The One To Rule Them All

I hate to be “that guy,” but no fantasy tale will ever beat Lord of the Rings.

The eighth and final season of the hit show Game of Thrones kicked off Sunday night after years of buildup to what will surely be an epic conclusion. For a TV show, the HBO produced series has reached an all-time high on the hype scale. #GameOfThrones was trending on Twitter days before the premier, betting odds on who will rule Westeros appeared on many sports pages, and seemingly every website had predictions to make.

While all this was happening, I somehow flipped it into a great reason to watch my favorite fantasy epic for the thousandth (probably not exaggerating) time: Lord of the Rings.

The whole world might have been watching the season 8 premier on Sunday night, but I was glued to my TV, halfway through Return of the King, still marveling at the movie I’d been watching on a monthly basis for the last thirteen years.

Where some movies of the early 2000’s have aged poorly, Peter Jackson’s trilogy has aged like fine wine. If the movies came out in theaters tomorrow, they’d still be ahead of their time. There are a multitude of shots in the trilogy that to this day are still jaw-dropping and cannot be replicated. Incredible sweeping shots of Middle Earth’s (New Zealand’s) landscape are abused in the best way, and never get old. The CGI holds up better than anything of its time, and every frame is dripping with vibrant colors that are only made better by the illustrious camerawork from cinematographer Andrew Lesnie.

Creative camerawork and swooping shots are trademarks held throughout the three movies by director Peter Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie.

The cinematography is one-of-a-kind, but it’s only about the fourth or fifth best thing about the movies. For one, the casting is literally perfect. Even in some of the greatest films of the 21st century, there are actors that clearly lag behind the rest of the cast (Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, Jared Leto in Blade Runner 2049), but in Middle Earth, everyone is exceptional. The cast provides the easily-lovable Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, Viggo Mortensen’s crown jewel performance as Aragorn, and the always-quotable Ian McKellen as Gandalf (a wizard is never late).

The main characters are inarguably great, but the side characters make sure that there are no dull moments. In a male-dominant series, the female characters still have some of the most memorable presences on screen. Cate Blanchett (Lady Galadriel), Liv Tyler (Arwen), and Miranda Otto (Éowyn) are some of the strongest, most kick-ass female characters in all of film. All three see good amounts of screen time, and aren’t just strong to be strong – they experience some of the best character arcs in the movies. The best character arc belongs to Gollum, however, with Andy Serkis kicking off the motion capture revolution as the scene-stealer of the trilogy.

Hugo Weaving and Karl Urban (among others) drop in here and there as great characters in their own rights that elevate even the smallest roles, but Sean Astin gives the performance of a lifetime as Samwise Gamgee. While Mortensen, Wood, and Serkis shine as standouts in the trilogy, Astin is the glue that holds the movies together, especially in Return of the King.

Honestly though, where would Frodo be without Sam?

From there, the acting and great scenes are only lifted by Howard Shore’s unforgettable score. There are often times when the music completely makes a scene (Gandalf’s death comes to mind). The battle scenes in each movie are top-level, but are lifted multiple notches as Shore’s beautiful yet bombastic score sets the scene behind Jackson’s epic shots of mass scale.

With everything in place, Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, wrote one of the best scripts of all time. There’s a quotable line every ten minutes, every scene is packed full with substance, and the two main antagonizing forces are somehow intimidating without even being immediate physical threats. Jackson films what was deemed ‘the impossible’ by many as a director, while his cast of heroes overcomes the impossible on screen through and unbreakable bond of friendship. Look up the word epic in the dictionary and it will come up with: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

I can gush about every detail (small and large) that I love about Lord of the Rings until the end of time: the excellent pacing, the love of the source material, or even Ian Holm’s short time on screen as Bilbo Baggins; but the reason that Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s equally brilliant books is so great is that it’s the quintessential tale of friendship. In a world that’s so expansive and fantastic, with moving parts at every second, Jackson still tells a story that is as human as anything. By the time Frodo sails into the afterlife in Return of the King, it’s clear that you’ve experienced a tale unlike any other. So, even though winter is here, Game of Thrones can be put on hiatus for now. I’m still not over Lord of the Rings.

Lord of the Rings, you bow to no one.