rated 14A? I didn’t realize the level of violence that would be in it. So the person asked me, “how old are you?” and I said, “I’m 13” and the guy said, “I’m sorry I can’t sell you a ticket.” So I promptly went to, at that theatre at the time they had another box office on the other side of the building so I just went there and bought a ticket and went into the movie.

If you want to talk about going into a movie with extremely high expectations and it meeting every single one of those expectations and exceeding them, Fellowship of the Ring is the one. The other two, not necessarily that they fall short but I don’t think that they quite lived up the way that Fellowship of the Ring did, that movie to me was just incredible.

Me: You said that you had read the books a couple years before the film had come out. How did the film compare to the book for you or did you just not care at all?

Corey:  I don’t want to say that the movies are better than the books because I don’t know as to whether that’s fair and maybe I should give those books another try. At the time that I read them I had read The Hobbit and I really enjoyed that. It’s not the easiest book to read as a young kid but it’s definitely a fun book for a kid. Then I read Lord of the Rings and I think it took me almost a year to read that whole trilogy and I found it very difficult. The overall story arcs in that series is quite amazing and the imagination of it and the world building is all pretty amazing, but the prose is just so dull and boring. It’s not a joke. There is like literally pages and pages in that book that are about describing the forest floor and crap like that. So, I can’t say that I was a true fan of Lord of the Rings going into Fellowship of the Ring, but it was one of those things where I was like, “Oh my god. Someone is making a movie out this. How are they going to do that? This could be amazing,” because I recognized that there was an amazing story within the books. Certainly Fellowship, as a book, is the most straight-forward. It has the most linear story and it has the most cinematic story, to an extent, in that series.

There’s a lot that’s changed from the book, there’s a lot that’s cut out, re-jiggered and moved around and all that, but I’d say that Fellowship of the Ring is probably one of the more faithful adaptations in terms of getting the book right, in getting the spirit of the book right and the general arc of the story. It never feels like they changed the heart of the book, it really feels like the book on screen even though so much of it is different.

Me: I knew as a child that they had made a Hobbit film, but I didn’t know that they had made a Lord of the Rings animated film back in 1978. Have you ever seen it?

Corey: Yes. It’s the Ralph Bakshi film. I’ve seen The Hobbit, which was alright, and I had seen Lord of the Rings and there was another one which was a TV film, Return of the King, which kind of completed it, because they never got to make the second movie they were planning on making. It’s not very good though. It really is sort of a shitty movie.

It is what it is. It’s one of those things; I just watched Fellowship of the Ring yesterday – just to kind of prep myself –  and it just sort of struck me all over again how amazingly ambitious that movie was, the whole series. Peter Jackson up to that point, The Frighteners was maybe his biggest movie up to that point, and went to the studio and said, “I’m going to make three movies and they’re going to be the biggest movies you’ve ever produced, they’re going to have the most amazing effects ever in movies so far, we’re going to have to literally invent technologies to be able to make this movie while we’re making it and we don’t know if those technologies are going to work,” and yet you watch the movie and  it really all works. It works not just from the special effects and the technology but as an adaptation it’s pretty stellar. Up to that point people had thought that these movies were “un-filmable”, at least in live-action, there’s no way you can get all that imagination and all those different bits of the story and make it all work and somehow Peter Jackson did which is really an amazing feat.

It’s probably one of the most ambitious films ever made. It’s certainly the most successful ambitious film ever made.

Me: Well going back to the 1978 film. I remember seeing – at the very least – bits of the film and I remember noticing something that I don’t think was as prevalent, or as obvious, as it was in the Peter Jackson trilogy. You can tell me if it was in the book and I want to ask you more about your feelings as to its change when it came to the Jackson trilogy. What I’m referring to is the relationship between Frodo and Sam which in the 1978 film was, in my eyes at least, was a little less platonic.

Corey: Well to a certain extent that’s there in the Peter Jackson movies too. You have them jumping on the bed at the end of Return of the King and that stuff.

I wouldn’t say that there’s anything necessarily “gay” about Lord of the Rings. I don’t know if it was ever intended, but certainly when you have a cast of characters that’s almost all male and they’re all really good friends and holding each other up and getting each other through hard times you can’t really help but have the homo-eroticism creep in. I mean, it’s going to happen.

