The Essential Movie Library #37: The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

Peter Jackson’s sweeping recreation of Middle-earth transcends the fairy tale genre

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Notwithstanding the inevitably underwhelming The Hobbit last year, this is not a “franchise.” This is a potential folly, a 12-hour epic filmed at once and then released in three parts over three years; regarding it as a single film is the only thing that makes sense. Even if generally you abstain from elves as part of your movie-going experience, director Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien transcends the fairy tale genre and distinguishes itself the way genre always does, by being rooted in human conflict at its most archetypal—which is why Macbeth is more than a political thriller and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more than a fantasy. Unlike George Lucas, say, Jackson comprehends how fairy tales attain grandeur by way of the tragic, how a story takes on mythic dimensions by exacting a price. Sacrifice validates the stakes.  

The Lord of the Rings lifted computer-generated imagery to the level of lyricism by yoking it to age-old concerns of narrative and character: There are stretches of moviemaking that rank among the most astonishing ever for sheer sweep and awful beauty—a deranged father-king on fire, for instance, fleeing down a vast mountainside corridor and tumbling off the edge into space. The true measure of Jackson’s triumph is that he’s invested his civil war-wracked Middle-earth with as much passion as spectacle: Frodo’s anguished temptation, Gollum’s terrifying internal division, Aragorn’s persistent doubt about his worth and destiny.

Read them all:  
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin’ in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L’Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

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