Thursday, April 2, 2009

One Ring to Rule Them All

I have been gorging on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

For someone who is as avid a fantasy fan as I am, I stumbled upon The Lord of the Rings very late. Being a dedicated Potterhead (as I've surely mentioned somewhere in a previous post), I always held a slight grudge toward the Rings stories. It seemed that the two series were constantly being pitted against one another and, being a Potterhead first and foremost, I took the obvious side.

My final year of high school I decided to break ranks and watch the films that everyone had been raving about for years. The term "floored" doesn't do the experience true justice. I was breathless from the opening sequence. The cinematographic beauty, the encompassing and consistent design, the acting, the story…how had I not seen these films before? I wish, now, that someone had forced me, however against my will it may have been, to experience these movies in theaters. After renting the three films from Blockbuster and watching them over the course of a weekend, I immediately bought what pieces of the soundtrack I could from iTunes (It should be mentioned that I am an obsessive collector of film scores and soundtracks. My iTunes library consists of almost 80% orchestral music).

Howard Shore's scoring of the films is truly historic. I remember the giddy feeling I felt while hearing the music for the first time during the films. There is something magical about film scores, something that I would like to explore deeper, perhaps in a later post (although it would have very little, if anything, to do with design). Unlike many film series (Potter included), Shore treats the Rings films as one, very long film, writing themes that stretch the length of the trilogy, some that may show up at the beginning of the first film and wait until the third to reappear. This idea gives the scores an almost-operatic feeling and I love it. It also makes them wonderful in Shuffle mode. No matter the order, all the tracks sound good together.

Besides the music, I was immediately taken aback by the beauty of design in the Rings films. Nothing felt cheap or standard-order and as an artist and designer, this is something I would notice and appreciate. From the Hobbit's charming, English farmstead style homes to the beautiful, Art Nouveau inspired design of the Elven city of Rivendell; from the subtly Scandinavian look of the Kingdom of Rohan to the grand, marble-laden city of Minas Tirith, the design team clearly left no stone unturned when searching for the perfect design solutions. A good portion of the design of the films was taken from original illustrations done by famed Tolkein illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe. This gives the film a wonderfully cohesive feeling that skirts the line between fantasy and reality in breathtaking form.

If you know me, you of course know my next move was to watch as many hours of "making of" featurettes as I could manage. Given the opportunity, I will positively wallow in hour-long documentaries about the construction of miniature set pieces or the design of costumes. With the Rings films, I struck "making-of" gold. The Extended Edition versions of the films (which I had, by this time, borrowed from my roommate) come with not one but two additional disks dedicated to special features. This, on top of complete audio commentaries by not only the directors and writers but the design team, the special effects wizards, sound mixers and composer and the actors meant a positive ocean of wonderful behind-the-scenes treats that could hardly wait to devour.

And then school decided it wanted my attention back. For a while I was forced to eject myself from Middle earth and focus on the real world. History became legend; legend became myth and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. I forgot that I still had more than four disks and over 60 hours of commentary to enjoy. In a few clicks I had purchased my own Extended Edition DVDs and in a few weeks they were in my hands, begging to be watched. Luckily I had acquired a rather large amount of tedious homework that would be perfectly accompanied by a back-to-back watching of the Rings films. And so, it began. This was nearly two months ago.

Since that time, I have squeezed every ounce of sweet, geeky goodness from those DVDs. Remarkably, I am not tired of them. In fact, as I write this post, I am half-watching The Fellowship of the Ring. This is a true testament to the quality of this series. It can be enjoyed, time and time again without losing any of its original splendor.

If you have not seen Peter Jackson's filmic masterpiece, do whatever it takes short of crime to get your hands on a copy. I can assure you it does not disappoint.