by Daniel Suddes
Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003) Director: Peter Jackson Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson Starring: Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Ian Mckellen, Vigo Mortessen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett OSCAR COUNT (17 in total)
Maybe I am cheating by including all of the films in one category. If it helps, Return of the King is the best of the three. But I don’t think that the individual parts were meant to stand alone. It was all just a portion of a greater whole.
The fact of the matter is, each of these films is special. They feel like the end of a long journey. Many filmmakers and celebrities (including Stanley Kubrick and The Beatles) had tried to film these books. Ralph Bakshi even managed to get one released. Whether or not it was a good adaptation, I shall leave to audiences. But Peter Jackson’s take will become not just the definitive version, but is already the great screen events of the ‘naughts’ and is something that others are hopelessly trying to replicate.
In many ways, Peter Jackson was both the best choice and the most bizarre choice for the project. His earlier B-movies showed an enormous amount of skill in blending special effects with life action. His debut, Bad Taste, was not only cheesy but hilarious and entirely convincing. I came out of that film believing in the spectacle Jackson had created for audiences.
It was that approach that made Lord of the Rings work to begin with. I know many who consider Tolkein’s work to be cheesy and light – and in many ways, they are correct. As Bakshi demonstrated, it would be very easy to turn it into an unintentional comedy. But then, Jackson treated the work with a certain amount of reverence. He believed that doing so would expose the traditional mythologies, the examination of the hero’s journey, and even religious themes.
Now, it would be ridiculous to talk about these films without talking about the significant strides in special effects they made. The films still look quite good – armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands have been created from scratch, and creatures that never could exist come to haunt everyone, and actors are turned into computer enhanced characters that could not exist otherwise. I am not sure why I still feel that this film is more effective than others with its special effects. After all, since the release of this film, many others have managed to replicate the effects Lord of the Rings pioneered. But the film still feels more convincing than its imitators.
Maybe it’s because the effects feel necessary rather than gimmicky. It would be very difficult to get sufficient visuals necessary to tell the story. Besides, usually, the film manages incorporate live actors with the effects. In other films, it looks stiff an awkward. But here it looks not only fantastic, but downright necessary. I cannot imagine, say, Gollum being done in using any other method.
And yes, that is why the film is great. In case you cannot notice a theme, films that are solely built on their special effects rarely last. They are nothing more than technical exercises. Lord of the Rings is certainly manages to surpass those. It is exactly the old sort of epic that David Lean may have constructed. It is long because it allows people to truly understand the characters. And yet many moments are still understated.
Which brings me to one of my many favorite scenes in the trilogy. Forget all of the epic battles, forget the noble deaths, forget the multiple endings. There is a moment during the journey to Mount Doom in which Frodo and Sam are eating. They are careful to ration. “I have just enough left.” “For what?” replies Frodo. “For the return journey.” “I don’t think there will be a return journey.” The scene works because of all that is not being said. It is all about the emotion that the two characters are showing. They know that it is very likely that they will die. But they do not wish to discuss this. They simply want to savor the moment that they are sharing – it may be the last.
Each part of the trilogy is filled with moments like this. Modern audiences will probably like the film for the effects. But there are so many moments that recall the great epics of the past. The film, like the books, wants to take the old mythologies and redress them for a new era. The films are also phenomenally successful in their goals. I just wonder how long it will before another moment like this come again to theaters.
Did You Know? This film has one of the most debated goofs of all time. When the film was released in theaters, many claimed that a car could be seen in the background during the scene in which Sam exclaims that he is now further away from home than ever before. Debates ensued – until Jackson confessed to the error and corrected it for the DVD release.