Over the next three weeks we'll be revisiting each Lord of the Rings instalment in turn, breaking down the good, the great, and the occasional misstep...
While it's far from the first novel series to be classed "unfilmable", The Lord of the Rings may be among the most deserving recipients of the label. JRR Tolkien's trilogy is epic in every sense, spanning decades and imagined landscapes, creating an entire world with a rich history and populated by several completely unique races, introducing a seemingly endless procession of characters who each possess their own complex family tree.
Not to mention the fact that Tolkien was a writer who could spend ten pages describing porridge, regularly devoted entire appendices to developing character backstories that never played into the main narrative at all, and liked to include musical interludes in his prose.
So if Rings wasn't actually unfilmable – after all, the fantasy storyline, ensemble cast and central heroic quest lend themselves well enough to Hollywood convention – it was at least tough to imagine it being filmed well, and in a way that wouldn't send Tolkienites into a vengeful frenzy. How, then, did a bunch of Kiwis with few mainstream credits to their name manage to get it so, so right?
In a nutshell, it came down to having their priorities straight. Peter Jackson's genuine, fervent love for Tolkien's work didn't make for a laboriously faithful adaptation; he and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens took liberties aplenty with structure and plotting, but never compromised on character.
Their meticulous handle on the big picture became more apparent as the trilogy went on, with characters scattered and epic battles being mounted, but Fellowship's comparatively simple ensemble story exemplified the emotional focus that held the whole series together.
The role of heroic hobbit Frodo Baggins, who sets out on an epic quest to defeat evil shadowy overlord Sauron by destroying the mysterious One Ring, could easily have been bland. He's essentially just good, and brave, and self-sacrificing, but Elijah Wood brings such vulnerability and soul that you're with him every step of the way.
The loyal hairy-footed trio who accompany him (Sean Astin's Sam, Dominic Monaghan's Merry and Billy Boyd's Pippin) are largely played for comic relief in Fellowship, but it's clear even at this stage how crucial their journeys are going to become.
One of Jackson's ground rules was that every major player had to have an arc, and be forced to change throughout the story. This dictated many of the changes that were made from page to screen. While much of Tolkien's bulk simply had to be chopped down for time (did anybody really miss Tom Bombadil, though?) other tweaks were made either to beef up thin characters like Liv Tyler's Arwen, or to add conflict to a character's story.
Case in point, Viggo Mortensen's soulful ranger-turned-king Aragorn, arguably the trilogy's greatest triumph. Jackson, Walsh and Boyens added an element of self-doubt to his gradual shift from voluntary outcast to reluctant royal, and with an actor as compelling as Mortensen in the role they'd have been insane not to. In Fellowship, it's Aragorn's relationships with Frodo and with Sean Bean's conflicted Boromir that give the climactic scenes their emotional backbone.
When you look back on The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy, most of the iconic scenes that spring to mind won't be from Fellowship - there's nothing on the level of Helm's Deep, or the finale at Mount Doom, or Andy Serkis's first multiple-personality meltdown as Gollum. But Fellowship, with its sparky group dynamic and emphasis on friendship, loyalty and sacrifice, is in many ways the most hopeful and the most human of the three.
Gallery - The Lord of the Rings trilogy in pictures: