johnlink ranks THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001, 2002, 2003)

Long ago I meant to do this – to watch all of the LORD OF THE RINGS movie in a short window and write about them as one large film – and now I have.

Lord_of_the_Rings_Fellowship_Cast

I watched the extended versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY – FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001), THE TWO TOWERS (2002), and THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) – between 8.20.15 and 8.29.15. For FELLOWSHIP it was my fifth viewing, for TWO TOWERS it was my fourth viewing, and for RETURN OF THE KING it was my second viewing, though the first time I had watched the extended version. I watched (and wrote about) the first two films in January of last year, but have not seen the last film since it was in theaters.

Considering these movies as a trilogy rather than as a single film makes a good deal of sense. More than any other major film trilogy up that point in cinema history, perhaps no set of films had seen more coordinated of an effort from the inception to the end credits of the last film. While Peter Jackson’s HOBBIT trilogy certainly muddied the waters, this original trilogy was so widely considered to be a predetermined long-term affair that the Oscars basically ignored the whole thing until giving the last film a whole ton of awards. It was maybe the first time that a movie series was given a sort of ‘lifetime achievement’ recognition – certainly the third film wasn’t vastly better than the first two – but it made sense.

That is has been almost fifteen years since the first film hit theaters is extraordinary. So many actors in this film have gone on to enjoy long careers. Some, like Viggo Mortensen are most remembered for this character (Strider or Aragorn depending on who is addressing him) even if they had other seminal film roles. Some, like Liv Tyler – who, unbelievably, may have been the biggest name in the film when the first one came out – were cashing in on success from the 90s. Others, such as Karl Urban (playing Eomer) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas) used this as a springboard to success. Christopher Lee, as the villainous Saruman, turned out to give one of the seminal performances late in a career filled with iconic characters. His involvement in the STAR WARS prequels also lumps him in with someone like Ian McKellen (Gandalf, of course) who was staring in the major X-MEN trilogy at the same time as he was making this.

Roturn_King-Minas_Tirith

And that doesn’t even get into so many other stories. The trilogy is filled with actors who had done great work or no work or stage work or voice work. Then there is even the oddity of Flight of the Conchord’s star Bret McKenzie getting a walk-on role as an elf in the first film just because he happened to be a New Zealander looking for extra work.

The story, by now, is famous. A hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood) is tasked with returning a ring of evil into the heart of darkness to destroy it in the fires from which it was born. He is guided by the wizard Gandalf and accompanied on this quest by his best friend Sam (Sean Astin). Also forming the original fellowship are humans Aragorn and Boromir (Sean Bean), the elf Legolas, the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davis who also later voices a tree – which might sound weird if you have no idea what LORD OF THE RINGS is), and two comic relief hobbits, Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd). They are tasked with this job because the evil dark lord Sauron (with the help of the living evil wizard Sauruman) is gaining strength and building and army of goblins and orcs to wipe out all of Middle Earth.

The flow of the movies is certainly impressive. Even if they were filmed at once and edited with a whole in mind, they do each have their own flow. The start of the second film, for example, is filled with some witty dialogue looking to lighten the mood after a heavy second half of FELLOWSHIP.

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The first movie has some hitches in its script. Some of this is born form the source novels of Tolkien. We see Gandalf talk to a bug who then summons him a giant bird to free him from a tower. Yet, later, when an issue of crossing mountains comes up this option seems to be off the table. Later, a scenario happens where thousands of goblins are about to kill our heroes, and a conveniently timed ‘bigger threat’ shows up scaring away the sure death. That ‘bigger threat’ turns out to be less dangerous. But these are minor hiccups noticed perhaps more after a number of viewings. For the most part the story is solid as can be. The dialogue, always, is fun and important. The performances are top notch. The entertainment value never wavers. One cannot simply walk into a fantasy film and not have some issues. But FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING certainly sets a very high standard towards which the others must strive.

The second movie, particularly the extended version, takes long deep breaths of air. There are monologues within this film which almost serve as table setters for the next section of film. Some are from our main characters, some are from some smaller characters. All of posturing and plotting and planning seems to lead to unexpected circumstances at best, and to death at worst. But truly, this is all a film about a giant battle spanning the last third of a four hour film: The Battle for Helm’s Deep.

