The Lord of the Rings

Thoughts on the books, the films, and awards

In this essay, I gripe a lot about the Academy Awards. I wrote this essay before the second and third films were released and I have not gotten around to updating it (yes, I know it's been a long time, but I've been very busy). The third film cleaned up at the Academy Awards, so a lot of my griping is outdated. Please know that I am aware of this, and that some of what I say in this essay may no longer apply, and will be brought up to date some day.

The novels
History and a brief synopsis

When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit (originally titled There and Back Again) in the 1930s, he single-handedly re-established the fantasy genre in literature. Set in a mythical European prehistory called Middle Earth, the book introduced the reader to traditional fantastic races, such as Trolls, Elves and Dwarves, and also to a new fantastic race, hobbits. Similar to humans but half the size and twice the heart, they were based very much on the simple, peace-loving folk of rural England. The novel told a tale of good versus evil and was not afraid to tackle the question of how good people can be corrupted, and in what ways. It was a simple story told with wit, grace and depth.

The tale featured a hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins. Part way through his adventure, he finds a magic ring which turns its wearer invisible. He naturally uses this gift to overcome later obstacles in his quest, but the ring itself doesn't receive much attention in the story.

The novel was so popular that Tolkien's publishers asked for more tales "about the hobbit." He obliged, and over the next 14 years he pounded out a trilogy called The Lord of the Rings. Set about 60 years after The Hobbit, this story reveals that the ring found by Bilbo – and now belonging to his nephew Frodo – is actually the most evil and most powerful magical device in existence.

According to Tolkien's mythology, the Dark Lord Sauron created Rings of Power thousands of years previously. He gave three rings to the Elves, seven to the Dwarves, and nine to Men, pretending to be their friend. These races took the rings and used them to wield power and to govern their various races and kingdoms. But Sauron betrayed them all by creating one last Ring of Power for himself. This ring was more powerful than the others – some of which were designed to corrupt the hearts of those who wore them. But in order for his ring to control the others, he poured most of his evil will and spirit into it. Therefore, he needs it in his possession to realize his full power.

Once the various races realized they had been betrayed, they fought a great battle against Sauron and his armies, and the One Ring was sliced from his hand. Sauron was defeated but survived in spirit form, and he began the long, slow process of licking his wounds and rebuilding his power. But instead of being destroyed, the One Ring instantly began to corrupt the heart of its new owner, who kept it for himself, and then through circumstance the One Ring was lost, and then forgotten. Thousands of years later, it ended up in the hands of Bilbo Baggins.

When The Lord of the Rings begins, Sauron is rebuilding his armies and growing stronger. It is obvious he is about to launch a new assault on the forces of Middle Earth, but no one knows quite what to do about it. The ancient alliance of Men and Elves has fallen into disarray. The main realm of Men, Gondor, no longer has a king. Things look hopeless as they stand already, so if Sauron regained possession of the One Ring, it would be an overwhelming victory for him, and no force in Middle Earth would then be able to stop him.

When the good wizard Gandalf and the Dark Lord Sauron both discover at the same time that the One Ring still exists, and that it is owned by Frodo Baggins of the Shire, the race to save Middle Earth is on. Frodo and his friends attempt to destroy the One Ring in the only place it can be – in the fiery lava of Mount Doom, where it was made.

But they have several problems to overcome. Mount Doom is in the heart of Sauron's kingdom, Mordor, so they must travel in secret into the land of the enemy himself, dodging his servants along the way. Even without Sauron's servants looking for them, the road is perilous enough as it is, leading through ancient places overrun with evil. And the One Ring itself has a subtle will of its own – it wants to return to its master, and is forever trying to entice the people around it to use it to fulfill their dreams. But, of course, they cannot use it, for the Ring is evil and answers to no one but Sauron, and will simply corrupt any who take it for themselves. One of Gandalf's old friends, a powerful wizard named Saruman, lusts for the ring for his own purposes, so Frodo and his friends have not one enemy to fight, but two, and Saruman's betrayal costs them dearly. And even before the quest can be completed, as Frodo secretly works his way into Mordor, Sauron launches his assault, and the heroes of Men, Dwarves and Elves must rouse themselves, forge a new alliance, and find what strength they can to fight a massive war for their lives and for their freedom.

Why the novels are so good

The entire trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King – are written with such dazzling power, grace, glory and detail as to be beyond breathtaking. It may be that the only fault of The Lord of the Rings is that is so incredible that it established an impossible standard, so that all later fantasy works would pale by comparison – which they do.

Tolkien actually created several new languages for his novels. This fact alone is stunning many times over. He didn't just slop a few meaningless runic characters on the page and call it an exotic language, he created Elvish, Dwarvish, and the dark language used by the evil forces of Sauron. He created alphabets, and included appendices as a guide to pronunciation and translation. The only comparable thing in the realm of fiction is the Klingon language created for Star Trek – but that was for a multi-million dollar enterprise, in an age when detailed science fiction is finally in vogue, whereas Tolkien had no thoughts or promises of great money when he created his languages 60 years ago in his Oxford home.

