Myself and fellow film buff Thomas Dunn were discussing the finer points of film a few weeks back, when it came to our attention that some of the notable films where our opinions differ wildly were Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. We therefore decided to go away and both write an article explaining our differing opinions.
Below is my case in favour of the trilogy. Enjoy.
Before I wax lyrical about Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy I feel I must first make a confession. *Deep breath* I didn’t absolutely hate either the Matrix sequels or the first two Pirates of the Caribbean ones. They are undeniably deeply flawed films and are never going to trouble any of my ‘best-of’ lists, but I still found myself able to watch and enjoy them. I mention this because it emphasises an important point that I should make clear at the outset….I am a sucker for a trilogy.
To be honest, even if I had absolutely detested the first of these much maligned follow ups, I wouldn’t have been able to avoid the last one as I need the cinematic closure. Predictably, my love of trilogies dates right back to an early obsession with Back to the Future, Star Wars and Indiana Jones (these last two can definitely be classed as trilogies by the way, lets not sully their good name by classing the latter day cash-ins as anything but that). The intricate plots and captivating action of these three trilogies was only amplified by their expansion to three solid movies. Obviously these classic films work just fine on their own as stand alone outings, but put together, they are arguably greater than the sum of their parts. They become a much broader story which allows you to develop an even greater attachment to the central characters.
“What does this have to do with Lord of the Rings?” I hear you cry. Well, put simply, since Star Wars came along and changed the face of popular cinema, I would argue that no other trilogy has so capably created a fantasy world in which the viewer can truly submerge themselves. That, to me, is a large part of what the appeal of Lord of the Rings is; a full fledged cinematic world which is so complete and comprehensive in its attention to detail, undeniably in part thanks to its gargantuan runtime, that you can’t help but get lost in it. It is escapism at its finest.
Even without my pre-existing love of a good trilogy, I would still argue that great credit is due to Peter Jackson for all three of the LOTR movies, as each one is highly entertaining in its own right. Jackson was the driving force behind the entire Rings saga, championing it with various studios who couldn’t grasp the Aussie’s grand vision. Turning my attention to each individual film for a moment, I’d say that Fellowship is a very strong start and definitely the most family friendly of the three. Even this is not without its darker moments though. The Nazgul’s relentless stalking of Frodo and the Fellowship’s fierce battle with the orcs in the Mines of Moria particularly stands out. The bond of the Fellowship grows rapidly on their perilous journey and very soon the great strength and importance of Aragorn becomes clear to see.
The Two Towers is my personal favourite, if for no other reason than the battle of Helms Deep which remains one of the few unequivocal successes of large scale CGI. That battle is, to use a technical term, the balls. Every time I watch it, when the rain starts to pour and the Uruk-Hai begin to march towards the keep’s walls, I settle down into my chair and prepare for the exhilaration that is to come. It never disappoints. But this is however the film where Sam and Frodo begin to become a slight distraction. Whenever the film cuts to those two huffing and puffing across middle earth like two kids being dragged around a garden centre by their mum on a Saturday, I always want the film to get back to the action. Finally comes the multi-OSCAR winning Return of the King which has the slightly less impressive battle, but still plenty of outstanding scenes. Faramir’s fateful ride out to reclaim Osgiliath, Aragorn’s first rendezvous with the ghost army and Frodo’s run-in with Shelob all stand out in my mind.
The whole trilogy is packed with memorable moments and Jackson proves himself especially adept at handling the large scale set piece. That first opening swoop over the ancient battle on the slopes of Mount Doom never fails to impress. He also keeps the dialogue and acting just the right side of cheesy and, while there is undoubtedly the odd cringe worthy line, most of them delivered by Orlando Bloom, and the odd cheesy moment of faintly homo-erotic melodrama, all of them delivered by Sam and Frodo, there are far more hits than misses. Viggo Mortensen and Ian Mckellan are spot on as Aragorn and Gandalf and, despite being landed with some of the schmaltzier moments, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin do sterling work as Frodo and Sam.
The vast crew that helped make the sets, costumes and CGI shots so seamlessly authentic also deserve high praise. On a film franchise this vast and far reaching, it could so easily have crumpled under its own ambition and got the seemingly simple things wrong. Luckily however, sets such as the picturesque village of Hobbiton and the bustling narrow streets of Minus Tirith are both impeccably designed. It’s this great attention to detail that makes the films so easy to just sit back and enjoy without noticing the join where obvious sets and props were used.
Cinema on such an epic scale has very rarely been attempted since the days of David Lean and Cecil B. De Mille and has even more rarely been achieved successfully. Whilst ‘epicness’ (this may well be a word I just made up) alone is not enough to make a trilogy great, it can certainly work in its favour when handled right. They may not be the most intricately plotted movies or the ones with the punchiest dialogue, but the three Lord of the Rings films work together superbly as a whole and offer the viewer an immersive cinematic experience that few others can truly offer. I may be a sucker for a trilogy, but this is one that truly raises the bar and can rightfully stake a claim as a landmark piece of cinema.