Essential Film: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen

Year: 2001-2003

The year of The Hobbit is finally here.  If you’re planning to go and see it, you should probably – if you haven’t already – acquaint yourself with its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  You don’t have to, since technically The Hobbit is a prequel, but if you want a more coherent movie going experience in December, I’d recommend you do.  Not just in the sense that you know who the characters are or understand the scope of the story, but also because the original trilogy is, without trying to hype it up, one of the best film series to have been released in the last ten years.

I don’t say that because The Return of the King, the third and final instalment, was the first fantasy film to win Best Picture, or because the series broke box office records, or that it’s one of a small number of trilogies where all three instalments are consistently good, or indeed that it united fans and critics for once.  I can only speak from mere personal experience, and from that experience, I know that all three instalments made for a film quite unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Rather guiltily, I’ll admit that I was very late to join the pack.  I didn’t see the films in whole until I was fifteen.  Although, in hindsight, it’s probably better that I discovered the trilogy at a later age.  I can well imagine my nine-year-old self being bored witless when they were originally released, complaining about how nonsensical and long it was, and how weirdly the characters talked and wondering what sort of people would let their feet fall into such hairy disrepair?  At least when I was older I was much less fidgety, and movies could now have a profound effect upon me, as well as being used as a way to keep me entertained for a couple of hours.

The story can be summed up simply: a long time ago, an evil dark lord called Sauron created an evil ring in a land called Middle Earth.  He was defeated, but his ring escaped unscathed and lay quietly, undisturbed for three thousand years.  It is now up to a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins to destroy it in Mount Doom, where it was forged, with the help of a motley bunch of allies known as the Fellowship.

I will admit that it’s not always an easy film to watch.  It’s very complicated.  By the time we get to The Two Towers, there are about four or five different storylines all occurring at once, and at least thirty different principal characters, whose names you are expected to remember.  But if you stick with it, you may just find yourself invested.

The stunning New Zealand landscapes and cinematography help to reel you in if, at first, the story seems a bit “seen it.”  The plot picks up speed once the ring’s true origins are discovered, however, and the quest begins.  After that, there’s barely a dull moment, with our heroes constantly pursued by evil and the ring beginning to show its corrupting influence.  There are spanners in the works at every given turn, while total strangers have to work together and trust each other in order to save the world.

Owing to pitch-perfect casting and good performances all around, you genuinely care for each character.  Sam, who just wants to lead a simple life but will never abandon Frodo, Aragorn, who feels he can never be a good king despite being the character with the highest kill count, even Gollum, the audience’s reaction to whom rests on the fact that you will pity him no matter how despicable his actions – and you do. Everyone manages to leave an impression, and you’re eager to get back to them to see how they’re getting on once the multi-threaded plot arcs begin.

But if you want to avoid that level of commitment, loads of other stuff in the films makes them a visual marvel: the creative set designs, the incredible action scenes (the Battle of the Pelannor Fields in The Return of the King being the uber-example), the revolutionary special effects, the detailed costumes and prosthetics, along with Howard Shore’s magnificent score (Buy.  It.  Now).

If you dial back on the fantastical elements, The Lord of the Rings is, at heart, a very human story about strange peoples who happen to be going through very familiar concepts (trying to ask out a girl, taking up responsibilities, just wanting to make dad proud) while surrounded by magic and monsters.  It discusses the ideas of life and death, good versus evil, courage and friendship, while also being an exciting war story, an epic fantasy and a nerve-shredding action movie.

It’s not just mere escapism; it’s about daring to be a hero, about stepping up to save everything you care about and sticking together to the bitter end.  Sounds cheesy, yes, but it strikes a chord.

So, whether or not you’re going to see The Hobbit in a couple of months, if you find yourself with a whole day ahead of you and nothing to fill it with, you should go and discover the world and characters of Middle Earth.  It’s daunting at first glance, but if you enjoy anything from vivid scenery to deep-voiced villains to plucky comic relief, there’s something for everyone in this trilogy.

By Jennifer Carr

(Originally published in Edition One, October 2012)d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);