Talking about a common icebreaker…
I have real difficulty responding when asked the question, “What is your favourite film?” There are so many ways to answer this question; Do I talk about the film I personally enjoy most? Or the one I objectively think is the best made of all time (in which case I might have to list ten). Or do you want to know about a film I recently saw which is temporarily my favourite thing ever, because I’m still in the honeymoon phase? As a film student, I get asked this a lot, and at risk of seeming predictable, I almost always end up replying that my all-time personal favourite movie is Lord of the Rings.
I know what you’ll be thinking, that is a trilogy not a single film. Although this is true, the three films tell a single story start to finish, and can be taken as acts one two and three, and if I’m honest, I have never been able to pick a favourite of the three anyway. Sometimes I prefer The Two Towers, other times The Fellowship of The Ring. So rather than break my own heart, I count each of the three films as one cohesive experience and so I’m going to talk about them as a single film. This is normally the part where I would warn you about spoilers but seeing as this film series is about fifteen years old at this point, I think you’ve only yourself to blame if you haven’t seen it yet.
Growing up these films have been very important to me. My Dad used to read the books when he was younger, and so my sisters and I got introduced to it at an early age. The books by J.R.R. Tolkien are a great read, although challenging to young children. When I was about eight or nine, I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and from then on, I watched the films regularly. My parents bought the extended versions that included documentaries about the making of the films, which were as long as the actual movies themselves, and from watching these I learned a lot about film-making. You could say that these films are what got me into film in the first place and so I owe an awful lot to them. I am certainly not going to attempt to be one hundred percent objective in this review, after all these are childhood favourites, but the films do definitely have a lot of laudable features, regardless of opinion.
The films are a testament to dedication. One thing that really comes across when watching the behind the scenes features is just how close all the production staff were, and how long and hard all of them worked in order to achieve the quality seen in the final films. A good example of this is two guys who made all of the chain mail for the films by linking rings, working on each of them piece by piece. By the end of the shoot they had worn out the finger prints on the tips of their thumbs and forefingers. Peter Jackson joked that they could now live out a successful life of crime. All of the departments, from costume to digital animation (and Weta Workshop) worked almost tirelessly for three years, excluding pickups to bring all these films together. They used many practical effects, including miniatures that were so large they ended up being dubbed big-atures. As a child, watching these features showed me just how much work and time had to go into making movies, and gave me a profound respect for the dedication showed by movie crews.
The actors are also very well cast. Peter Jackson knew what he was doing when he brought in such talented people as Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen, they all bring such depth and humanity to their roles, and in watching the documentary, it was a pleasure to learn how much Viggo Mortensen put into his performance. To hear how he broke his toe kicking a helmet, and used it to improve his acting was hilarious, but also admirable.
His courtesy and friendliness on set is often stated by other members of the cast, and it’s a relief to know that your favourite actors are actually nice people for a change! I got a real sense that these people were for three years, a family, working together and living in the same place for a long time. It made me wish I could have been a part of it in some way.
Translating such a classic book into a movie can be a risky move, with so many beloved characters and story-lines potentially lost, but LOTR was, in my opinion, expertly adapted into screenplay format by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. . While I don’t agree with everything they left out or moved around, I can’t deny that the pacing for the overall story is much stronger in the film trilogy than in the book. Furthermore, the film still feels true to the tone and themes of the books, and so most of the changes and cuts do not bother me in any strong way.
Visually, the film is a treat. The action is riveting and well-choreographed, the shots are varied and often quite experimental, even if Jackson did overuse the wide angle close-up in Fellowship. Most of all the incredible costume design by Weta Workshop really gives the films a unique look that fantasy films have been failing to copy ever since. The blend of real world historical inspirations and creative designs leads to props and costumes that look mystical, and yet practical at the same time. Many of the props designed, such as the Elven boats used at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring, actually could be used. The set design went above and beyond, a scale model of Helm’s Deep was really build in a quarry and many of the locations were actually built on in order to create the unique settings in the films, such as Rivendale. In particular, one of my favourite locations was Edoras, capital of Rohan. The city was built for real on the summit of Mount Sunday, which is a striking hill that lies on a flat plain behind great mountains. New Zealand has a treasure trove of fantastic locations, but this is my personal favourite. The place is breathtaking even in photos, but the best part is that the city is designed around a Saxon style. The halls are thatched and wooden and everything was really built on the hill. The crew had to preserve countless plants in greenhouses for months whilst the exterior shots were filmed there – yet another display of the dedication that went into keeping the locations as realistic as possible, when they could have just built an indoor set and used a green screen.
These films are amazing to watch, there is so much to enjoy; adventure, action, drama, romance and poetry – the list goes on. As a child I never got bored of acting out scenes from them with my friends. But watching the behind the scenes features brings a whole new level to the films. Once you understand exactly how much hard work and passion went into every scene, you can appreciate these films on a whole other level, and I hope this explains why for me personally, the Lord of the Rings trilogy are my all-time favourite films.