John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, an Oxford graduate, and Professor of Philology, created a saga with a densely ripe imagination. He used his vision to write many stories that became different books covering his immersive creation of an Otherworld, which we observe as welcoming and warm yet harsh with war and darkness. From his imagination which would almost seem like a never-ending thesis, Tolkien would build a world that would influence a generation of creators and linguistics touching lightly upon the possibilities that a human can travel to different worlds and return to earth, a journey impossible for any human being except for Tolkein. After having taken part in the war, he would collect memorabilia from his travels, but most of all, he understood what it entails to maintain and build longstanding friendships.
After a genius such as himself wrote these stories, many writers worked with him to put together this masterpiece of fantasy fiction. His son, Christopher Tolkien, would work alongside these writers editing and redacting to publish ‘The Silmarillion’, a pre-cursor to tales of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ enlightening our minds about the Second Age when Sauron was building an army looking to conquer parts of Middle Earth with nine rings and one more to rule the whole of Middle Earth.
In this listicle, we try to understand how Peter Jackson worked alongside Guillermo Del Toro to bring the most significant fantasy franchise to life with all the battles and compromises they made to bring this megalithic world to the screens alongside the franchise’s fans. With some of the best talent in this project, the actors played a massive role in helping define one of the best sagas ever witnessed, which shall forever remain a timeless classic. With no further delay, let us rate the Middle Earth Saga so far from the worst to the best.
6. The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies (2014)
One might wonder why this film reaches the lowest spot. It is because one grows tiresome of viewing the fight and awaits its end after three hours of Orcs and Dwarves battling each other with daunting intentions. It is all too familiar to the eye and mind. With Tolkien’s vision of war eminent through raging battle scenes between creatures of another time, Director Peter Jackson cannot show strength in its characters when the film moves so slowly as the characters speak their dialogue in contemplation.
The relatively speedy ending of Smaug, the Firedrake Dragon living under The Lonely Mountain of Erebor, leaves us stunned. Contrarily, it builds glimmering hope for the story to peak towards the journey of the Dwarves achieving salvation. The story gains momentum when Luke Evan’s character named Bard becomes the lone savior of his village to restore hope for The Age of Men. Lee Pace’s character Thranduil, the King of the Elves, has pride that remains stoic and persistent for the elvish silver that lies within the dwarves’ stronghold. When the dwarves come together and stand to defend their homeland, enemies swarm like eagles around potential prey, waiting for their share of the gold lying within the lyre.
The film sets up its first half with the perfect level of tension right up until the Dwarves must defend their homeland in the second act. The second act leading to the third act of conflict between the dwarves and the Orcs, stretches out far too long, and sometimes, the viewer is forced to move forward by hitting the fast-forward button. Lastly, the film loses its ability to keep the viewer engaged and leaves them quite annoyed at its excessive length. I give the highest respect to the CG Artists and the team at Weta Workshop for bringing these visuals to us. Its bright colors make it an experience for Tolkien’s vision to come alive.
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Why do we put this film the closest to the worst? It lacked so much luster to fit in with the others. It answers the most curious part of the saga of Ian Mckellan’s legendary dialogue, where he fights Balrog, the Demon living in the mines of Moria, to the death. His rebirth changes the whole narrative. The film falls short with its steady narrative. Another sparkling moment to mention is that of Treebeard, whose voice is close to C.S. Lewis, Tolkien’s best friend. (P.S: They never liked each other’s work and constantly ridiculed each other about it. The truth was Lewis knew who was better deep down.) These little bits of seeing different stories and parallels for us to meet the final battle at Isengard bring a slightly dogged narrative to its end.
One would observe that Orlando Bloom’s character Legolas has more substance than he portrays in The Hobbit. With his love for Tauriel in his past, here we see a different avatar. In this film, we see a lighter bond of friendship with a dwarf comrade, Gimli, helping us savor a sense of humor, making for some of the best moments in the film.
With events leading up to the Battle of Rohan, which is rescued by Viggo Mortenson’s legendary portrayal of Aragorn, son of Arathon, the last descendant of Isildur, he is every woman’s dream to view on screen. It is said that for Viggo to remain in character before each shoot; he would greet everyone with a generous headbutt to better embrace the character’s role. We believe that it worked because clearly, no one will forget him as Aragorn.
4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Before they even made this film, it experienced tremendous complications. With a huge budget and studio backing it, the ownership and rights of the film were in a constant tussle. When Del Torro joined, he had contrasting and contradictory views about the story and its characters. Somewhere, these conflicting views show with effect in the film. But the pace of the narrative stays on point to deliver a fulfilling film. It was originally done in bits and pieces to be put together as a three-part film series by Director Peter Jackson.
Even though Del Torro stayed on as a Secondary Unit Assistant, the writers struggled to put stories together that would keep us hooked. Martin Freeman’s performance as youthful Bilbo Baggins is the perfect ray of hope we want to see in a film like this. With the casting on point, we even meet Luke Evan’s character Bard for the first time, telling us slowly there is more than meets the eye for him. With the idea that the characters should drive the film, Bilbo seals the deal and keeps this team of 13 Dwarves together even though he was hesitant to start with this journey in the first place.
