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Zoe- One Trilogy to Rule Them All

Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of books written by J.R. Tolkien. Equipped with its own author constructed language, nearly a small novel’s worth of appendices, and roughly 561792 words of story, it is considered to be one of the stories that defined high fantasy as a genre, and sets the bar in terms of world building.

And then Peter Jackson decided to try and adapt it for the big screen. No pressure or anything.

Apparently it worked out pretty well for him.

Romeo and Juliet can be summed up as That Play Where Two People Fall in Love and it’s Really Intense, and Les Mis can be described as The Musical Where Everyone Is Both Sad and Strangely Inspirational. Technically, both are true, but they are perhaps lacking as far as conveying quality goes. In the same vein, Lord of the Rings is  Where A Bunch of Heroes Do Some Really Hard Stuff And Then They Save The World.

By itself, that’s not bad. It’s even one of the reasons why this trilogy is appealing to me, I think: When we live in a world that’s all shades of incredibly similar grey, it’s nice to be told about another world, where good people do good things, and it’s all really hard but they know it’s the right thing to do. And then, in the end, because they were just so gosh darn good, they get rewarded.

As lovely as that premise is, though, I need to really see and hear this world if I’m going to be invested in it.  Fortunately, they had some music and visuals to make that work.



[On Howard Shore’s decision to take a year to compose the score for each of the movies, as compared the more usual period of a month.]…Shore realized that he was dealing with a tale that required voices for countless different cultures and concepts, voices that often intermingled or outright merged over the course of the story. From this wealth of diversity in The Fellowship of the Ring and beyond, Shore created major themes and minor motifs for no less than 80 different concepts, none of which clearly stepping forward as the dominant identity of Tolkien’s world as a whole.

An army at Isengard. Did you notice the handmade chainmail?

It’s a line of war elephants, because regular battles aren’t cool enough.

While this doesn’t have the sheer scope the other two photos, it does have some very nice backlighting. When a character from Lord of the Rings comes back from the dead, they don’t come back shuffling and howling for brains. They come back more powerful, and accompanied by the kind of dramatic lighting that is usually used in pictures of holy figures. It’s just that kind of story.

Everything about this movie is made to be epic. The storyline takes place over multiple years, features a heroic journey from multiple characters, and involves the fate of basically everything. To match that, there are sweeping visuals to show the scale of the journey and a soundtrack with a complexity that showcases the intricate nature of the world. Because of these,  when I watch the One Ring dissolve into the lava of Mount Doom, I feel like I’ve earned it. When everything is light and glowy and happy afterwards, and the entire fellowship (except Boromir, it sucks to be Boromir) is having a party in Rivendale and everyone is laughing, I appreciate it. At the end of the movies, I’m really, honestly, happy. For some people, that could be because they have reached the end of over nine hours of film. Perhaps they appreciated the technically excellent cinematography, or the wonderful performance of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the soundtrack. For me, however, it is because these technically beautiful elements have allowed me to travel through an entire world filled with people who choose to give everything they can possibly give, so that in the end the good guys can win.

And that is awesome.



3 thoughts on “Zoe- One Trilogy to Rule Them All

  1. Everyone loves a good fantasy. But what set LOTR apart from others that tried to be like it…and failed so miserably? Was it just the technical excellence everything(including acting, and music, and such) was done with? Or was it something more intangible?

    Posted by liamthesaint | January 16, 2013, 5:38 am
  2. I think a large part of it was the technical excellence. The sheer scope of the world that they managed to convey is what sets this apart for me, so yeah. Middle Earth is kind of ridiculously well developed because JR Tolkien was crazy like that, and then they had the technology to bring that out. When Gondor lights the distress signal, and there’s this whole sweeping montage of the bonfires being lit and seeing things light up on the other side of the mountain and then you’re in Rohan…It was that kind of stuff which really just made me feel like it was a real place, and it emphasized the sheer *bigness* of everything. I don’t think I could have been so invested in the middle earth being saved if I hadn’t been shown it in the way I was.
    Perhaps more intangibly, LOTR is impressive in how cohesive everything is. It’s an epic battle between good and evil and every element feeds into that. There’s the use of light and dark, and colours, and musical themes, and it all just works together. There’s nothing contradicting itself.

    …I really love these movies, if you couldn’t tell.

    Posted by zoeisbatman | January 16, 2013, 7:20 am
  3. Something I was interested to hear via this episode of Radiolab is that the Lord of the Rings (and Star Wars, and countless other modern epics) owes a lot to both Wagner’s massive Ring Cycle opera(s), and the ancient Germanic sagas.

    Some interesting reading & listening:

    Sagas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saga

    The Ring & I: http://www.wnyc.org/articles/music/2012/apr/06/the-ring-and-i-the-passion-the-myth-the-mania/

    Also, as the Everything is a Remix video pointed out, many of these epics revolve around a few familiar plotlines, and character archetypes developed by Carl Jung and cemented into storytelling theory by Josheph Campbell. Campbell’s book, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, where his outlines the basic tenants of the ‘monomyth:’

    “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

    Why do you think successive generations of humans have found this particular storyline and structure so resonant?

    Posted by bryanjack | January 17, 2013, 2:37 am

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