Books Features Live Action Movies

The Lord
Of The Rings

The following article was written for Sussed magazine in 2001 before The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) had been screened to press.

Elsewhere on this site: a short review for What’s On In London and a longer review also discussing TLOTR trilogy for Third Way of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.


Jeremy Clarke explores The Lord Of The Rings and the upcoming film’s director Peter Jackson

Harry Potter might be the obvious franchise of the moment, but anyone who knows anything about the fantasy genre knows one book towers above the rest. The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien came out in three volumes: the first The Fellowship of The Ring was published in 1954. The Sunday Times review divided people into those who have read The Lord of The Rings and those who are going to.”

By the sixties, it had become obligatory reading. Most fantasy derives from it, including today’s bestsellers Terry Pratchett and J.K.Rowling. It details the archetypal struggle against good and evil, set in Tolkien’s incredibly detailed world of Middle-earth populated with all manner of original creatures – hobbits, humans, elves, ringwraiths and trolls.

With admirers of the books worldwide wanting every detail to look just as they’d imagined, it, you’d have to be an obsessive to even think of making TLOTR into a film. Brian Sibley adapted it for BBC radio over two decades ago. Ralph Bakshi’s animated movie, just released on VHS and DVD, is actually the first half of the trilogy with Part One lopped off the director’s title after the Studio cancelled Part Two.

Peter Jackson has just spent seven years directing the new version, shrewdly making it as three films back to back (the other two are currently being edited for release over the next two years) to avoid the pitfall into which Bakshi fell. When you go to see Jackson’s film, you’ll know it’s only the first part and that the remaining two will duly follow.

Jackson fits the bill of obsessive. The short New Zealander burst onto the international film scene with cheap but imaginative, schlock horror movie Bad Taste (1987), shot as an amateur film at weekends with mates and home built camera cranes and featuring such effects as the director playing both earthman and alien fighting him onscreen.

Other films include Heavenly Creatures (1994), based on NZ’s most notorious murder case, which both launched Kate Winslet’s career and described by Sam Neill (in his Century Of Cinema film about NZ, available on Academy Video) as the greatest NZ movie ever made.

There are two films Jackson’s always wanted to make. One was a remake of 1933’s King Kong, which he began but which got cancelled. (Posthumous note: he made it in 2005 after completing TLOTR.) The other is this TLOTR trilogy, which looks set to redefine fantasy cinema.

Starting from the book and the images of veteran Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe, Jackson has recreated homely Hobbiton, unfamiliar Bree and numerous other places from the book in spectacular NZ settings made over on location and/or digitally to an unprecedented scale. The diminutive hobbits have large prosthetic effects feet which caused one actor an allergic reaction, while Ian McKellen’s tall pointy wizard’s hat proved a challenge for the actor.

For those seeking an introduction before braving the cinema and/or the original book itself, we recommend Brian Sibley’s two excellent tie-in books: TLOTR Official Movie Guide (Harper Collins, Pbk, £10.99) or the smaller, less detailed The Fellowship Of The Ring Insider’s Guide (Harper Collins, Pbk, £4.99).

N.B. I’ve gone for Middle-earth not Middle-Earth, the correct Tolkien case (also in Brian Sibley’s tie-in books) rather than the incorrect one in the press notes.

Elsewhere on this site: a short review for What’s On In London and a longer review also discussing TLOTR trilogy for Third Way of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.

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