It’s been 20 years since the release of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first movie in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” and the fact that these movies aren’t talked about more is astonishing to me. “The Return of the King” ended up winning all 11 Oscars that it was nominated for, including Best Picture, so I still question why this trilogy has fallen out of mainstream consciousness among the film community. I had the chance to see the entire trilogy in IMAX over the last few weeks, and putting it very simply, they hold up remarkably well.
If you haven’t yet seen these movies, let this article be your sign to start. They are all available to stream right now on HBO Max and are all essential viewing for any fan of movies. Quite frankly, these movies are the reason that I, and other film majors that I know, wanted to make movies in the first place. Peter Jackson has been able to create a world that feels authentic with its absurd use of practical effects, that make this trilogy stand out so much more than the modern franchise films. Those that have gone down the rabbit hole of relying on CGI and green screen. This is why these movies have aged so well. The locations, props, extras and in-camera trickery is all real and not being added in post-production. The film revolutionized helicopter shots as Andrew Lesnie’s excellent cinematography sweeps through the vibrant New Zealand landscapes. If there is any aspect of the film that is made infinitely more effective on the big screen, it is how real and immersive Middle-Earth is.
The story itself and how it was adapted from Tolkien’s book is also a major selling point as the movies are loyal to their source material. The movies, all running three hours or longer in their original theatrical form, pack a dense runtime with an absurd amount of information that makes each film also feel interesting. To touch on the runtime, as it is the most used reason to not watch the films, it makes the experience feel so much more grand and epic. The runtime is definitely a tool that sucks you in and allows you to be a part of this world for three hours or more as opposed to just making the film longer. It also serves as a device to make the journey feel like a long expedition. I don’t think that the trilogy’s resolution and the finale would be as impactful if the audience didn’t feel like they were with the characters for all of their highs and lows.
However, for me, the element of the film that is by far the best, most realized and made me feel the most invested, is the characters that were excellently adapted to the screen. Each film gives each character their own amount of shine and chance to love them. My favorite character by far is Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) because of how much he grows and changes by the end of the series. In “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Sam is just along for the ride. He’s there to help Frodo (Elijah Wood) carry the One Ring to its destruction, but we don’t truly feel the impact of his character until the second film, “The Two Towers.” Here, we see Sam as the emotional anchor for Frodo. As the burden of the Ring starts to weigh onto Frodo even more, Sam is there to remind him of their purpose and how important it is to destroy the Ring. By the time we get to “The Return of the King,” Sam can be seen as quite literally the main character as he carries Frodo to the end goal. This type of development is present for just about every other character in the film, which is remarkable.
“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is the best series of films of all time. Each film works so perfectly in conjunction with each other that it feels like one massive experience rather than three individual films. Each entry takes place immediately after the previous one ends, so there are no questions or time jumps when going into the next movie. It is easily the most engrossing and immersive series of films that completely changed the film industry to the levels of “Star Wars” and “The Matrix.” They are as “must watch” as a film can be.