Tolkien’s vision of the North-Western region of Mid-Guard (Middle-Earth) is expansive with creatures and tales abundant with intricate stories still to be known. Jackson’s vision with Del Toro’s designs does full justice to crystalize an imagination for us to experience. When Bilbo begins his journey as a young eager hobbit trying to understand an aspect of adventure, Ian Mckellan’s Gandalf provides a grounding to the story that shall forever be etched in our memories marking this a classic in a different way.
3. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Well, now this is a movie that was long awaited by every single Lord of the Rings fan. It was time to experience the most talked about character. Smaug. When the news broke that Benedict Cumberbatch would lend his voice for Smaug, it was pure ecstasy. With just the right effects, we could feel the expanse and pride of Smaug just right after seeing only a glimpse of his eye in the previous film.
With his voice taking up the whole film, we see Freeman and Cumberbatch (who also plays the Necromancer later revealed to be the dark lord Sauron) come back to the screen on the opposite sides and we could not get enough of it. Antithetical and ironic were not the words used but gleeful and excited are what most people would agree with. While seeing that this pair lit up the screen, Richard Armitage’s character Thorin Oakenshield II, the leader of the 13 dwarves and sole heir to Erebor, tasks Bilbo with the dangerous task of retrieving the Arkenstone from under the dragon’s nose. While his life is in danger, Bilbo has already acquired a special ring to help aid in this difficult task. The power of invisibility grows on him. While Gandalf senses something about Bilbo has changed, Bilbo has him wrapped around his finger.
Somehow it is obvious there was a sharper vision in this film. Everything seemed to come together quite beautifully as we observe a perfect balance of characters complimenting a plotline moving forward with just enough thrill. When Kili discovers love, Tauriel knows her feelings towards him are stronger than for Legolas who stays steadfast and chooses her every time. When it comes to actors who are senior in experience, we see Ian Mckellan’s legendary characterization of Gandalf the Grey prominently taking up the whole film while Stephen Fry plays an admissible and forgettable role in the film. Packed with a star-studded cast, some parts of the film fall short but all in all the film hits the nail on the head in almost every aspect.
2. The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring (2001)
What is wrong with the film? Nothing. That’s the problem. How? I don’t know. Maybe it was simply the first film introducing to us the story of the One ring but it did so with so much panache. It’s almost perfect. The film delivered in every aspect. Each character was zoomed into like a comic strip and built up enough tension with dialogue that its sheen stayed intact throughout.
The film begins with a dark looming past nearing the end of The Third Age. The line of Isildur fights Sauron and dethrones him from the dark throne of Power that he sits on when Isildur himself cuts his finger off and keeps the one ring meant to rule the whole of Middle Earth. With The Ring still in the world of Middle Earth, death finds Isildur. It is assumed the bloodline of Men has ended. When the Ring is found to be with Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf is the first to jostle him into giving him the ring. Frodo must take on this burden and deliver the ring to its doom. Quite literally. And yes, pun intended since this epic saga ends in Mount Doom (totally with my fellow Middle Earth nerds). Maybe that was a little cheesy, but that’s not to say, this film did not have that. The primary reason why characters like Merry and Pippin were so necessary.
Director Peter Jackson’s cameo is unmissable in the first shot of Bree. We see him there even in the previous film series of The Hobbit. One would wonder what his fascination is with that set but there is something. It is not an unknown fact that some people who worked in production on the sets eventually even decided to act in the film while they could. With seeing the Nazgul and Angmar, the Witch King in full action, each shot was straight out of an illustrator’s sketchbook so perfectly delivered on screen, it would give anyone goosebumps. With perfectly balanced tones, this film beat many odds and stands as a hallmark of masterful cinema.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Can you imagine working on a series of films that lasts ten years? Can you also imagine having a special effects production company working on the same genre of movies for almost 20 years? The planning for Lord of the Rings production and sets started in 1997. I remember watching the making of the Lord of The Rings. That alone was 9 hours, three hours documenting how each film became what it is today. Jackson and the company seem to have a knack for lengthy coverage. In hindsight, deservingly so! Elijah Wood mentioned he was only 19 when he first entered Hobbiton, now a permanent standing structure in New Zealand, open for people to visit.
While this is the background of the films, one would ask why is this film the best. Well, it’s a wholesome and fulfilling end in its quest. It brings closure to every character’s journey after a long and arduously dark journey after confronting the dangers of Middle-Earth. Here we see a sparkle in every character’s eye because the film’s narrative leans towards one goal more centric around Frodo finally making the ring meet its doom. Gullible and two-faced Smeagol, a.k.a Gollum is following close behind with Samwise Gamgee. Here we cannot fail to mention Andy Serkis’s genius behind Gollum, but it is also not entirely sharp. When the films first came out, the strong visual of Gollum always took me in, and that was what it was meant to do.
The saga was so lengthy that somehow this film had the diamond’s shine on it the whole time. As a film and an expansive story finally meeting its end, the story moves at just the right pace to guide you to a beautiful happy ending. We shall forever etch some characters in our memories. The film stands as a classic for years to come with Jackson’s vision of Tolkien’s writings as the perfect pair for the portrayal of high fantasy films. No one can compare or meet this paradigm. They were just meant for each other. Despite the vicious disputes, the tenacity of Jackson to have seen this through is thoroughly commendable.