But his languages, as astonishing as they are, aren't the only things which set The Lord of the Rings apart from other literature. One of the most fundamental aspects of good storytelling is that great stories start in the middle of their tale. Tolkien knew this quite well, yet he took the concept to new heights. When the epic begins, it is actually at the end of a very long era called the Third Age of Middle Earth. Tolkien developed a history, detailed and precise, for the entire land of Middle Earth for its First, Second and Third Ages – thousands upon thousands of years! He created lineages and genealogical charts for the royal families of the various kingdoms and for other characters in the story, sometimes going back dozens of generations. He knew exactly how all of his hobbits were related to each other, and to what degree. He created a geography of Middle Earth, and his vast history includes how and why different peoples migrated from one area to another over thousands of years, how each kingdom or race developed sociologically and economically, how various kinds of tobacco and healing herbs found their way from one area of the world to another.

Knowledge of this history isn't necessary to enjoy the novels, much less the films, but the fact that it's there, supplied in more appendices and further expounded upon in a later book about Middle Earth called The Silmarillion, is incredible. This history is constantly alluded to throughout the books, giving the reader – and the viewer – an overwhelming sense of history, of depth, of the great scope of time. When we join Frodo Baggins and his friends on his quest to destroy the One Ring, we are hit with one image after another of great kingdoms come and gone, and of the great sweep of history which has led to this point.

And there's still more. Tolkien wrote in a sweeping, almost Shakespearean style, more like medieval speech than mankind's crass modern tongue, yet none of it is difficult to understand. His words flow beautifully, poetically across the page, and he created many songs and poems which the characters recite, and he wasn't constrained to one kind of meter or rhyming scheme in his poetry. He was as skilled at poetry as with the creation of languages.

His writing shows a very subtle, yet keen, insight into the way people think, and tiny nuggets of wisdom can often be found scattered within the passages of his books. His characters are witty, charming, with very distinctive personalities, and the relationships among the main characters are as pure and as powerful as any ever found in fiction. The books are so long because Tolkien takes the time to tell each of the characters' stories, and to weave a realistic tapestry in which no one person is the main character. They are incredibly long books, but they contain scenes of such incredible passion, emotion and resolution that they'll break your heart. The Lord of the Rings, quite simply, is as large as it needs to be to encompass Tolkien's grand vision. Many consider it to be the finest literary work of the 20th century.

The film version of The Fellowship of the Ring
General thoughts on the film

I have yearned for a live-action, thoughtful, faithfully rendered cinematic version of The Lord of the Rings ever since I first read it at the age of 12. I even once assembled a fantasy cast in my mind (and no, I don't remember whom I chose). So I was ecstatic when I heard about the films directed by Peter Jackson, yet also apprehensive as to what Hollywood might do to the legend.

I needn't have worried. The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, is stunning and beautiful beyond my wildest dreams. As a piece of art it fills a need within my soul for such things, in a way films rarely do any more.

My biggest worry was that the film would cater too much to fans of the novels and leave mainstream audiences behind, or go too far in the other direction and disappoint Tolkien's fans for a cheap, cliched fantasy film. It did neither, and in a three-hour extravaganza, The Fellowship of the Ring walks that tightrope almost perfectly.

My second biggest worry was the delicate task of explaining to the viewer the tremendous back story which The Lord of the Rings demands. Again, Peter Jackson did not disappoint. The opening scenes – haunting, mythical and perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the film – covers the history of the One Ring just as much as it needs to, acting as a prologue to the title and the beginning of the film.

Overall, the film contains all the majesty, wonder and scope of the novels, with suspense and depth, yet impeccably broken at intervals with comic relief.

The directing, music and cinematography are awesome, not least because of the breathtaking landscape of New Zealand. Howard Shore's score is by turns rousing, haunting, beautiful and happy, without every being sappy or silly. Some scenes are accompanied by soft choral pieces, such as you'd think to hear in an ancient cathedral. Many scenes are filmed in slow motion, yet this device is never once overused, or even noticed overtly, such is Peter Jackson's skill in using it. The slow motion allows us to experience the magic of this exotic new world and to feel the emotion of the characters. It fits perfectly with the epic grandness of the entire work.

The cast is superb, as well it should be for one which includes not just one but two actors who have been knighted! Sir Ian McKellan had the difficult task of portraying the archetypal wizard Gandalf without resorting to cliches, sappiness or allowing his costume to do the acting for him. The other knight, Sir Ian Holm, was excellent as Bilbo Baggins.