One of the things that I really appreciate in Peter Jackson’s movies is that everything is done really earnestly. So even though that’s there and you can laugh at it and you can laugh at it – and again, at the end of Return of the King it does get to the point of being silly almost…

Me: Is it weird that right now I’m just closing my eyes and seeing Gandalf laughing at them with his pipe…

Corey: Yeah. You can argue that that wasn’t exactly the best scene in the trilogy. With that said though I think it still remains that because he treated everything so earnestly and you can laugh at it, while you’re watching the movie it’s not that big a deal. It feels natural to the characters. They’re really on this quest that’s bearing down on their shoulders. It makes sense that they would turn to each other for comfort, not necessarily sleeping together, but modern eyes would see it that way.

Me: The film was released in 2001. The 74th Academy Awards in 2002 nominated this film, I believe, 11 times and it won 4 awards, mostly technical…

Corey: Was it 11? I thought it was 13. If I’m remembering it right Fellowship was nominated for 13 and Return of the King got 11 and won all 11…

Me: You actually are right; I got those numbers mixed up. But that year Fellowship did only win 4. One of the awards it was nominated for was Best Picture. That year also nominated was Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, Todd Field’s In The Bedroom, Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge and Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. Many critics in 2002 would all agree to A Beautiful Mind winning over Fellowship of the Ring, but since hindsight is always 20/20 vision do you think that Fellowship was cheated that year?

Corey: I don’t know if cheated is the right word because I don’t think anyone was necessarily expecting them to win. I do think looking back if you look at the scale of filmmaking that’s going on in Fellowship of the Ring and while the movie doesn’t quite have an ending, but even the structure of that movie then it scales you back down and gives you this story about these Hobbits and then it slowly unfolds the world again and it really does play out like an adventure film whereas the other two play out like war films. It’s a classic quest movie; it doesn’t have an ending but you feel like all the structure is there that you think that people would think of it as, “hey here’s this amazing movie.”

I suspect though that even at the time that a lot of people were sitting there hedging their bets going, “well, this one was really good. We’ll see if he can pull the hat trick and pull off the entire trilogy.” This isn’t like The Godfather where you have this one movie and they happen to make a sequel afterward. It was known that there was going to be three movies. So I feel that even with the first movie, even though people liked it and really got on board with it, they were still kind of waiting to see if Jackson could pull it off and then if he did they would give it to him at the end.

Me: That’s the idea I was coming around to. The idea that now that they’re done we can now give you an Oscar for the trilogy as opposed to being just for Return of the King.

Corey: That’s the thing. There’re a lot of people out there who will say that Return of the King is the best movie. I think that if you look at any given year, I think it isn’t a stretch to say that each one of them could’ve won in their respective years. I don’t know what was nominated in 2002. 2003 I think had Master and Commander

Me: The year that Return of the King won it was up against: Seabiscuit, Mystic River, Master and Commander and Lost in Translation.

Corey: Right. A lot of people would put Lost in Translation ahead of Return of the King. I would actually probably put Master and Commander ahead but that’s when you look at them on an individual basis. When you look at the year Return of the King won I think there’s a lot, maybe not a lot but at least a few, awards that it won. I believe it won Best Original Song which was fine but there’re some funny awards that it got it was obvious that they’re just giving everything to the film. I don’t really see a problem with it. It’s a way to honour the achievement in filmmaking. Never mind the fact that they’re phenomenal films, as pieces of art, but just as filmmaking achievements they’re quite incredible.

Me: This film is just about a decade old at this point, not even if you consider the fact that it was released in December. The one question I like to ask everyone is: looking back if you could change anything about the film – a casting, writing decision, maybe you wanted him to film page for page the entire book – what would you change about the film?

Corey: It’s weird. Watching it again so recently I don’t think there’s anything specific I would change. Maybe here and there there’re some weird shots.

It’s funny because Peter Jackson, as epic as those movies are, he still came from that weird Raimi style horror kind of thing. Back in the early 90s and that shows up in the movie. Sometimes it works and sometimes it kind of clashes, so I think there are a few of those weird choices that’re made. But overall I think that it’s a pretty, I don’t like to use the word perfect but there’s nothing I would necessarily change in it. In the other two movies there are things that I would change, or things that I would do differently…

Me: Anything specific?

