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The Lord of the Rings: A Long Journey Worth Taking

Peter Jackson on the set of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy

Peter Jackson (1961-) was a nine-year-old kid living in Wellington, New Zealand when he saw the original King Kong (1933) for the first time, which he considers his all-time favorite movie. When Kong slipped off the Empire State Building, he cried his head off. From that point on, he was inspired to become a filmmaker. Jackson started making home movies with a super-8mm film camera including his version of King Kong (which he gave up on until 2004). Years later, he became successful making movies that are absolutely disgusting and hilarious that moviegoers can feel their stomachs churning. Some movies include Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989), and Dead Alive a.k.a. Braindead (1992).

The Eye of Sauron

The Eye of Sauron

He went to another territory with 1994’s Heavenly Creatures, the dramatization of the 1950s New Zealand matricide case starring Kate Winslet, and 1996’s The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox as a man developing abilities to communicate with the dead. Then, Jackson’s ambitions are put to the test when he started production on the film adaptation of his favorite books (as a teenager), J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Filmed between 1999 and 2000, Peter Jackson and his team have created an epic fantasy that is among my favorites of all-time.

The trilogy begins with The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). In a beautiful prologue, narrated by Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), consisting of the forging of the rings. In the land of Mordor, the dark lord Sauron forged a special ring as a way to conquer Middle-Earth (“One ring to rule them all”). The Elves and Men fight for the ring, and they believed they defeated Sauron. However, his soul is still alive in the ring. Over several centuries, the ring has been passed from Isildur, who refuses to destroy it, then to the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), then to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). Much to Gollum’s grief, Bilbo goes back to the Shire with the ring.

Sixty years have passed, on his “one-hundred and eleventieth” birthday, Bilbo leaves the ring – that could make a person disappear whenever they put it on – to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). The wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) warns him that Sauron’s forces will come after him if he goes on the quest to destroy the ring. Frodo accepts and goes with his friends Samwise “Sam” Gamgee (Sean Astin), Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), and Peregrin “Pippin” Took (Billy Boyd). Once they all arrive in Rivendell, populated by

The Argonath in "The Fellowship of the Ring"

The Argonath in “The Fellowship of the Ring”

elves, a council, led by Elrond (Hugo Weaving), takes place on who will take the ring to Mordor. Gandalf, Frodo and his friends join the ranger Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Boromir, the prince of Gondor (Sean Bean), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). This is where they became the Fellowship of the Ring. Along the way, they encounter various creatures such as the Nazgûl, Orcs, and the Balrog, in which Gandalf fights on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum (“You shall not pass!!), and falls – what the Fellowship believes – to his death.

In The Two Towers (2002), the Fellowship go their separate ways while Sauron’s powers grow stronger. Frodo and Sam decide to go to Mordor, and encounter Gollum, who has been looking for the ring, and becomes their guide. Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin have been captured by the Orcs in Parth Galen and then make companions with Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), a tree creature known as an Ent, who later plans to attack Isengard. In Rohan, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli try to look for them until they reunite with Gandalf, resurrected as Gandalf the White after defeating the Balrog in the film’s most exciting prologue. amake companions with King Theoden (Bernard Hill), as they plan the battle at Helm’s Deep. The trilogy concludes with The Return of the King (2003), where Sauron sets his eye on the capital of Gondor, Minas Tirith. The clan make their way there as they take part of the biggest battle of Middle-Earth.

Peter Jackson shot these movies in his native New Zealand. There is no other place to capture the imaginative locations of  Middle-Earth other than New Zealand. Jackson shows his love by frequently shooting faraway shots in which the characters

The Shire

The Shire

are walking, riding their horses, or taking a rowboat to their location. As the camera moves around, he shows the utter beauty of his homeland as the astounding music by Howard Shore plays in the background. With some of the most breathtaking sets ever shown, we would wish Middle-Earth actually existed. It feels like the audience is getting a warm welcome when the trilogy begins in the Shire. It has such a lively environment that it’s hard not to think of the comforts of home. Same goes to Rivendell (where the elves live).

