This is it, the top of my list and, in my opinion, the greatest trilogy ever made. I know that is a tall claim, but no other film series matches the emotional power, memorable characterization, and epic scope of Peter Jackson’s original cinematic tour de force. Before their release, I had never read the books or had any exposure to J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic magnum opus, so these films came as a total surprise to my family and me; what we expected to be “just another movie” turned out to be something truly magnificent.
The Fellowship of the Ring has been acclaimed as the greatest fantasy film of all time; even with the detractions of literary purists, the film certainly succeeds in crafting a wholly convincing Middle-earth and capturing the spirit of its diverse inhabitants: the curly-haired tranquility of Hobbiton; the Stygian menace of the Nazgûl; the luminous nobility of the elves; and the repulsive terror of orcs, balrogs, and the Kraken’s second cousin. The hobbits especially are among the series’ most endearing creations, bucolic folk fond of peace, pubs, and pipes but capable of unexpected heroism.
Fellowship is more episodic than the other two films, as the travelers grow in number and pass from city to wilderness to caves to forest to river, yet amid all the walking, we get to know these characters more deeply than one would expect: hesitant Frodo, faithful Sam, the comic relief duo of Merry and Pippin, sapient Gandalf, conflicted lover Aragorn, awesome Legolas, untossable dwarf Gimli, corruptible Boromir, and so on. The film also features my favorite sequence of the entire trilogy, the tense and visually stunning journey through Moria, full of colossal architecture, subtle wisdom, fearsome creatures, and a climactic sacrifice. The showdown with the troll and the Khazad-dûm collapse were the turning point that convinced me of the immensity of this story, and Frodo’s world-weary gaze once they escape confirmed its emotional punch. By the end of the film, I’m always eager for more.
Being bookended by even greater films, The Two Towers is understandably the least of the trilogy, but it nonetheless includes some essential additions to an already exceptional cast. While the sudden introduction of Rohan’s horsemasters (with similar names like Éowyn, Éomer, Théoden, Théodred, etc.) might be confusing for the uninitiated, they add another texture to this captivating land. Though the flesh-and-blood characters are engaging enough, the special effects team outdid themselves with two brilliantly rendered eccentrics. Andy Serkis’s motion-capture performance as Gollum/Sméagol is among the film’s highlights, his raspy voice and spindling physicality perfectly capturing the creature’s tragic state and inner turmoil. Likewise, Treebeard’s lumbering presence is as convincing a living tree as one can imagine, and the deep, protracted voice of John Rhys-Davies (doubling as Gimli) fits him to a tree…I mean, tee. Again, there is no shortage of riveting action sequences, including a skirmish between riders of horses and wargs, the prodigious siege of Helm’s Deep which surpasses any other depiction of medieval warfare, and my second favorite battle sequence of all, the attack of the Ents on Isengard. The latter two battles converge in the climax for a truly epic conclusion, even as Sam delivers a heartfelt speech setting the noble yet very human stakes.
My VC was especially eager for The Return of the King and, not being familiar with the books, was constantly terrified for the beloved characters, especially Frodo. She was pretty much in tears for the entire latter half of the film, from concern and happiness and from the sheer epic scale of the images before her. While it didn’t have quite the same effect on me, I wholeheartedly agree that this third film is the greatest ever made, as the culmination of the trilogy and a monumental depiction of the triumph of good over evil. Along with Titanic and Ben-Hur, it won the most Oscars ever, eleven total, and holds the record for the greatest Oscar sweep since it won everything for which it was nominated; it’s also the only fantasy film to win Best Picture and deservedly so. After journeying through two already admired films with these characters, the emotions are in high gear, devastated grief at Faramir’s sacrifice and Frodo’s rejection of Sam, heartache at Théoden’s final moments and Shelob’s stabbing of Frodo, bittersweet joy at the quest’s success and Frodo’s relieved parting glance. Like the previous two films, there are moments of unbridled awesomeness worthy of sudden cheering, like Legolas and Éomer’s single-handedly taking down enormous oliphaunts, Éowyn’s feat of female empowerment, or Aragorn’s employing an undead ace up his sleeve. The two greatest sequences are the lighting of the beacons, a perfect combination of jaw-dropping New Zealand scenery and Howard Shore’s legendary score, which is my VC’s favorite part of the whole trilogy, and the battle of the Pelennor Fields, particularly Théoden’s charge; the looks of fear on the orcs’ faces are what I imagine will be seen when the Lord returns and evil is finally stamped out. Though the multiple endings have drawn some criticism and even mockery, none of them are needless, and all serve as most satisfying closure, perhaps just with a bit too much fading in and out. Every time the credits start to roll, I feel that I’ve watched something magnificent.
