• Peter Jackson’s magnum opus adaptation of Tolkien is one the seminal works of the 21st century. I’ve seen it a half dozen times at least—and my appreciation for it grows with each revisit. I’ll be treating it as one 10-hour film here as it was shot all at once, and I find it pretty fruitless to talk about the differences between the three separate films except for when it comes to description

ambition incarnate– in storytelling and visuals

  • As I reread some of the initial reviews in 2001 when the film was first released—I’m so impressed with some of these astute critics comparing it to 1977’s Star Wars in real time. It is easy to do this with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight—but to do this in December 2001? —it is inspiring. One of my greatest fears is missing out on a masterpiece that’s debuting right before my very eyes—it happens.

forget “pop-art” as a backhanded compliment. LOTR hits the heights of any cinematic art- popular or not

  • There is so much to praise- Jackson is both faithful to Tolkien and clearly stimulated by it. There’s an attention to every detail- from the performances, costumes, to the visual world-building.

multiple viewings let the complex plot (if you aren’t already familiar with the book) and brilliant photographs take hold

  • Gorgeously photographed in New Zealand- helicopter crane shots—valleys, mountains, rivers

I often say I don’t look to be entertained– but to be awed– and Jackson’s epic provides that in spades

  • It works as an epic, a war film, a fantasy film (just wrapping up a Gilliam study so it would be foolish not to note just how ‘unfilmable’ this work would seem if we didn’t already have it). The pervading theory is that Jackson became obsessed and burdened with technology as the years have came and gone since LOTR and it sort of undercut his career- but this is the perfect synthesis of live action and technology blend here- boundlessly creative.

the perfect synthesis of live action and technology blend here- boundlessly creative without being excessive or obstructing

  • An Oscar production design nomination here but loss initially to Moulin Rouge– what a great year for that category in 2001. LOTR would go on to win in just about every category in 2003 for Return of the King— sort of a lifetime achievement award for the ambitious undertaking.

it is not just the long shots and establishing shots that wow

  • Cate Blanchett’s chilling seven-minute voice over to start the saga with a boom. Even within this montage scene-setting—there are stand-alone stunning photographs (like the one here with the nine men)

a strong photograph here pulled from the opening prologue

  • The first shot of Gollum’s cave with Jackson’s spotlight on him

The first shot of Gollum’s cave with Jackson’s spotlight on him

  • Howard Shore’s score has many highlights — but none greater than the shire melody

an inspired choice by Jackson with the rack focus and use of foreground/background here ultimately in soft focus

  • One of Jackson’s greatest strengths is the establishing shots- working with miniatures
  • Jackson’ deftly uses the dolly zoom (a la Vertigo or Scheider at the beach in Jaws) as Frodo hears the nine horsemen approaching – the “get off the road”

Jackson’ deftly uses the dolly zoom (a la Vertigo or Scheider at the beach in Jaws) as Frodo hears the nine horsemen approaching – the “get off the road”

  • There is a sublime cinematic painting as Aragorn and Arwen embrace. Jackson is always in service of the narrative (a narrative that rock and rolls up until the last hour as well as just about any other film), and the performances are exemplary (especially Sir Ian McKellen, Viggo and the pioneering work of Andy Serkis) but even with hundreds of pages to cover, 10 hours to fill, and countless locations, costumes, set-pieces to design—Jackson has time enough to pause and bask in shots like this—there are many of these 30-50- especially in the first three hours (Fellowship)

There is a sublime cinematic painting as Aragorn and Arwen embrace

countless shots that would be at home on the wall in any art museum

after the Blanchett voice-over opening— Jackson settles in with this frame

  • Instead of getting stagnant, Two Towers starts with a flashback/dream to the balrog battle (and the gorgeous shot of the two falling in the cave) and then we are quickly introduced to new great characters like Brad Dourif’s Wormtongue and Serkis’ Gollum
  • The dream of Arwen has a stunner for a frame – the grave of Aragorn

The dream of Arwen has a stunner for a frame – the grave of Aragorn

  • The Return of the King and Two Towers with the focus on the battles may not luxuriate in the cinematic paintings as much as the opening (as Jackson introduces us to the world)—but one of the best shots in the entire running time is a shot of staggered faces blocking each other- foreground right Viggo, and, also in profile, is Orlando Bloom’s Legolas next to him—at night

Jackson is never content to just tell the story

simulating the camera falling on top of Elijah Wood’s Frodo in a great sequence 

  • Return of the King also has the lighting of the beacon sequence and the gorgeous miniature set piece Minas Tirith and the white tree in the citadel

the gorgeous miniature set piece Minas Tirith

epic filmmaking— a 10-hour Lawrence of Arabia

  • A towering Masterpiece