People who love the fantasy genre usually have a story or a world of their choice. It may be the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the land of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire (or GoT, if you watch the show), the world of Ranland from Wheel of Time or even in a galaxy far, far away (cue John Williams). I, myself, am a fan of quite a number of fantasy worlds. For the fantasy genre, especially when the relevant books are adapted for the big/small screen, there are usually two ways it pans out. Either they become so ingrained into pop culture and are talked about for years/decades to come, or they’re forgotten immediately after the initial excitement. Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s vast world of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings trilogy belongs to the former category. Sure, The Hobbit films weren’t so great. But no one will forget his original trilogy back in the early 2000s, when the whole world was taken by surprise; the monumental epic drama that no one thought would come close to Tolkien’s legendary works.
I’ll level with you. I watched the trilogy for the first time back in 2014. I was 15 years old and was working my way through the Hollywood classics. A certified Potterhead then, like most people, I didn’t take a second glance at LoTR. I’d heard of all the characters like Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn and Gollum, but I never really understood what made it so special.
As soon as I finished The Fellowship of the Ring, I cursed myself for not watching the movies or reading the books earlier. What that trilogy achieved set the template for all other fantasy works of literature and cinema.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s been 18 years since the release of The Fellowship of the Ring. God, I feel old. Ever since then, we’ve seen the rise of other franchises like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Marvel and so on. And each one of these franchises have a worldwide fanbase with fans eagerly waiting on new material from each franchise. So what makes LoTR so special? How did a fantasy franchise become so good that it would make a clean sweep at several Academy Award functions and be considered a milestone in cinema?
When the news broke out that Peter Jackson would direct The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien fans were understandably skeptical. Staying true to the source material and making a movie that would do justice to that HUGE world of Middle-earth was an almost impossible task at the time. Jackson was a relatively unknown filmmaker then, so there wasn’t much hope that the film would live up to the hype.
But what Jackson pulled off was incredible. No one expected what was coming. The Fellowship of the Ring opened to rave reviews from both critics and audiences alike. Back in 2001, the special effects were revolutionary, so don’t come to me with “The effects are too campy”. What made this movie so special wasn’t (just) the effects. The movie had a heart, soul and emotion. A decade and a half later, the movies have aged like the fine Elvish wine from the gardens of Dorwinion.
These films also gave birth to the geek cinema fan. It was now considered ‘cool’ to watch these kinds of movies. The incredible success and popularity of the trilogy opened the doors for other franchises (Narnia, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc). The themes of hope, brotherhood, friendship, sacrifice and loss were conveyed to the audience by Jackson. The books aren’t easy to read, but Jackson does a splendid job of trying to connect with laymen.
Each movie is more than 3 hours long, which takes you almost half a day to binge watch the trilogy. But the film earns its length, being so perfectly paced. Binge watching may be common today, but back then it was unthinkable. LoTR changed that outlook.
The entire trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King) earned a total of $3 billion in box office sales. The films eventually earned a collective 17 Academy Awards, with the Return of the King picking up an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. The Return of the King especially, set numerous records at the Oscars.
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Now that I think about it, New Line Cinema took a *huge* gamble on this project. It was decades old even in 2002, the concept was completely untouched and untested, and the scale of such a movie was magnanimous. The fact that they pulled off a project that could’ve blown in their faces with even the smallest of mistakes, with such a huge cultural, critical and commercial impact, it’s absolutely brilliant.
And don’t forget the characters and the actors who played them so perfectly: Elijah Wood as young Frodo Baggins who’s been given the daunting task of destroying The One Ring to Rule Them All. Gandalf, was portrayed by Ian McKellen, while Viggo Mortensen played Frodo’s human protector Aragorn, who possessed an unwavering desire to help the halfling bring down the wrath of Sauron, Sean Bean as the noble Boromir, Andy Serkis as the repelling Gollum, among many others. Game of Thrones wasn’t the first to include so many character arcs so successfully.
A decade a half later, the cultural impact of the trilogy hasn’t decreased on any level. Even today, the countless imitations of Gollum holding the Ring, LoTR marathons and oh, Sean Bean’s ‘one does not simply….’ memes.
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The story does get silly and cheesy at times. But that’s how Jackson intended it to be. In the end, LoTR is a hopeful and innocent, as well as bittersweet, unlike the constant bloodbath of Game of Thrones. Keep in mind, all of that was inspired by Tolkien, with a little help from Peter Jackson.
To this day, with the growing popularity of fantasy and sci-fi movies, there doesn’t seem to be a movie quite like LoTR. That series was pure heart. This was a set of movies that never should’ve worked in the first place. But they did. In a world of meticulously planned cinematic universes, LoTR will have a special place in the annals of cinema.
Now we have a Lord of the Rings TV show from Amazon coming up soon, but nothing’s going to take away the experience of the original trilogy. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore. So to those of you who still haven’t watched the trilogy, do yourself a favour, go watch it!
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King)