Every time I watch these movies, it feels like I’m on this adventure the whole time. It’s amazing how much these characters evolve on the quest, like Frodo, who has possession of the ring. In one scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Fellowship is in the mines of Moria. “I wish the ring had never come for me,” says Frodo to Gandalf about the quest. “I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them [the Fellowship] to decide,” says Gandalf. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us…Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. That is an encouraging thought.” Gandalf encourages Frodo to make the decision to keep his fate as the ring-bearer. He couldn’t finish the quest without Sam (“I made a promise, Mr. Frodo…’Don’t you leave him, Samwise

"I can't carry it for you. But I can carry you!"

“I can’t carry it for you. But I can carry you!”

Gamgee’ I don’t mean to”). As they are going on the quest by themselves, Frodo starts to change as he comes closer to Mount Doom. He has the feeling of going back home, because the quest is more of an impossible task. In one powerful scene in The Return of the King, Frodo and Sam are on the side of Mount Doom about to destroy the ring. Frodo’s strength is deteriorating, and he’s about to give up. Sam wants him to defeat Sauron once and for all (“I can’t carry it [the Ring] for you, but I can carry you!). That’s why I think Sam is the ideal hero of the quest.

Gandalf is a wizard who could do anything he want. He’s never late, he’s never early, he intends to show up anytime he

wants. He has the ability to telecommunicate with his companions. When he refuses to join Saruman the White (Christopher Lee, playing someone that everyone loves to hate), the wizard who joins forces with Sauron at the tower of Isengard to create armies of Orcs (notably the Uruk-hai), he is trapped on top of his tower. Then, he sets out his butterfly (symbolic for a messenger) to call for the Eagles, and meet up with his companions. Gandalf is like a Christ-figure. After defeating the Balrog into the abyss in the exciting opening in The Two Towers, he becomes resurrected as Gandalf the White.

Elves have a choice whether to be immortal or sail into the West. Arwen (Liv Tyler), the daughter of Elrond, chooses to live a mortal life so she can be with Aragorn. She gives him an Evenstar necklace as a promise to return to her. As she is joining with her elves to sail into the West, she sees glimpses of the future on what would happen after Aragorn dies and what would happen if they have a son together. Despite how deeply emotional these movies are, there are also some light-hearted and funny moments as well. Merry and Pippin are two hobbits who love to cause trouble in the Shire, like when they go through Gandalf’s fireworks at Bilbo’s birthday party. They provide one of the funniest scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring where Pippin asks Aragorn to stop for breakfast (“We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?”).

The One Ring is rife with significance. For instance, Gollum is one of the most complex characters in the trilogy. As Smeagol, he has had possession of the Ring for five centuries after choking his cousin Deagol in a chilling prologue in The Return of the King (“My precious”). He starts having a split personality between Smeagol and Gollum. His physical appearance is what makes him possess the Ring for a long time. It holds a certain power that makes every race fail. Once the Ring is taken from Bilbo, his power weakens as Bilbo becomes younger. Later on in the trilogy, when Frodo has the Ring, Bilbo grows older. The Ring emphasizes how one’s weakness should gain more power.

Gandalf riding to Minas Tirith

Gandalf riding to Minas Tirith

Peter Jackson uses a mix of computer-generated images and practical effects. With new technology, he uses the motion capture technique for Gollum, Andy Serkis, an unknown actor at the time, came into the studio in a suit to capture the mannerisms of Gollum. Treebeard was used as a CGI and an animatronic model. For close-up shots of Merry and Pippin riding on Treebeard, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd will be set on the model in front of a green screen. They are used in some of the trilogy’s best battle sequences ever: The Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers and The Battle of Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King.

After the trilogy won 17 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Peter Jackson went on to make his noteworthy remake of King Kong (2005), the adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones (2009), which is considered by many to be his weakest film, and he collaborated with director Steven Spielberg to produce Hergé‘s The Adventures of Tintin (2011). He thought he would never return to Middle-Earth by directing the underrated The Hobbit trilogy.

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