Remembering The Lord of the Rings
With The Hobbit now in theaters, it’s time to quickly reflect on one of the greatest film trilogies of all time- The Lord of the Rings.
Another film franchise has made its return to cinemas worldwide. James Bond, Batman, Spider-Man, and even Jason Bourne (sort of) made some solid entries into this year’s monumentally large franchise-filled lineup. The Dark Knight Rises was by far the most anticipated release of the year, followed closely by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As I did with The Dark Knight trilogy earlier in July, I watched all three films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (the story timeline of The Hobbit precedes that trilogy by sixty years) in order to prepare to return to Middle-Earth. With that in mind, I thought that it would be more than appropriate to quickly revisit Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of fantasy novels.
Simply put, The Lord of the Rings is my favorite film series of all-time. Each individual part holds up on its own, but as a whole the trilogy fits together smoothly as one sweeping, nearly flawless, timeless 12-hour epic. Now, you may be asking, why not choose Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, or Gone with the Wind as my favorite film of all-time? Well, to be honest, there is a difference between films that are considered paramount based solely on their technical merits, and those transcendant stories that touch our hearts in the deepest way. As much as I have respect for cinema classics like Singin’ in the Rain, Psycho, and Citizen Kane, they aren’t exactly dear to my heart. On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings stuns me as a cinephile and moves me every time I watch it. Everything about the trilogy just… fits. Peter Jackson’s direction, the mind-blowing production design, the cinematography, acting, story, dialogue, music (holy crap, the music!) and action scenes blend together to create cinematic poetry in this trilogy.
For those who are unfamiliar with this trilogy – and I pity whoever falls under this category – The Lord of the Rings is a three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnum opus of fantasy fiction. It is one of many tales based in Middle-Earth, a wonderfully-realized world conceived by Tolkien, and the story begins thousands of years before the actual events of the films.
In the Second Age, the Dark Lord Sauron pours all of his malice and power into the One Ring – an unspeakably evil tool that grants him dominion over all life in Middle-Earth. However, during in an enormous battle between his orcs and an alliance of elves and men, the heir to the throne of Gondor named Isildur slices off Sauron’s finger that bears the Ring, and he is defeated. Ages pass, and the Ring fades into legend after being lost. One day, a man named Sméagol finds the One Ring takes it for himself. It begins to slowly poison his mind over the course of several hundred years.
At a later time, a Hobbit (or Halfling) named Bilbo Baggins picks up the Ring after it has abandoned Gollum. Six decades in the future, the story advances to the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Rumors grow of the renewed power of Sauron, which are later confirmed to Bilbo’s nephew Frodo by the great wizard Gandalf the Grey. Soon after, Frodo, three fellow Hobbits and Gandalf meet with other leaders from multiple races that populate Middle-Earth to make a final decision as to who should destroy the Ring of Power before Sauron returns to eliminate all men. It is revealed that the Ring can only be destroyed in the place it was created – Mount Doom, a volcano situated directly in the center of Mordor’s expansive wasteland – so of course there are reservations from the council. However, Frodo then decides to carry the burden of the Ring, and he is joined by Gandalf, three of his fellow Hobbits, two men named Aragorn and Boromir, an elf named Legolas, and then a dwarf named Gimli. The nine companions are dubbed the Fellowship of the Ring, and they set off on their perilous quest to defeat Sauron before he begins his inevitable conquest of the Earth.
Being a trilogy that is nearly 12 hours in length, naturally there are small pacing issues in the script. Still, they are minor problems considering that The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema. This series is a rare example of when everything comes together wonderfully. The script truly stands out due to its dialogue, scope, entertainment factor and emotional power. The script is well paced and remains entertaining and emotionally-rewarding throughout.
One of the trilogy’s greatest strengths is its characters. The Lord of the Rings is a great tale of the struggle between good and evil, and the importance of friendship. The interpersonal connections each character has with one another – the Fellowship in particular – are critical to why this series works so well since nearly every character has depth and actual relevance to the plot, whether they’re major or minor. All of Middle-Earth’s main players have satisfying character arcs, and are given humanity through the stellar writing- lending realism to a gritty fantasy tale. It helps that the cast is perfectly chosen, and obviously took their roles quite seriously while managing to have a lot of fun on set.
The Lord of the Rings still holds up incredibly well on the technical end of things. It was a visual marvel back then, and the same holds true a decade later. Sure, when viewing the extended editions on Blu-ray these past few days, I’ve noticed some shoddy visual effects here and there, but on the whole, this trilogy holds up better than most early 2000 releases. Every film has its visual errors, but The Lord of the Rings is as immaculately detailed and realized as any great film. Peter Jackson’s attention to detail comes through in the fantastic set design, costumes and visual effects. What makes the production design more remarkable is how well Jackson blended GGI with reality. Computer-generated imagery is used when necessary here, but it works because everything else is grounded in reality due to the fantastic work that was put into making the world of Middle-Earth lifelike in this trilogy.
The battle scenes of The Lord of the Rings are among the best I have ever seen. As someone who has made many amateur short films, I know how annoying it can be to take the time to film multiple shots and takes to create a perfectly edited film. In that sense, I deeply respect Jackson, the cinematographer and editing department for crafting action scenes that are simply out-of-this-world epic. I can completely imagine these action scenes being nightmarish to film – especially the Battle of Helm’s Deep – but they succeeded in making the action exciting to watch. The subtle use of the shaky cam effect, and the choreography for the action are spectacular as well.
Peter Jackson’s reverence for the gorgeous New Zealand set environments comes through in every shot. I can only imagine how my dad must have felt watching this trilogy, since he served as an LDS missionary in that area for two years. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to visit the beautiful land where my favorite films were shot, and that my father has told me so many stories about. Howard Shore’s iconic score stands toe to toe with the magnificent visuals. Words can’t do it justice- just listen to it.
There is a reason why The Return of the King won eleven Academy Awards (including Best Picture) in the end, because this trilogy is a very special fantasy tale. Blending excellent production design and direction, genius writing, and stellar performances from the entire cast, The Lord of the Rings is a series in which you can remember where you were the first time you ever watched them: an epic experience that it is quite hard to top. Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation has enthralled me ever since its release, and will continue to do so until I die.