J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was considered unfilmable for a very long time -- the story was too big, too fantastical. But in the late 1990s, New Zealand director Peter Jackson got the green light to shoot the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy, a frightening undertaking. But Jackson was up to the challenge. The rest... is film history.
"The Fellowship of the Ring" introduces us to the hobbits. Eccentric old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) leaves the peaceful Shire at his 111st birthday, leaving all he has to his young nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) -- including a golden Ring that makes the wearer invisible. But the grey wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) reveals that it's actually the One Ring, which is the source of power for the demonic Dark Lord Sauron. Horrified, Frodo and his best pals leave the Shire and join a band of elves, men, and dwarves to take the Ring to the only place where it can be destroyed.
"The Two Towers" picks up immediately after "Fellowship" ends. Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) are lost on the path to Mordor. Worse, they're being stalked by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who owned the Ring for centuries and is enslaved to it. But because he knows safe ways into Mordor, Frodo lets Gollum come along. Elsewhere, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) make a desperate stand against the orc armies with the kingdom of Rohan....
"Return of the King" brings the trilogy to a head. Frodo and Sam's friendship is threatened by Gollum's trickery -- and Frodo is led into a deadly trap. Elsewhere, Gandalf rides with Pippin (Billy Boyd) to Gondor, the kingdom that Aragorn is heir to. Aragorn summons an army of ghosts and attacks the heart of Mordor -- as Frodo and Sam arrive at the volcanic Mount Doom, where the Ring was forged. But can Frodo bring himself to destroy the Ring?
A lot of people were nervous when first hearing that "Lord of the Rings" was being translated onto the big screen. There were just too many things -- goofy scripting, bad special effects, mutilated characters -- that could go wrong. In fact, it had already been wrecked in a few prior attempts.
Those fears turned out to be pretty much unfounded. Some characters are different from what they are in the book (Faramir and Arwen, for example, are altered and added to), and a handful are gone altogether. But as both an adaptation and a cinematic experience, this is a winner.
Jackson and Co. outdid themselves with nearly every aspect of the films. The scripting is impeccable, a good balance of dark and light, humor and horror. The sets and New Zealand landscapes are breathtaking, as the cameras pan over snowy plains and mountaintops. And the special effects are almost entirely convincing-looking, especially the gruesome Gollum. He's the first fully convincing CGI character, and after awhile you'll forget he is made digitally.
Elijah Wood is outstanding as Frodo Baggins. He runs the emotional gamut: fear, pain, horror, happiness, resignation, rage, love, lust and emptiness. Sean Astin is equally good as the steadfast Sam, who grows from Frodo's timid pal to a strong-hearted warrior. Supporting hobbits Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd get to grow up into mature young men.
But as lovable as the hobbits are, they do not dominate all of the screen: Ian McKellen is excellent as the grandfatherly wizard Gandalf. Viggo Mortensen, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom and Sean Bean are only part of the amazing supporting cast, all of whom give excellent performances.
The movie adaptation of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has been accepted by most fans and critics alike. Why? Because the trilogy is among the best movies ever put to film. A stunning achievement.