The Lord of the Rings trilogy

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Rating: A

Dir: Peter Jackson
Star: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee

I got bored with the books before getting to the end of the first – hey, I was a teenager – so am not really qualified to comment on how faithful it is to the books (not that I care much, anyway). What I do know is that this is fabulous film, a genuine epic that will have you wishing part two came out next week instead of next year. This is despite a terrible hole at its center, in the shape of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his hobbit friends. They are disturbingly non-heroic, and not very interesting either: it’s little wonder a lot of the publicity has focussed on Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, who is much more engaging and appealing.

Wood does little but wear an expression of concerned bemusement. Or is it bemused concern…?  Anyway, it looks fabulous, and would be worth seeing again purely to wonder at the sets and landscapes. The trip through the Mines of Moria would be a fitting climax to any other film, while the romance between Aragorn and elven maid (Liv Tyler) has “hopelessly doomed” written all over it. It certainly caused me to get in touch with my sense of wonder – and while I still don’t want to read the books, it’s simply because Peter Jackson’s imagination is more than a match for anything mine can deliver.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Rating: B

Dir: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin

The good news is, this is a fabulous two hours of cinema. The bad news is, it’s almost three hours long. This was always likely to be the trickiest installment, suffering from the inevitable problems of being a film without a beginning, no proper end, and several groups of characters to follow. Jackson would have been wise to hack out even more. Get rid of the talking trees, for a start, since the last thing we needed during the climactic, amazing battle for Helm’s Deep was to cut away to scenes of procrastinating foliage. We could have done with less Frodo – still wearing that same expression – and Sam too, since at the end, they’re plodding towards Mordor, pretty much as they were at the beginning.

Admittedly, this would rob us of the delights of Gollum, a CGI character (though calling him CGI enhanced would be fairer to actor Andy Serkis) which surpasses any other yet seen. The main focus is once more Aragorn (Mortensen), who starts off trying to rescue the hobbits captured at the end of part one, before diversion into rescuing the kingdom of Rohan from evil. This ultimately leads to Helm’s Deep, and a sequence powerful enough to make you forget the flaws, such as the reduction of Saruman to an almost impotent figure. But the failings are there, none the less, and they make this a significantly less effective movie than the first. However, as with Fellowship, the prospect of having to wait another year fills me with dismay; Return of the King easily remains 2003’s most-anticipated film.

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Rating: A

Dir: Peter Jackson
Star: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin

What a long, strange journey it has been. Not just for Frodo and pals though; as adventures go, both Peter Jackson and I could tell some tales. Back in April 1989, in issue 1 of Trash City, I reported on the Black Sunday film festival; it should have been the UK premiere of Jackson’s first feature, Brain Dead, but the film was seized by Customs. If you’d told me then that I’d now be happily married, inhabit Arizona and sell beads for a living, or Peter that he’d be the favourite for this year’s Oscars and could make whatever movie he wants, I’m sure we’d both have laughed hysterically. Yet here we are.

This is what cinema is about: telling a story that’s entirely engrossing on every level, technically and emotionally. I watched the climactic battle with my mouth open, each shot bringing a new wonder with a sense of awe very rarely experienced. Yet my lip still quivered poignantly as Eowen (Miranda Otto) comforted her dying father (Bernard Hill), or when Aragorn and his true love reunite, and I laughed as Gimli and Legolas tallied their kills. “That still only counts as one!”, bickers the dwarf as the elf single-handedly takes out…oh, go see it. Again. On the largest screen possible.

The best tales are the simplest, and for all its trappings, Return is ‘merely’ good vs. evil – just with the world at stake. My sole qualm is an ending which went on several steps beyond what was necessary; everything after Aragorn’s coronation is superfluous bow-tying. But up until then, this fully cements the trilogy’s place in history, surpassing Star Wars or The Matrix to become the greatest work of imaginative cinema ever. Still haven’t read the books – and now, I doubt I ever shall. As Chris pointed out, if Return does not win the Best Picture Oscar it deserves, Hollywood can go fuck itself. After this, any other movie might as well be on bootleg Taiwanese VCD anyway…