Film(s) #11 on the 100 Movies Bucket List: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Film 11 is actually the three films that make up the Lord of the Rings trilogy: Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King. Whilst I can entirely understand featuring the trilogy as a whole, especially as they were filmed back to back and follow the same continuing storyline, as a watcher this is a tad frustrating. The extended editions of these films, which I own, of course, come in at a hefty runtime of just under 12 hours and this means a marathon of a film screening. But gripes about the runtime aside, this trilogy is still every bit the epic I remember it being when they were first released nearly 20 years ago.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is based on JRR Tolkien’s book of the same name and follows Frodo (Elijah Wood), a hobbit who must journey to the darkest lands of Mordor to destroy a powerful ring before it falls into the hands of the evil lord Sauron. Throughout Frodo’s journey across Middle Earth, he is accompanied by a 9 strong fellowship: hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd); men Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean); elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). All of whom must also face their own battles in the war to defeat Sauron.
At the time these films were released between 2001 and 2003, we’d never seen filmmaking taken to such extremes and I’d argue that aside from the later Hobbit film trilogy (the less said about those the better), we still haven’t seen anything like it in the decades since. To film these back to back over 15 months with an immense cast, and sets and filming locations across New Zealand is no mean feat and watching these back you can really appreciate the sheer amount of work that has gone into these films. The cinematography is stunning and really highlights the beautiful scenery of New Zealand, and the CGI for its time was beyond impressive. The motion capture technology used for Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Gollum was incredible and like nothing we’d seen before. All of this paired with Howard Shore’s hugely memorable and iconic score makes for a superb bit of filmmaking.
What makes director Peter Jackson’s take on Lord of the Rings so engaging is the story and the fact that there’s nothing in the main plot that is unnecessary. Jackson had removed all of the erroneous side plots from the book (think Tom Bombadil) yet kept the main thread of the story intact, which effortlessly weaves serious fantasy and war with some rather light-hearted and funny moments. While I would normally be an advocate of books over their film counterparts, I happily make an exception for the Lord of the Rings. The films are definitely better than the book. They’re also helped by a stellar cast, from seasoned veterans like Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee (Saruman) to relative newcomers at the time like Viggo Mortensen, who has by far a standout performance, all do their part to make this trilogy come alive.
This isn’t to say that the trilogy is flawless. Whilst the films look good for their age, some of the special effects haven’t aged quite as well as you’d expect and there are some that are looking decidedly ragged around the edges – Treebeard in Fangorn forest is but one example. The casting of Orlando Bloom was also a questionable one. His acting skills are limited at best, and while he is meant to be playing a rather emotionless elf, his performance is very poor compared the rest of the elvish actors. He probably isn’t helped by the fact that Legolas has been given some rather ridiculous and farfetched acrobatics that just look quite silly. And then there’s Éowyn, who is possibly one of the most irritating characters of all, her doe-eyed fawning over Aragorn completely overruling the tough, feisty woman she’s trying to be. Finally, I’d also question whether the extended editions are truly necessary, which I appreciate does make me a bit of a hypocrite considering I own them. They might include scenes we’d never seen in the theatrical releases, but I’d argue that none of these adds particularly much to the overall story.
However, despite these flaws, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is undeniably an epic masterclass in filmmaking from Peter Jackson and these are 3 films that you won’t forget in a hurry.