Back in July 2011, I wrote about the depiction of gaming culture in the movies and touched upon an independent movie that was in production at the time, The Fellows Hip: Rise of the Gamers. On December 3rd, this feature-length film finally get’s released under the revised title of Rise of the Fellowship and will be available for purchase on DVD and video on demand. I was recently allowed an advance look at the movie and being a strong advocate of fan based films and independently financed productions I jumped at the chance. The results were surprising and not exactly what I was expecting. Allow me to explain.
First off, the production values of Rise of the Fellowship are extremely high and the movie is technically made to a very high standard. The cinematography by Brian Pennington is very creative demonstrates a mature understanding of composition. Being a sucker for a tracking shot, I was impressed by a clever example early on in the movie as the lead actors walks to pin a flyer on a noticeboard. The shot travels with him though the interior of the Internet Café nicely embellishing the narrative. Visualisation of this complexity is always welcome in a movie. Rise of the Fellowship also benefits than a higher than average budget and it has been prudent spent on a handsome production design. The use of locations is impressive and the visual effects and prosthetics work is very competent.
The central story is in itself quite a clever caricature of various gaming tropes and clichés of wider gaming culture. There are also a wealth of homages to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy through the ninety plus minutes running time. A Black Rider becomes a guy in leathers on a motorbike. The One Ring becomes a USB flashdrive. Elves are now depicted as Hippies. The score by Dale Clay is evocative of Howard Shaw but is still enjoyable in its own right. In principle these are great assets to the movie. However, if there is a weak point in the proceedings then it is the screenplay. The story suffers from an uneven pace and fails to implement some of the above ideas effectively. What should be ironic and clever reiterations of stereotypes, are often presented merely as stereotypes.
Rise of the Fellowship is therefore a somewhat mixed bag, hence my surprise. It strives to be different and to use its budget as effectively as possible. But it suffers like so many fan driven productions with a certain amount of myopia. The performances from the cast are fine. Emma Earnest stands out as Stacey, as does Wolf J. Sherril as Baba Melvin Schnabel but some of the material the rest of the actors have to deal with is uneven. Some scenes flow and amuse, where others drag and miss the mark. However, taking the film in its totality there is still far more good than bad. Plus, it would be churlish to hold a production such as this to the same sort of scrutiny you would a theatrical release. That is not said to diminish Rise of the Fellowship but to point out that it is a unique flower compared to mainstream studio output.
I certainly think that Rise of the Fellowship will find an audience among gamers, especially those who love LOTRO. I fully recognise that I take a very analytical approach to my film viewing. Others with different tastes and perspective may well find this a very accessible and engaging movie. I certainly think that the movie deserves support because it shows a great deal of potential for all those involved. Director Ron Newcomb certainly has endeavoured to try to do something different and that deserves recognition. Plus the likelihood of there ever being any other production based around LOTRO is highly improbable.