“Here are beauties that pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart… good beyond hope.” So said CS Lewis in his review for the original novel of The Lord of the Rings. This opinion is shared by countless legions of fans around the world, and has been the case since the book first hit the shelf. Tolkien’s fantasy master piece was first published in the united states in the 1950s but it would not be until the dawn of the new millennium that movie goers would discover this same beauty. This year marks the tenth anniversary since the red velvet curtain of the cinema opened and all eyes were fixed on the silver screen and then they saw it: the journey of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring in their epic struggle to destroy the One Ring of Sauron in the fires of Mount Doom.
Now unbeknownst to many there was a time in my life where I was not an avid Lord of the Rings fan. Fact is, at the time I discovered Middle-Earth, I had all decided I had outgrown fantasy literature. I was much more content to feast on only Christian Apocalyptic thrillers for my books, with the exception of books for class and a few works of classical literature on the side. My mom had to practically twist my arm around to get me to read them and it wasn’t until two things happened. The first was I took a course on fantasy literature in High School and it started to rekindle my love for Fantasy books and got me interested in The Hobbit.
The second thing happened shortly after that class ended, I found out about the Lord of the Rings movie. It sounded interesting and I figured I should read the books to get myself excited for the film. Much to say I was hooked .So much so that for Christmas my dad got me a figure of Gandalf that still stands proudly beside my figure of Aslan from Narnia on my book shelf filled with a vast collection of books by JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. I loved the book so much I confiscated my mom’s copy and held it hostage until I received my own.
However this post is not about the book or my love for it, but about my love and appreciation for the film adaptation. Now before I press on further, I must make it clear that in my retrospect I will be looking at the full “trilogy” as one film, and one book. JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson both felt that it was not a trilogy, in the literal term (one story with two independent sequels that feature some of the same characters from the first film in a new story) but one story split into three parts. As this is the case, I will be looking at them as such. Not only is this one of the greatest fantasy stories, at least in my opinion, but the definitive fantasy epic.
Not only was this film part of my gate way that led me back to my love for fantasy, it was also a huge movie-going experience, one that not only changed how I looked at film, but became part of my life. The three installments of this epic were released at a very pivotal point in my life. Fellowship of the Ring was released during my Junior Year of High School and it was the Christmas event for my mother’s side of the family. The Two Towers saw its debut during my senior year, the time when I am getting read to go to college the following year and find my own destiny and the final act was released during my Freshman Year.
I ended up seeing Return of the King three times in theaters. The first was during it’s midnight showing as I had one tickets during a Freshman Floor Christmas Party. The second time was with my father after church. Then the third time was with my friends, Andy Alsdurf and Dean Erickson, after we had watched the Extended Editions of Fellowship and Two Towers. Even after it bowed out of theaters it continued to be a bonding experience among my group of friends. My Sophomore Year saw my entire townhouse watching the Lord of the Rings together, and then Junior year, during a rather difficult time my friend Jason and I were going through we ate pizza and watched the entire epic in one night. To this day I still try to make a point to join Frodo and Company on their journey at least once a year by both watching the DVDs of the film and reading the book.
It really is one of the few films that truly deserve to be called an “Epic.” The story is big, and despite the small stature of its main characters, the characters are larger then life, yet at the same time well drawn out. The entire cast received “Best Ensemble Cast” award for the Screen Actors guild and they truly deserve it. From new comers like Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis , Orlando Bloom, and Dominic Monagan , to character actors like John Rhys-Davies and Sean Bean, to rising stars like Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, and Liv Tyler, to cult favorites like Hugo Weaving, to veterans like Cate Blanchette, Bernard Hill, Sir Christopher Lee and Sir Ian McKellen, and many more capable and competent actors and actresses, each person pulls their weight and helps make for a truly extraordinary story.
The special effects are truly special and used in a limited fashion as to not distract from the story. The director and the crew wisely choose to use as many practical effects and old fashioned stage tricks to bring the world to life and it helps the film along considerably. Perhaps the two best special effects are first the height discrepancies between many of the characters that make up the fellowship. You have everything ranging from full sized humans to child sized Hobbits. Ironically, the actors who played Gimli the dwarf was taller then the actor who played Legolas the elf, but the tricks they used to create the characters were so good you couldn’t tell.
The other “effect” was the character of Gollum. Since the debut of the book he has been a popular character and never was he better realized then in this film. He is described by Tolkien as being a creature who was once like a Hobbit, but was corrupted by the power of The One Ring. To achieve this quality, Gollum realized through not only the top-notch voice acting of Gollum, but through Performance Capture technology. This allowed him to be on set and act with the actors while computers captured his performance and animators created Gollum. The end result was a very realistic character that you couldn’t help but pitty, even though he was just a tad evil.
Director Peter Jackson and his screen writing team of Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens took on the daunting task of adapting Tolkien’s colossal work and not only did an exceptional job but their love for the book is evident on the screen. Was the film a perfect, literal adaptation? No. Many things were cut out, some of them for the sake of time ( like the Scouring of the Shire from Return of the King as the final story already had too many endings for many movie goers tastes), others to help tighten the story and make it a bit more clear. One of the biggest is the enigmatic character of Tom Bombadil, a figure who fans of the book either love or hate as they don’t know who or what he is supposed as he is not a Hobbit, a Wizard, a dwarf, and elf or a human. Even Tolkien was confused by him, and felt he should “investigate further”, even after the book was published. Tom ended up becoming “The Aptly Named Sir Not Appearing In This Picture”, and the story did not suffer from his absence. However in the converse, Jackson , Walsh and Boyens did glean from Tolkien’s endless wealth of written material to craft the cinematic world and it shows up so well in every frame that only the most ardent of purists can’t help but admire the final result.
Even the themes of Tolkien’s work are present . Themes of hope, friendship, bravery, loyalty, pain, loss, victory, redemption, death and the danger of the lust for Power, are all present in the book and they show up on screen. In doing the film they could not do it without any of Tolkien’s themes, otherwise it would not have been the story. The fact is, these are also not just “Christian” values, but things every human faces.
Then there is Howard Shore’s score. Who would have guessed that the former Saturday Night Live band leader would deliver a score that, after the score from the Star Wars saga, would be one of the few musical compositions that would be a modern day equivalent to a symphony. Even with out the films the music is moving, exhilarating and awe-inspiring. With the film it only takes it to a new level. From the gentle and humble “Shire theme” to their heroic “Fellowship” theme, to the haunting trains of Gollum’s song, to he ethereal nature of the elves, to the noble and lofty tones of Gondor and Rohan the musical landscape of Middle-earth is as alive and vibrant as the story itself.
Last of all is Middle-earth. Peter Jackson chose to film the movie in his native New Zealand and it paid off in the long run. While some may say Canada, Ireland, or the states of Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, or Georgia could have been Middle-Earth only New Zealand had a fantastic and other-worldly feel that worked for the film. As movie goers we saw lands and places we had never been before and in doing so saw Middle-Earth as it should be.
Like all good things, Lord of the Rings came to an end. However that does not mean the story of Middle-Earth is over. Not only is their the wealth of Tolkien’s work, but next December fans will get to rediscover the story of Frodo Baggins’ uncle Bilbo as the first part of The Hobbit debuts in theaters everywhere. I know I for one am eagerly awaiting another cinematic journey to Middle-Earth, and for now this trailer and poster make not only a great “Christmas present” for the fans but a wonderful 10th Anniversary gift for The Lord of the Rings.
Happy 10th Anniversary LOTR! You haven’t aged a day.