2001 – 2003
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett
It has been over a decade since the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings hit cinemas. It became a yearly event for the two following years; at Christmas cinemas were flooded with people drinking in the technical and creative juggernaut that pushed boundaries in both story telling and technology. If you happened to be living under a rock the story is a classic tale of good versus evil. Frodo is a young hobbit who’s given a ring made of pure evil created by evil overlord Sauron. The only way to destroy the One Ring is to throw it into the volcano from which it was created, so a merry band including hobbits, men, a dwarf and elf, must journey there to help Frodo. Of course in times of war and strife the quest doesn’t go as planned and the whole of Middle Earth is enveloped in chaos.
It was shot continuously over about four years so it doesn’t suffer from the unevenness of other series. Each instalment has the same look and feel as the others and most importantly there’s consistency in performance overall. Even more exciting is the attention to detail. Thanks to the magic of DVD extras (which Jackson seems to love considering all the extra material he’s dished out for The Hobbit) we know that a lot of the stuff that the designers, craftsmen and production team put their blood and sweat into is only visible on screen for seconds at the most. This includes intricate designs on the inside of breastplates (that wouldn’t have been seen on camera), weapons and armour for hundreds of extras and the carefully constructed sets that were made to impact New Zealand’s beautiful natural landscape as little as possible. It isn’t an exaggeration to call these films beautiful in the least.
Of course they’re working with a great source. Both Tolkien and Jackson are excessive when it comes to detail. In both the films and the novels Middle Earth is a fully realised world with it’s myriad of races and customs and its extensive backstory.
After so long the story is so well known and so absorbed into our culture that it is quite hard to write about the films, especially in an objective way. There are some limitations of course to the movie and some fairly large passages were omitted. In particular the first book has an encounter with Tom Bombadil, a forest dwelling creature that aids Frodo and his companions at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring. He’s completely cut out of the film, which did cause outcry in some circles but was done so for narrative purposes. He didn’t fit in to the story so his omission, though a shame, did keep the pace of the story. Similarly more action was given to the character of Arwen. The story is not inundated with women so Jackson’s decision to elevate her to the role of action girl does a lot to prevent her being a bland two-dimensional character and shallow love interest.
Even with these omissions the films are long. Even longer still are the extended editions, filled with all the material that couldn’t fit into the cinematic release. As a whole, the films handle their length well. They rarely falter, give a good mix of action sequences and quieter scenes and the story moves along steadily without sacrificing too much detail.
Overall, whether you are interested in the technical aspects or the great story telling, it’s well worth making a day of watching all three films back to back!