After watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last week I felt like it was long overdue time I revisited Peter Jackson’s earlier visits to Middle Earth so I embarked on the quest like pass time that is watching all three of the extended cuts of The Lord of the Rings movies within the week and, to my own surprise, managed to do this (for those who don’t know that’s around 10 hours of movie watching).
To be honest, going in I was a bit worried how much I was looking back on my enjoyment of these films with rose-tinted spectacles as I was one of many caught up in the general excitement around their release both theatrically and then on DVD, but this fear soon slipped away.
From the start its clear that Jackson created a very complete world in these films as we get to see both the history, in the form of the battle of the elves and men with Sauron’s forces and the introduction of the history of the Ring, and the present home life of Bilbo, Frodo and the Hobbits of The Shire.
This aspect of creating a world is what really makes the whole trilogy something so impressive. Across its epic running time we travel all over Tolkien’s Middle Earth from The Shire, through the dwarf mines of Moria to the plains of Rohan while heading to Isengard and Gondor and, of course, eventually, Mordor.
Each of these locations is shown as their own separate kingdoms with differing geography, wildlife and architecture marking each. While all of these obviously draw on Tolkein’s work the way in which it is done is very impressive as, when showing a pseudo-medieval world, it would be very easy for it all to fall into a very standard look, but here this never happens as New Zealand is tweaked with CGI to create a unique vision that I’ve only seen Game of Thrones (which borrows a lot from this) come close to recreating.
I’m intentionally steering away from the plot in this review as, obviously, that comes from the source novels, though with tweaks, but Jackson and his vast team’s delivery of this story is phenomenal as they wrangle a large cast of characters and make us feel for all of them as their quests take them on divergent paths, making them all true individuals giving the films a sense of emotion and heart that I never found in my attempts on the books.
The other thing that impressed me on this rewatch of the trilogy was how well the special effects stand up a decade on. Even a few years after their release such effects heavy blockbusters as The Matrix had dated but here, with a few exceptions of videogame-like CG characters, the effects are as impressive now as they were on release.
Particularly memorable are the armies during the battles of Helms Deep and Pelennor Fields who, though almost entirely CG, are totally convincing and the edits to live action and model shots within the battles are seamless.
While, for me, The Fellowship of the Ring was the most engrossing of the three movies, both The Two Towers and The Return of the King come very close and what I remembered being a very drawn out ending to the trilogy actually seems fitting and ties all the characters together in a suitable and satisfactory way, even if Gimli and Legolas are somewhat sidelined at this stage as the age of men dawns and the elves and dwarves slide further into the shadows.
With such a well created and impressive trilogy under his belt I am very much looking forward to the remaining two Hobbit films and hope Jackson can repeat his success, though it’s going to take some doing to capture what he did in The Lord of the Rings once more.