Since I first saw The Lord of the Rings trilogy, my family and I have become fast fans, buying enough merchandise to probably finance one of The Hobbit films. We’ve purchased the original books, guide books, books about the films, a documentary about the films, calendars, CDs of the score, action figure playsets, and both the original films and the extended edition box set. The extended edition is now our preferred version, contributing nearly two hours of fascinating additions that complement rather than detract from the original. It’s become a tradition for my family to watch all three films in a row, usually around Christmas, as an annual reminder of how much we love this story.
While I typically shy away from violent films, and The Lord of the Rings does contain plenty of hacking and even decapitations, the battle scenes still show considerable restraint for the most part, especially for a director known for gory horror movies; plus, the film’s fantasy setting precludes any instances of profanity or foul language, which isn’t even missed. Instead, the language carries a memorable nobility foreign to modern-set films, such as the monologues of encouragement from Gandalf or from various warriors before battle (“Ride for ruin and the world’s ending!”; “It is not this day!”) The music is also particularly marvelous, and Fellowship’s “May It Be” by Enya and The Return of the King’s “Into the West,” performed by Annie Lennox, easily make my End Credits Song Hall of Fame. (“Gollum’s Song” at the end of The Two Towers isn’t quite in the same league.) In addition, it occurred to me that one more reason I enjoy the films is that Frodo’s journey at least could be considered a “meet-‘em-and-move-on” story, since he encounters several others on his quest and is ultimately reunited with many of them. By the way, (Lost alert) I must mention Dominic Monaghan, who plays Merry as well as troubled rocker Charlie on my favorite TV show and who turned out to be a major draw for me to check out Lost, which started the year after The Return of the King was released.
(On a side note, I do want to explain my wholehearted embracing of this franchise in contrast with my dislike of the Harry Potter series. While both feature magic, however fantastical, Tolkien’s tales do not employ magic as a focus and ongoing interest for his characters, and they are set in an untouchable fantasy realm as opposed to a setting and time recognizably similar to our own. In some ways, it’s a fine line, but one that Rowling’s stories cross enough to warrant caution, to my mind. My opinions match those further expanded in this long article by film critic Steven Greydanus: http://www.decentfilms.com/articles/magic.)
The Lord of the Rings will forever stand as a landmark of cinema, especially impressive coming from an only mildly esteemed horror director like Peter Jackson, who certainly earned a name for himself. No other film can match the blend of utterly beautiful scenery, memorable music, realistic effects of every kind, Oscar-winning makeup, detailed armor and weaponry, brilliant ensemble acting, impressive artistry, unparalleled thrills, heart-wrenching pathos, and tear-worthy gratification. Some films rival or even surpass certain such aspects, but not all of them. All the awards won by the third film were undoubtedly meant for the trilogy as a whole, for no other director has shot a trilogy back to back like Jackson did, an achievement he repeated with The Hobbit and one that I don’t think is appreciated enough. George Lucas took three years between each of the Star Wars films, and James Cameron recently had to postpone his planned Avatar sequel trilogy because of the massive effort involved in shooting back-to-back films. It’s obviously harder than it seems. The Hobbit trilogy may not measure up to Jackson’s original achievement, but nothing really could. They are untouchable, masterpieces of fantasy to match their literary counterparts, despite certain alterations.
This film list of mine has been a long road, but its end is one worth revisiting again and again. I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of this list.Best lines from The Fellowship of the Ring: (Gandalf, catching Sam after talking with Frodo) “Confound it all, Samwise Gamgee. Have you been eavesdropping?” (Sam) “I ain’t been droppin’ no eaves, sir, honest. I was just cutting the grass under the window there, if you’ll follow me.” (Gandalf) “A little late for trimming the verge, don’t you think?” (Sam) “I heard raised voices.” (Gandalf) “What did you hear? Speak.” (Sam) “N-nothing important. That is, I heard a good deal about a ring, and a Dark Lord, and something about the end of the world, but… please, Mr. Gandalf, sir, don’t hurt me. Don’t turn me into anything… unnatural.” and (Frodo) “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” (Gandalf) “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” Best lines from The Two Towers: (Treebeard) “I always like going south. Somehow, it feels like going downhill.” and (Sam) “Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.” (Frodo) “What are we holding onto, Sam?” (Sam) “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” Best lines from The Return of the King: (Gimli, after Legolas’s oliphaunt takedown) “That still only counts as one!” and (Frodo, after the success of their quest) “I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.” Rank: 60 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
286 Followers and Counting