LET ME EXPLAIN...
The newest film to be on the AFI List, I'm convinced this placement is for the entire trilogy and not just "The Fellowship of the Ring". There is nothing universally different about any of them that would make "Fellowship" better than the other two, so this one makes the list simply because it was the first in the trilogy. Nevertheless, I will (attempt to) base this review on the first film alone after re-watching it this past weekend.
First of all, I've never read the books. I get too bored reading fiction and would much rather just watch the movie (thank you, Peter Jackson). Second, I love these movies. As a 3-film, 12-hour epic, this trilogy is quite an adventure to experience (unless you ask my wife, who's not a fan). And this first one opened my eyes in several ways when I first watched it back in 2001.
For one thing, I didn't realize how epic this story really is. It's one of the best good vs evil tales I've ever experienced, and all the characters, battles, and various regions of Middle Earth - combined with a deep and interesting backstory - make this an adventure that's easy and exciting to get lost in.
Another thing I really like about this movie in particular is all the Christian symbolism. I don't know whether Tolkien was trying to express his faith through the story, and I don't really care. That's not my point. My point is this story has tons of Christian symbolism regardless of the author's intent, from the One Ring being sin (it's a terrible thing that everyone wishes never existed, but once you have it - or it has you, rather - you want to keep it, and you foster more and more selfishness and greed the longer you have it), to various Christ characters (Gandalf and Frodo, at least in this first movie). Sure, Christ characters are often easy to find in stories and tend to be overblown in movies, but "Fellowship of the Ring" is an exception to this, if you ask me.
The third "eye-opener" for me is best explained in the next section...
What makes this a "Top 100" Movie?
How this movie was made was groundbreaking. To film an epic trilogy all at the same time and produce each film one year apart had never been done before (at least, not to this level of quality and publicity). That truly made these 3 parts fit together as one story. The traditional approach to trilogies (film and produce one movie, then film and produce the next one, etc.) never flow as smooth, and with inevitable changes in staff between productions - not to mention the aging of the actors - styles and continuity between films tend to be issues. Not so with "Lord of the Rings". Furthermore, the special effects are amazing, right down to how Elijah Wood and Sean Astin really do look miniature next to Ian McKellen and Orlando Bloom. And again, with this being one of the best "good vs evil" stories in film, it makes it a rather easy choice to have on the AFI List. It was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, winning 4 of them (including Visual Effects). The deserved "Best Picture" award was finally won two years later for the final film in the trilogy, "The Return of the King".
The Shire at the beginning is a little cheesy, and I tend to get bored with the film during the Lothlorien scenes. There's also a few continuity issues during some action scenes (i.e. "The wraiths are right beside Frodo on the horses - wait, now they're about 10 yards behind....what's going on??"). All fairly minor issues, and the rest of the film certainly makes up for them.
LET ME SUM UP...
Epic story. Deep, interesting characters. A classic "good vs evil" fantasy adventure that is full of Christian symbolism. There are a few scenes I'm not a huge fan of, but other than that, this is an incredible movie-watching experience.
MY RATING: 9/10 (No change from my previous rating)