Favourite Films: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Continuing on in my Favourite Film series, this post looks at the films that opened my eyes to filmmaking and made me realise my passion for film. Based on the huge novel by J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings trilogy consists of Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King and follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), a respected hobbit who lives with his adventurous Uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm) who is forced to carry the One Ring to Mordor where he must destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom before the evil Lord Sauron claims the Ring and uses it to rule over Middle Earth. Frodo is accompanied by the Fellowship that consist of his best friend, Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), fellow hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), men Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Frodo must resist the lure of the ring and cross Middle Earth in a bid to save mankind from ruin. The trilogy also features a strong supporting cast with Hugo Weaving as elf Lord Elrond, Liv Tyler as his daughter Arwen who is Aragorn’s love interest and Miranda Otto in badass form as Éowyn. I know it seems a bit unfair to cram the whole trilogy in one post but it is impossible not to consider the vast achievement and scope that Peter Jackson has achieved.

It cannot be underestimated how well these films did upon release. The trilogy well surpassed the $1 billion mark and became instantly iconic around the world with masses of people en route to the premieres at their local cinemas. All three won big come award time with Fellowship of the Ring winning four Academy Awards, The Two Towers winning seven and The Return of the King sweeping the board with eleven nominations and eleven wins, tying with Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997) for the most wins at the Oscars. All three were critical and commercial smashes and boasted a spectacle despite being a film with fairly indie roots. It was different from other mainstream films because of this and I think the story’s message of fighting for good and friendship is one that resonates with a lot of people.

The cinematic releases see the films lengths at a minimum of 150 minutes per film but the extended editions bring the total running time an amazing 12 hours and what a 12 hours it is. The film achieved critical and commercial success upon release, has dated extremely well and remains one of the best loved franchises in history. Everything about it is perfect to me. I think it is a brilliant adaptation of the books and think the changes and omissions that were made were completely justified for the big screen. I know some people have trouble with the multiple endings at the end of the third film but remember that it is the end of one extremely long epic and that the ends need to be tied nicely. I think it’s a credit to the brilliant screenplays written by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens that each member of the Fellowship is loved and has their own story. The films are so spectacular and huge that it becomes an immersive experience for the viewer. Jackson contrasts this with moments charged with emotion such as Sam’s speech at the end of The Two Towers which gives the film its heart and separates it from other blockbuster films that have come before it. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have watched these films and I am still noticing new things every time. It’s such a rewarding experience to watch these films and I think Jackson’s direction captures the imagination that Tolkien gives in the novels perfectly.

Sam

The film is cast brilliantly. There are three main storylines when the Fellowship splits with one following Frodo and Sam, another following Merry and Pippin and the third following Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Each actor embodies their character personally, particularly Mortensen and McKellen as Aragorn and Gandalf, respectively. Aragorn’s transition from outlaw Strider to the King is amazing as we see him emerge from the shadows and take the lead in the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers (I will be discussing Helm’s Deep in further detail soon). On the other hand, we see Gandalf undergo a physical transformation as we shifts from being Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White, giving him even stronger powers. Frodo’s development from a hobbit who has never left the Shire to crossing lands and encountering creatures that he would never have seen before. Much like his Uncle Bilbo, Frodo’s sense of what is right helps to combat his fears but his morality is tested when the manipulative Gollum (Andy Serkis) “assists” in helping him reach Mordor. The rapport between the cast offscreen is reflected onscreen and makes for great viewing in scenes such as the Fellowship’s inception and the scenes when they are forced to split up. The intensity of the Fellowship’s bond is so strong and the direction is so intricate that the audience feels as though they are going on the same journey. When watching the climactic scene of The Return of the King unfold, you can’t help but feel relieved when everything is over.

One of the aspects that also makes these films so spectacular are the special effects which are provided by WETA. Led by the amazing Richard Taylor, CGI is only used when an effect is humanly impossible. The behind-the-scenes on the extended editions are fantastic and well worth watching as we watch the creation of Middle Earth unfold. Richard Taylor is the best of the best when it comes to special effects (his multiple Oscars reflect this) and his team are super brilliant and creative. From the intricate details in the designs and the make-up, every single aspect of the film is thought out and executed beautifully. Taylor and his team tie together the make-up, the props and the special effects together that enhances the fantastical elements in the film. Even the effort that goes into collecting short sounds for sound editing and mixing and the process behind it is remarkable to watch. Seeing the passion and the heart that the crew put into the film is touching as everyone has a respect for each other no matter what job they do. Howard Shore’s score for the trilogy is also something that seems revolutionary and new in film. Somehow, he captures the tone perfectly and created that perfect violin solo for “History of the Ring” that is instantly synonymous with the film itself. My favourite piece in the trilogy is “Riders of Rohan” from The Two Towers because it captures that anticipation for battle perfectly and grandeur of marching. The use of delicate strings contrasting with a strong brass sound helps to elevate the film to its epic heights. Shore is one of the best film composers out there and he knocks it out of the park with these scores.

helmsdeep

I don’t think I could justify discussing these films in length and not bring up the brilliance in structure and execution of the major battle scenes. Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers is probably the best battle in film history. Everything about it is remarkable from the set design to the intricate detailing in the costumes and props and then the performances are on top form to boot. It comes at a point in the story where Sauron has managed to accumulate a large 100,000 strong Orc army thanks to the evil Wizard, Saruman (Christopher Lee). The odds are stacked against the soldiers of Rohan but they still vow to battle until the very end. The arrival of the elves from Lothlórien, led by Haldir (Craig Parker), marks a significant shift in the Middle Earth universe as elves infamously refuse to involve themselves in war but the threat of darkness forces them to fight alongside. It makes for an epic battle and one of the most devastating deaths in the trilogy as Haldir meets his end defending Aragorn. Other scenes that are remarkable include Boromir’s death in Fellowship of the Ring which I remember being the first death that I encountered in film and being perplexed that a “good guy” could die in a film. The great thing about The Lord of the Rings trilogy is that it does not patronise the audience but it is suitable for all audiences (maybe not smaller children but from around 6/7 upwards). Even the ending is bittersweet as Frodo sails off for the Undying Lands, leaving the others forever. It isn’t afraid to delve into serious topics while remaining in that fantasy universe and being larger than life.

I would be lying if I said that these films didn’t change my life and my outlook on film. I watch the extended editions every few months and fall in love more and more. There is a strong argument that they are among the greatest films in history and deserve their place one of the most renowned series for its depth and scope. I remember seeing them for the first time in the cinema and being scared and in awe at the same time. I was so captivated that I would watch them on a loop for months on end. It’s amazing to think that these films were such a huge part of my childhood but they are so important to me and I’ll never stop loving them.

What do you think of the The Lord of the Rings? Which installment is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!

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