Top positive review
524 people found this helpful
A miraculous accomplishment
on October 20, 2004
Peter Jackson proved me wrong when I said, like many people, that Lord of the Rings would be a bust: Spielberg-adventure at best, Lucas-disaster at worst. Had I known Tolkien's classic was in the hands of the guy who directed Heavenly Creatures, I would have been more optimistic. As it turns out, my expectations were completely overturned. In some ways the films are actually better than the books, especially in terms of emotional power. Competent actors, amazing cinematography, and a brilliant music score combine to offer us Middle-Earth as we'd never imagined it.
Fellowship of the Ring is the most polished film, with its elegant episodic pacing. We start in the idyllic world of the hobbits and flee with Ringwraiths hot on our heels; we rest in Elrond's sanctuary and plunge into Moria; we come out grieving and console ourselves in Galadriel's safe (yet unsettling) dream-wood, and then wind up surrounded by Uruk-hai. This is a quintessential fantasy road-journey containing three episodes within an episode, each beginning in a haven and followed by a dark journey. The pacing is flawless, and the plot unfolds to a perfect beat.
Two Towers is the ambiguous film. It's excellent (or at least the extended version is) but structured in a way that the hobbits become sidelined by the Rohan story. As they are the soul of Tolkien's epic, we feel slightly nonplussed at their consignment to B-storylines. Ironically, the film is a showcase for cgi characters Gollum and Treebeard, who manage to steal the show from within these storylines.
Return of the King is the most dramatic film, tragic on almost a biblical level, and certainly the most satisfying. I can understand why Elijah Wood calls it "better than one and two combined". It centers on the hopeless mission to Mount Doom, which, as every fan knows, is the heart of the story. Around this we're bombarded by apocalyptic chaos and destruction on the Pelennor Fields, followed by Aragorn's hopeless march on the Black Gate. We finish at the Grey Havens, the best ending in literary and cinematic history, which encapsulates all of Tolkien's themes: courage, friendship, suffering, and passing on. It just doesn't get better than this.
Peter Jackson deserves more accolades than I'm capable of heaping to the point of overkill. Minor quibbles aside, the extended versions of these films are masterpieces to be treasured as much as the books. Tolkien's classic may be pure, but the movie's cinematography takes us where even the written word cannot go. Tolkien's writing is irreplaceable, but Howard Shore's music taps deeper into Middle-Earth's soul. The text is sacred, but the scriptwriters changed it anyway so that it could actually work on screen. The entire project has been too good to be true, and I'm still in awe of it.