This past Monday, finding myself with a day off work and little else to do, I treated myself to a ‘movie marathon’: watching a few films in one go just so you can say you’ve done it. This is something only true geeks bother to do, and should never be boasted about amongst unfamiliar acquaintances or relations. I somehow managed to rope my brother in and, armed with pizzas, Pringles and copious cups of tea, we sat down to watch all three Lord of the Rings movies, neither of us having seen them for a couple of years or so. Although I didn’t really get anything new from the experience (besides noticing for the first time that the horse that rescues Aragorn from the river in The Two Towers is the same one he freed earlier on), it brought home to me once again just how wonderful these films are, working as great pieces of cinema as well as faithful adaptations of a classic literary epic. Six years on from the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, nothing suggests these magnificent films are going to date any time soon or are likely to be supplanted from their reign as the greatest fantasy movies ever made.
One could nit-pick of course, about things like omissions from the book, or the restructuring of certain sequences, or even casting decisions. But taken as a whole, I would happily argue that these films are about as close to perfect as they can get. I have no problem with any of the cast, all of whom more than do justice to their parts, and the tinkering with the structure seems valid enough to me and certainly does nothing to diminish the story. Nor did I miss those segments omitted from the original text, like the Tom Bombadil episode. Despite the odd tweak here and there, which was almost certainly necessary, I don’t think any argument could be made that these films were unfaithful in spirit to Tolkien’s work.
Beyond fidelity to the source material, what these films seem to have for me is an attitude, a real timeless quality that I believe will ensure they will be revisited for many years to come. At the time of their release, there was talk of them being ‘the Star Wars films of their generation’, and to a certain extent I think that was true. The release of each of the three films became an event, a treat to look forward to at Christmas time; especially once director Peter Jackson had knocked it out of the park with the first movie and it was safe to assume The Two Towers and The Return of the King would be of the same standard. They roped in every demographic to the multiplex in the same way that Star Wars did almost a quarter of a century earlier. They ooze class from every pore, be it the stunningly good cinematography, the magisterial score by Howard Shore (which he has since toured around the world), the wonderful cast (how could anyone else play Gandalf now besides Ian McKellan?), the jaw-dropping special effects courtesy of the now world-renowned WETA, the literate and faithful script from Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens and of course Jackson’s own direction, which never gets in the way but simply serves the story and visuals (and chucks in the occasional characteristic flourish).
Jackson thanked J.R.R. Tolkien in his Oscar acceptance speech in 2004, and obviously without that groundbreaking novel the film wouldn’t exist. But adapting such a book was no easy task and Jackson deserves all the credit he got when ROTK scooped 11 Oscars. Children and adults were instantly won over by the trilogy, reminding us all that there is no substitute for a brilliant story well told. I very much look forward to the day I can introduce my own children to Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring, perhaps one cold Sunday tea-time in December some years hence. I loathe the phrase ‘movie magic’, but perhaps here it is appropriate.