This battle is truly epic filmmaking on a grand scale. The special effects are mostly good, the battle feels dangerous, the heroes do valiant things, and we have a bunch of surprisingly brutal PG-13 battle effects (much more so than the subdued HOBBIT films would contain a decade later). Helm’s Deep may not be the best siege ever put to film, but it certainly is on the list of the most memorable ones. It may feel, somehow, a bit anticlimactic after seven hours of film, but it still does manage to put a heck of an exclamation point on the end of the second film.

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Mostly, though, there needs to be talk of the motion capture/voice performance of Andy Serkis as Gollum. His take on the is-he-or-is-he-not-a-villain role is truly remarkable. The CGI for this character are top notch, but it is the voice of Serkis which really helps drive the schizophrenic Gollum in some of the film’s most vital scenes. There is a reason that character (and that voice) has been the most parodied and imitated thing about this entire landmark series. In terms of iconic imagery, Gollum’s crouching grotesqueness is right alongside the picture of Frodo on the ground with the ring about to fall on his finger.

The third film, THE RETURN OF THE KING, wraps everything up over the course of more than four hours (in the extended version). Peter Jackson doubles down on focusing on the battle. Indeed, much of the last two hours of the film consider the battle for humanity and then a quick diversionary battle. This film is when the actors are asked to stretch the most. Mortensen’s Aragorn must spread his wings as a leader – a role he is uncomfortable with. Sean Astin and Elijah Wood have to play the most complex and intricate moments of the Sam/Frodo relationship. All around, the weightiest moments of the trilogy are stacked one after another here. Without fail, the actors are up to the challenge.

The ‘epilogue’ of the film has been ridiculed as too long. But to consider it as such is to consider it as the culmination of a single film rather than the third act of a three movie arc. Watching these movies in the course of a week, the ending doesn’t feel nearly as long as it did over a decade ago when seeing it in the theater meant catching it as more of a stand-alone film. Some of the most interesting stuff in LORD OF THE RINGS happens in those last few minutes. Or, simply asked, what is with the boat? Answers are spoilers, of course, but Jackson is a little less direct in his answers than Tolkein was in the novels.

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Watching all of these films as one is really the only way it should be done. Some trilogies and movie series don’t require such a narrow focus. But the LORD OF THE RINGS, under the masterful direction of Peter Jackson, really predict the ten or twelve part epic television event that has since become so prevalent, only the grand scale of the LotR trilogy is on a step way above all but the very best of television. As far as epic filmmaking goes, this trilogy is the standard bearer of epic 21st century filmmaking. None have been able to approach its critical and audience success, even as many (like Jackson with the lesser HOBBIT trilogy) have tried. HARRY POTTER is probably a not-too-distant second, but LORD OF THE RINGS does it better and in less time.

SCORES

FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS

FILM: 9; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 8; WRITING: 7; BONUS 2 (music and cinematography)

9+9+8+7+2=35

FotR FINAL SCORE: 8.75 out of 10

THE TWO TOWERS

FILM: 8; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 8; WRITING: 8: BONUS: 1 (cinematography)

8+9+8+8+1=34

TTT FINAL SCORE: 8.5 out of 10

THE RETURN OF THE KING

FILM: 9; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 9; WRITING: 8; BONUS: 1 (cinematography)

9+9+9+8+1=36

TRotK FINAL SCORE: 9 out of 10

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~ by johnlink00 on August 30, 2015.

5 Responses to “johnlink ranks THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001, 2002, 2003)”

  1. The Oscars needs to add a Best Vocal Performance category to reward the likes of Andy Serkis (and many others from animated movies–Ellen Degeneres’ Dory comes to mind as an example).

    Also, Sean Astin should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the third film. The emotional and heroic journey of Sam in that film is astounding.

  2. Nice reviews! Lol… Damn. My guest one is posting tomorrow. Sorry for the mix-up! I love these films. I remember booking half a day off work to see the final one. Epic. I really need to rewatch them all. Never have the time!

    • No worries! Looking forward to reading it.
      The theater I used to manage used to do all 3 extended versions in one day every year. I never made it to one of those, but I think that is the way to do it!

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