On its release a fantasy blockbuster was like a hobbit in the world of men: it looked out of place, but why did this work so well?
Weight of expectation doesn’t come much heavier than it did for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with the novel being one of the most widely read books in the western world. But headed by Peter Jackson this franchise delivered seventeen Oscars wins over three years, as well as bringing a new audience to the novel. After its huge success there have been other attempts to bring this type of fantasy novel to the big screen, but none have managed to reach its lofty heights. C.S Lewis’ Narnia managed to make a franchise, but Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fell into obscurity after only one film.
For an adventure film that fits around a war between the whole of Middle Earth, it’s no surprise to see such a large amount of deaths with an impressive franchise total of 985, including only 8 from natural causes. Return of the King tops the death count with 439; kills by goodies make up 265 with 20 claimed by Aragon, 11 by Legolas and 5 by Gimli. During the same film, kills by baddies make up only 170 deaths and natural causes kill off a further 4. As well as the most deaths, Return of the King also has the most elaborate kill, in which Legolas takes down a charging Mumakil (a mammoth like creature) with a shot of three arrows to the back of its head. Legolas gets points for style but as Gimli aptly states, “That still only counts as one”. The film cleverly balances action, fun and gore with scenes never isolating viewers with overuse of competitive kill scores or extreme violence, an impressive achievement considering the amount of blood and gore found in Jackson’s earlier work.
Since it has the least deaths, it’s a surprise that Fellowship of the Ring has the most Battles/Skirmishes with a total of 7. This beats Two Towers into second place with 6 with Return of the King only clocking up 4. When studying the result, the size of these Battles and Skirmishes are notable. In Fellowship, the battle scene with the most kills is the final battle at Amon Hen, but when compared to the Two Towers Helms Deep battle (with 189 deaths) it’s easily dwarfed. The battle with a FilmAttic record-breaking amount of deaths is Pellanor Fields with a phenomenal 316. How many deaths occur per film correlates directly with how close the ring is to Mordor and builds on the heightening tension and danger. As the battles rage, the story shifts focus away from Frodo and the ring allowing more tension to form around their seemingly hopeless situation.
Some of the more memorable intimate moments come from conversations between Sméagol and Gollum. These schizophrenic duologues seem a staple part of the franchise but are actually shown only four times with three of these occurring in the second film. This is down to the emotional state of Sméagol in Two Towers; in the first and last film he’s purely driven by his darker desires to have the ring, whereas during Two Towers Sméagol, the lighter side, must battle against Gollum, the darker side, in a fight for control. These moments are cinematically beautiful and slow the film just enough to linger and become frightening without them dragging.
With amazing scale and scope, this franchise redefined how fantasy adventures should be made, as well as making the careers of some well-known Hollywood faces, not least Orlando Bloom. Winning consecutive Best Visual Effects Oscars for three years running could make the franchise appear as only a technical triumph, but exquisite performances and a plot that could potentially take the title of the greatest story ever told back it up.
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