Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Fantasy/Adventure | 0 comments

Disclaimer: Hundreds of acts of violence, probably just as many scares, a handful of scenes with smoking and drinking, and one ring (to rule them all).

It still boggles my mind that New Line Cinema gave this cinematic undertaking to Peter Jackson. They had the rights to one of the most influential and talked about pieces of literature in this century. And being a fantasy action-adventure, one that naturally lent itself to a film adaptation. Not only did they have their hands on that, but also, oh I don’t know, how about no less than 16 months of on-location filming, eight years of total project time, 11 hours of running time, and $280 million! I could understand Lucas or Spielberg; hell, I would have even understood Terry Gilliam or Werner Herzog. But no, they gave this project to Peter Jackson, whose previous film was goofy horror-comedy The Frighteners. Don’t get me wrong, his independent feature Heavenly Creatures is nothing short of fantastic, but by no means signals readiness for the most epic series in history.

All things considered, he did a pretty damn good job, though I do have a few reservations. Like Star Wars, the films showcased incredible landscape photography (in Jackson’s homeland of New Zealand) and groundbreaking CGI and effects (including camera tricks like forced perspective), leading to huge box office success, psychotic fans, loads of merchandising, and endless replication. We can’t take that away from him. Nope. Only further exploitation can take that away (as Lucas showed us with the Star Wars prequels and Spielberg demonstrated with the fourth Indiana Jones). And wouldn’t you know it? Jackson is wrapping up the on-again-off-again haiatus that is The Hobbit prequel (split into two installments for 2012 and 2013). How much you wanna bet The Simarillion comes next?

The story generally gives the account of a small group of individuals, representative to the races of “good guys” in existence (though no females!), appointed by a council to go on a 13-month quest to destroy a ring. The smallest and least significant of the group acts as courier for the gold band, which despite its size is actually monstrously significant. Like Star Wars, the plot is increasingly complicated, but kids will pick up more than you think. If they don’t, all they need to know is that good guys and bad guys fight over a piece of jewelry.

Within this framework, author JRR Tolkien infused mythology, religion, politics, war, and commentary on industrialization (among other things). It’s also a little bit road movie, and a little bit homoerotic buddy flick. It’s chock full of morality lessons and themes, including: appreciate nature, treat gender and races equally, everyone can make a difference, carpe diem, death is another journey, there is such a thing as fate/destiny, you can’t escape the past, throw away political differences, and avoid strange jewelry.


Tolkien took some real-life creatures and invented some of his own to populate the lands of Middle-earth. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, and Ian Holm play the hobbits, the miniature heroes of the story. Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, and Miranda Otto are the major “men” or human characters. Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee play rival wizards, while Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, and Hugo Weaving play peaceful elves. John Rhys-Davies doubles as the most prominent ent (giant, talking tree) and dwarf, while Andy Serkis steals the show as the mind-warped Golum. And don’t forget the orcs, wraiths, trolls, demons, goblins, sea monsters, ghosts, and all-seeing eye.

As you could probably gather from the creatures, these stories and films aren’t for the easily frightened. The first movie is probably the least scary and most kid-friendly, but all of them contain moments that most elementary-aged kids might not handle (plus who wants to only see the first one?). The second is the poorest (least exciting, least eventful, and drags the most), and merely acts as a bridge to the best (by far) in the series. The final installment contains at least three cohesive endings and five tearjerker moments, the most breathtaking of which takes place atop a towering castle during a ceremony to crown a new king. As the little hobbits begin to bow out of respect of the king, he stops them saying, “You bow to no one.” Slowly, the hundreds present dip to their knees for the Halflings. Whew. Emotional stuff.

So the trilogy garnered 30 Oscar nominations LOTR2and 17 statuettes (Return of the King took home 11 of them including best picture and director, all three won for visual effects). It also took home a shade under $3 billion. OK, sure. But may I please cast a little blame toward LOTR (not as much as Star Wars)? This trilogy propagated the unnecessary use of green screens in cinema, leading to horrid flicks that relied on them more than a script (King Kong, the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and Speed Racer). If you ask me, and perhaps a few others, Tolkien’s works did not need drawn-out battles or green screen theatrics. The stories are about so much more, and to give center stage to the action is doing a disservice to them.

“One feels at the end that nothing actual and human has been at stake; cartoon characters in a fantasy world have been brought along about as far as it is possible for them to come, and while we applaud the achievement, the trilogy is more a work for adolescents (of all ages) than for those hungering for truthful emotion thoughtfully paid for,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review.

Some literary critics went further and bashed the adaptations, saying they weren’t faithful enough to Tolkien’s text. And some überfans (the types that watch these movies back-to-back during their free time) were so pissed about the changes that they re-edited the series and released an eight-hour Purist Edition. Face it, super-fans, if they can’t do it in 11 hours and with $280 million, it isn’t happening … ever.

I completed the 11-hour marathon one day, watching them back-to-back, and by the end I could barely see straight. I mean how many times do they have to say, in an ominous voice, “the time has come” or “now is the age?” And what’s with all the “Oh-no-someone-died-or-wait-did-they?” moments. And I felt a tad bit overloaded with masculinity. I mean think about it, Eowyn is the only one who has even one shining “you-go-girl” moment. Oh my god … did I just … yep, sure enough … I used the term “you go girl.” Maybe I need to overload on masculinity a bit more. Let’s do a Kurt Russell marathon this time. Yeah … Kurt Russell.

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