The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the most decorated adventure movies of all time. Quite rightly too, the first part of a remarkable trilogy, it sets up the next two movies, while also being one of the best movies in its own right. There are a number of factors that led to this movie being so well-regarded from day one. The cast are perfect, the visuals are enchanting, and of course the original score is still considered to be one of the best in cinema.
There are many moments within the 3-hour running time that stand out, including the battle with the Balrog, and the (Spoiler) death of Boromir. However, there’s always one moment that gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. While “You Shall Not Pass” will be repeated for the rest of time, and everyone remembers the Mines of Moria, there’s a brief shot, about midway through, that the film absolutely cannot do without.
Those who have watched the film will know exactly what the picture below represents, and what shot I am talking about. The Fellowship have just been banded together, and have just set off from Rivendell to take The Ring to Mordor in order to destroy it. To describe the scene, as the group leave Rivendell, the orchestra starts up, and begins to raise the atmosphere with every passing second. A number of helicopter aerial shots show the nine setting off on their journey along mountains. This lasts around 25 seconds, as the music intensifies further.
The camera then cuts to the shot (above). This is the shot I am referring to. The camera moves upwards and forwards, slowly. This almost gives the characters a slow-motion feel, despite the fact that they move in real time. It has Gandalf at the front, striding forwards between two rocks, which symbolize a sort of gateway. The remaining eight members of The Fellowship follow him, while the exceptional music continues above.
Lasting about a minute all in all, this scene is one of the most important in the trilogy. Prior to this point, all of the characters seen here have been established, the plot has been outlined and set up, and most importantly, the difficulty of the task has been clarified. Once all three of these needs have been met, a loud, grand minute of film grabs you and tells you “sit back, get ready, and enjoy.” Simple to film, no dialogue or particular stage direction, but it works as an establishing shot. Rather than establishing the location, or who the characters are, it arrogantly establishes to the audience that the rest of this film is gonna be good.
From this point on, in this film at least, no new major characters are introduced and no major changes happen to the overall plot of the story. The scene is simply there to be an orgy of gorgeous aerial shots and a world famous score.
While, I’d argue, this sort of scene is done best here, it’s not limited to The Lord of the Rings. There are other films that utilize this kind of scene. In general, these are the sorts of movies with a linear direction of the story. Adventure movies, such as The Lord of the Rings, are the most notable for this kind of storyline. Marvel movies tend to have this type of linear arc. Within the movie there is an introduction to the characters, a layout of the plot and where it’s due to take place, and the film goes on from there. However, these Marvel films lack this “Touching the Rock” moment. There’s no shot that is purely in the movie to grab the audience and ensure they won’t take their eyes off the screen for the rest of the movie.
The closest Marvel come to this is in Avengers Assemble. Unfortunately, the scene happens way too late, although given the endless continuation of movies thereafter, it may as well be in minute one of the franchise. It’s the classic shot, just after Banner becomes Hulk and punches a huge alien ship. The music crescendo’s, explosions go off in the background, and The Avengers stand there, looking coolly up at the impending chaos, while a camera rotates slowly around them. Perfection, and is arguably the best moment in the entire Marvel Universe. It lets the audience know that they don’t have to focus on learning any new names, or any new facts, they can just sit and enjoy the explosions. As mentioned, it happens way too late in the film, although Guardians of the Galaxy does have a similar scene in the prison, very early in the movie. This goes to show how important this kind of shot is in films.
Such a scene doesn’t necessarily require loud music and a slow camera. The best scene in The Hunger Games is the second the countdown ends to initiate the games. Disregarding all of the unnecessary shaky cam and PG violence, the music cuts to a simple, high-pitched whine, and the pandemonium grabs the audience attention. Unlike the shot in LOTR, this movie couldn’t go without this scene, for plot reasons, but the way it’s put together gives it the same effect. Unfortunately for The Hunger Games, it absolutely peaks at this moment.
Many other films use this kind of brash, over the top scene about midway through their movie. Whether its musical or sound effects, this kind of shot can be vital to an adventure/fantasy movie. The first T-Rex roar in Jurassic Park, the dance in Pulp Fiction, the lighting of the beacons in Return of the King, the walk to Candieland in Django, and of course the legend of it all, the introduction of The Good in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The impact that this kind of scene can have on a film or franchise is profound. It can turn a collection of characters and their problems into a story, and can turn that story into an audio-visual spectacle. The first hour or so of The Fellowship of the Ring is a great setup. The split second Gandalf touches that rock, it becomes a great story.