Corey: Well, I think the biggest one is that as the series went on I think he got a little bit more confident in the way that he used CGI. To the point where, I just watched Two Towers today and there most of the stuff still holds up, I know because I remember pretty well even at the time in Return of the King some of the big battle stuff, he did a few things here and there that pushed the limits of the CGI to the point where it started to look a little bit cartoony. It doesn’t look terrible by any means but again I sort of feel like he got too confident.

One of the things I love in Fellowship of the Ring, or in the whole series, is the use of practical effects and large scale miniatures to supplement the CGI. So you’re watching Helms Deep and they show a full shot of it and the fortress and nowadays that would be all CGI and it would look CGI. There’s no getting around that.  At the time they weren’t sure whether the CGI would work or not, but for whatever reason they decided to make a full model of it and they shot it that way and it looks amazing. It looks tactile and amazing.

Again in The Two Towers there’s the scene where the Ents come into Eisengard and destroy it by and they break this damn and the water all kind of rushes in. You watch a scene like that today, maybe in a film like 2012 and it’s all CGI water destroying CGI objects and it all looks like a really cheesy bad animated movie. At the time I’m sure there was a lot of CGI to supplement it but at the time he just took a big bucket of water and like poured it into a giant model or Eisengard and it looks fantastic. If you know what you’re looking for you can actually tell it’s done with miniatures but at least it has that tactile feeling. He sort of started to give that up somewhere along the way with Return of the King and then King Kong there was a lot of stuff which was just way too much CGI.

Fellowship however has that perfect balance. It’s amazing how well the effects hold up. This is the same year that the first Harry Potter film came out and both of these films had scenes with CGI trolls in it. In Harry Potter the troll looked terrible, even for then, and you look at the troll in Fellowship and it looks like CGI but the way that it’s shot and the effort that was put into this it sells the illusion. You really feel that there’s this troll there that’s banging up the room and obliterating everybody.

Even when you watch movies today, because when I was watching that I was thinking of the movie Thor – which just came out this year – and it’s got this similar scene on whatever that planet is with the frost giants and there’s that big action scene there. It’s very similar in the way it’s shot, it’s very dark and yet it looks awful. The CGI looks terrible, obvious and fake, but somehow this movie from ten years ago looks infinitely superior.

One thing that I really appreciate this series for is that it got me into appreciating how movies are made. With the release of the extended editions they basically showed you how literally everything was done and instead of spoiling the illusion it makes me just appreciate it even more because they basically go through the scene and basically explain how they shot that scene with handheld cameras, which at the time you couldn’t do for a CGI character it was unheard of. The software was not available to be able to do that. Everything needed to be fixed cameras or those computer controlled cameras, but Jackson says no. WETA says that they can figure this out and the only way to make this feel tactile and maybe make it a little bit blurry or do that Jurassic Park thing of obscuring the CGI a little bit was to do it with handheld. So he went ahead and did it and WETA managed to drum up the software and they got it all done. So if you look at the scene thanks to all that it looks amazing.

That’s one of the things that amazes me about this movie. You’ve got this incredible creative guy who basically said, “here’s these things on the page that I can see in my head and I don’t care what anyone says I’m going to find a way to put it on screen,” and he really did. There’s no question about how successful everything looks. You can argue about whether the movies are boring or not but certainly they look incredible.

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Author: Andrew Robinson

This is my blog. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My blog is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my blog is useless. Without my blog, I am useless. I must fire my blog true. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my blog and myself are defenders of my mind, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

  • This is a great interview. A lot of good points here. I like The Two Towers better, I think. But still, good stuff.

    • Happy to hear you enjoyed it Alex. Most of my friends generally go for Return of the King, but I myself am in love with Fellowship like Corey.

  • Bondo

    I'm no big fan of The Lord of the Rings movies and even less of the books (I agree on their terrible prose) but yeah, looking at the 2003 nominees, it's hard to really say anything there is much better than Return of the King (the things not nominated however are a different matter). Still, I reckon I'd have Moulin Rouge and Gosford Park ahead in 2001.

    Anyway, for all this I do agree that the sheer scale of the ambition involved in the project is truly impressive.

    • I think I'd prefer to give the award to Fellowship in 2001 and let Lost in Translation win 2003 over Return of the King.