20 years later, the Lord of the Rings movies still resonate with fans

Did you know The Beatles wanted to adapt The Lord of the Rings long before Peter Jackson’s classic trilogy arrived in theaters?

The theatrical poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (© New Line Cinemas)

I have to admit, I love The Lord of the Rings movies. I love the atmosphere and everything that makes them so magical, whether it’s the developed soundtrack or realistic characters. I think they are the greatest movies of our time, and it’s wholly safe to say that many others agree. Since the first movie was released on December 19, 2001, the entire trilogy has been kindly welcomed into the hearts of many people. It snagged 3 billion dollars in the box office and scored 17 Oscars. Both casual fans and critics loved the movies. The movies haven’t been forgotten either; they’ve kickstarted a huge movie franchise that one can’t expect to go away. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is huge – and worth watching. But what is it about them that makes them so appreciated?

J.R.R. Tolkien, the book’s author, was a reasonably normal guy who loved to tell his stories. One of these stories, The Hobbit, was developed especially for his kids. It followed a simple man with no desire for adventure who was thrust into an epic journey across the magic-filled Middle-earth. Tolkien blended his boys’ simple life with that of epic European mythology, and The Hobbit was the product. Tolkien published the story in 1937, and its great popularity warranted a sequel. And so, The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954. Tolkien understood that he didn’t have the constraints of a children’s story anymore, and he used that to his advantage. The new tale had greater stakes and a darker undertone. As one would expect, it’s been hailed as a fantastic novel in addition to The Hobbit.

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What is The Lord of the Rings about? The Lord of the Rings follows Frodo and his three hobbit friends who are tasked with carrying The One Ring, the most powerful and evil thing in the world, to its doom. A war begins throughout the world as Frodo inches closer to the evil place in which it was created. It can be dumbed down to a complex coming-of-age story. Frodo left his blissful home in the shire and went on a globe-trotting quest throughout Middle-earth; along the way, he made new friends, as well as new enemies. Although being fantasy, the story is very grounded in real emotions. The movies can be credited for the brilliant acting that parallels the developed characters. One of my favorite performances in the films was by Sean Astin as Sam (Frodo’s best friend and the heart of the story).

During the late 1990s, the New-Zealander Peter Jackson was given the director’s chair by New Line Cinema for The Lord of the Rings movies. Jackson had never scratched the surface of popularity, but it is important to remember that this was in a time before the MCU and an overall explosion in the fantasy genre. Studios did not understand that a far-out fiction movie could make them rich, so they didn’t plan to recruit an A-list director; for this reason, Jackson was recruited. Jackson used his home of New Zealand as a set for the whole trilogy. It has all the mountains, rivers, rocks, hills, etc. that Middle-earth contains. Much of the spectacle within the trilogy can be contributed to the filming locations. On October 11, 1999, The Lord of the Rings began shooting.

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In order to match the grandeur of the books, the production had to pioneer digital effects. For example, they captured the creepiness of Gollum by creating an entirely new technology (which would then go on to win an Academy Award) for the character. It is known as Subsurface, and it spreads light out perfectly onto a computer-generated animation to make it look real. The technology is still utilized today in many films. Another example may be found in the action scenes. A brand new computer program known as Massive was used to render large groups of characters battling. During an era in which great developments were being made in technology, people recount how amazing the CGI in The Lord of the Rings looked compared to other movies of the era.

At the same time, New Line was filming, Howard Shore was busy writing a soundtrack for the films. Shore had read the books far before the production, so he understood where he wanted to go for the score. He attached certain instruments, sounds, and melodies to certain characters, items, and places. For example, when we first learn of The One Ring, a dark and sinister melody of strings plays. When Frodo begins to fall victim to the effects of the ring, the theme plays more often. Another example is the Fellowship’s theme. Throughout the story, the fellowship between the characters morphs constantly. The soundtrack does the same: the instrumentations and strength behind the music change yet still keep the same melody. This adds a second layer of emotion that cannot be found within the books.

And so, we come to the end of our journey. The Lord of the Rings trilogy should be appreciated for many reasons. The acting and writing capture the immense development in the books, and give the film more accessibility than would be found within the complex book.

Jude Danner is a freshman member of The Quill