If there’s one person who we should be listening to when it comes Lord of the Rings, in the absence of Tolkien himself, it’s Viggo Mortensen. The man is a living encyclopaedia of knowledge on Middle-earth and Lord of the Rings, and he knows the contents of both the novels and the best fantasy movies like the back of his hand.
He refused to reprise his role as the Dúnedain ranger Aragorn in The Hobbit movies because it wouldn’t have been accurate to the lore (Aragorn was approximately 12 during the events of Bilbo’s adventure), and the one Lord of the Rings character he wishes had made it to the movies was the obscure Ghân-buri-Ghân. He knows his stuff.
So when he explains why The Fellowship of the Ring is the best movie in the trilogy, we take note. Sharing how Peter Jackson’s increasing use of CGI and other visual effects bothered him, the actor made the case for the first movie as the greatest.
“In the first movie, yes, there’s [CGI used to create] Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier,” said Mortensen, speaking with The Telegraph.
Explaining how Jackson’s use of the technology developed over time, Mortensen also gave his thoughts on its detrimental impact. “It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it’s like that to the power of 10,” Mortensen said.
The actor leaves a lot to unpack. While The Hobbit trilogy was widely derided for its, at times, overwhelming use of CGI rather than practical effects (Orcs became shiny, weightless adversaries rather than physical people in makeup and costume), the original Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies is celebrated for its use of the practical.
Thousands of extras were employed in battle scenes, which made use of enormous sets. Footage was shot on location, for the most part, and in camera visual trickery was used to shorten the Hobbits and Gimli.
So to see Mortensen’s perspective, that even the Lord of the Rings movies went too far in their use of CGI, is surprising. What is less surprising is his vote of confidence for The Fellowship of the Ring.
While it might not feature the Battle of Helm’s Deep, or Pelennor Fields, Fellowship (especially the extended edition) does the best job of capturing Tolkien’s magic. The early scenes in the Shire are perfect, as is the four Hobbits’ escape from the Shire as they’re pursued by Ringwraiths.
The best of the lot, it gradually gets more epic and adventurous as it goes along, culminating in the death of Gandalf in his battle with the Balrog, before the breaking of the Fellowship at Amon Hen, and the death of Boromir.
They’re all great, of course, and Return of the King might be the famous Oscar winner. But Fellowship has our hearts, and Viggo’s too, apparently.
For more on The Lord of the Rings, check out our guide to the new movie with our explainer on the War of the Rohirrim release date. Or, find out more about the Rings of Power season 2 release date, before seeing why Ian McKellen nearly quit as Gandalf.