Monday, 2 August 2010

The Greatest Trilogy of All Time...?

AT asked, here and on his site, what the greatest trilogy of all time was, and you responded.  The Lord of the Rings won out but is it it the one to rule them all?  Ten years ago it wouldn't have been.  The original  Star Wars trilogy would of, and there's part of me that's sad that Lucas went and ruined that legacy with his three prequels.  However lets, for a moment detach the word movie from the trilogy thing and maybe there is an argument for LOTR.

The Lord of the Rings is composed of three excellent movies but I suspect I'll come at them from a different perspective to AT because I was already steeped in their lore.  I read the Hobbit as a kid and then moved onto The Lord of the Rings and I loved all four books.  The version that I read was just one big tome, a thousand pages of the most richly detailed world you could possibly imagine.  And yet there it all sat, inside one man's head, before tumbling out onto the page.  At the age of 9 it was mind blowing.  When I read it again over 20 years later it's brilliance had not diminished.

The films do a great job of bringing the books to life, the lulls of quiet before the storms of action and the look and feel of Middle Earth, so beautifully recreated in New Zealand.  Peter Jackson clearly saw it as a labour of love and I think in his next movie, the remake of King Kong, you can see that desire to create something truly special isn't there.  At least not with the same intensity.  LOTR just feels more authentic, instead of just touching on the themes of the book, it delves straight in and attempts to deliver everything, perfectly.  Attempts and and fails.

For me, like the book, it's actually hard to look at the three films as separate entities, they're just one big film in three parts due to the constraints of cinema.  Time was always going to be an issue for Jackson and some of his characters lose much of their true personality as a result.  My biggest issue throughout was Frodo.  In the book he's a tough little bugger of a Hobbit, divided by the Ring and the burden of carrying it but completely determined to finish the task that Gandalf has set him upon.  In the films he's this slightly weakened blur to the point of becoming annoying.  Aragorn is drawn better and Golum is suitably freakish, the CGI still standing up well at the moment, but many others suffer as a result and sadly the Hobbits, so important to the tale, lose out the most, almost parodies of themselves and rich pickings for piss taking.  Sam, in particular, is turned into something dangerously close to a fawning imbecile, the looks of 'love' at Frodo don't come close to delivering what he is in the book.  If you've not read it you won't know how different he is, but take it from me, Sam is far more than the sum of the parts you see in the films.

The movies feel different in tone to the books, there's less of the fun of it all, Jackson gets the look right, the scale spot on, but loses some of the charm.  Sometimes watching a film of a book can take away the images that you have in your head from when you read it, the biggest compliment you can give Jackson is that the movies simply embellish those memories and firm them up.  The biggest success, for me, was the city of Minas Tirith perched on a cliff face.  I can remember seeing it in the film for the first time and smiling at how spot on it was.  But the overlaying sense is that the films, despite having essentially the same plot to the books, somehow fail to tell the story properly.  It's hard to put my finger on why, I do love the films, but I don't hold them up in the same way that some do because the pulse feels different.  For me the books were a watershed moment, the first really adult story I ever read, that took me somewhere completely whole and believable.  They changed my reading habits and made me thirsty for more of what J.R.R. Tolkien had inspired in other authors.  That I've only discovered one author* that really delivers on that front, in nearly thirty years of looking, says a lot about the sheer quality of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It's the greatest trilogy of all time.  I'd agree with that.  But it's the books that take that title, not the films. 

*George RR Martin.