The remaining cast is just as good. Elijah Wood is Frodo Baggins, hands down. He and Sean Astin, who played his best friend Sam, were spectacular. Dominic Monaghan played a wonderful Meriadoc, and Billy Boyd, with his absolutely perfect comic timing, excelled as Peregrin. Orlando Bloom played a credible Legolas (I felt he could have been a bit better, even more cat-like in his movements, but maybe that's just me; he was still very good), and John Rhys-Davies gave his gusto to the dwarf Gimli. It's a shame that Gimli had such a huge beard, as it obscured John's face, making it more difficult to get a handle on his acting, but he portrayed the character quite well with his voice and body, especially since he didn't have as much dialog. Sean Bean turned in an excellent performance as Boromir. Cate Blanchett was given a cliched role of a beautiful, mysterious queen, but carried it off very well, and Liv Tyler shed real tears as Arwen. And just when you think it can't get any better, in walks Christopher Lee.

But Viggo Mortensen deserves special recognition for his portrayal of Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor. A lesser actor would have played Aragorn as simply your typical rugged loner, hiding his pain and slugging his way through the world on manly strength alone. Aragorn is that, of course, but so much more, and Viggo Mortensen displayed this, showing his caring, his depth, his ability to understand and to honor his lineage and his place in the world. Witness the quiet way he places the broken sword back on its display stand. During the Council of Elrond, when sneered at by Boromir, Aragorn's face speaks volumes about the burdens he must carry and his own self-doubt, without saying a word. Truly magnificent. Viggo is a poet, painter and photographer as well as an actor, he's trilingual, well-traveled, skilled in horseriding and eager to do all of his own fighting and stunts, and he is able to shed tears as Aragorn when the need calls for it. He was perfect for the role.

Indeed, the entire cast seems able to weep, not even bothering to pay homage whatsoever to the old and tiresome myth than men can't cry. Their grief upon enduring tragedy is part of what makes this film so great.

The cast members also underwent dialog coaching and learned the language of the Elves, created by Tolkien, so that they would speak it properly within the film. That's the level of detail through which they went for their roles. (And incidentally, the Elvish language is used in several lines of Enya's beautiful song May It Be.)

But let the following be an example of how wonderful the cast is. For its 2001 awards, the American Film Institute awarded The Fellowship of the Ring Best Digital Effects and Best Production Design, and it was nominated for Best Score. But the AFI didn't even nominate a single actor from the film, male or female, for any type of award. They did not nominate Peter Jackson for Best Director. The film was not nominated for Best Cinematography despite its sweeping vistas and excellent footage of the New Zealand landscape. It was not nominated for Best Editing, despite its incredible use of slow motion and the stirring battle scenes, especially Aragorn's duel with the orc captain at the end. And typically, any film in which people think the cast, the director, the cinematography and the editing were not exceptional certainly won't think the film itself is exceptional.

So why did The Fellowship of the Ring walk away with the AFI award for Best Picture of 2001?

My theory is that the chemistry, camaraderie and overall talent of the entire cast and crew came together to make a beautiful film which deserves to be recognized as the best of 2001. Most good films are carried by a single actor (or a director) of great talent while everything else is mediocre or cliched. One can point to a single individual without whom everything would have fallen apart. But The Fellowship of the Ring is a truly ensemble project. No one actor carries that film alone – they all carry it, they're all wonderful, so there isn't really any given performance one can point to. One can just feel while watching the film the devotion which the set designers and costumiers poured into their work, the love of the actors as they created this saga, the vision of the director as he put it all together.

Any 2001 film award for production design and costume design should be a foregone conclusion – The Fellowship of the Ring, all the way. You don't spend 12 months designing the world of Middle Earth in such exquisite detail without being recognized. They planted vegetables at the site of the Hobbiton set a year in advance to make it look like Hobbits had lived there for hundreds of years! Every single set was exquisite. Some sets were created twice in different sizes, in perfect replication, so that the actors playing hobbits would look small in some scenes while humans would not in others! Multiple versions of costumes were created to display the wear and tear which their clothing would show along the journey, and those had to be created several times over for stunt doubles and for size doubles (the very large or very small people who stood in for other actors when filming a scene with different-sized people), and great care was given to the fabrics and colors used. Every single race, within any given era, had their own type of armor and weapons, the templates for which were forged by smiths. Even extra soldiers in the far background had the same finely-crafted armor as those in the front. The swords used by the main characters were also hand-forged and individually crafted by a sword smith, and cared for lovingly by the actors who had to wield them!

In short, this film kicks some major ass. If anyone who sees this film is not utterly spellbound by its final 20 minutes, they are not human.

The director, Peter Jackson, basically pulled off a major miracle when he completed these films. He is universally praised by the cast and crew as a tireless leader who has that rare combination of perfectionism and good humor. Although the three films will be released at one-year intervals, he filmed them all at once, over a period of two years. Five different crews filmed around New Zealand daily, and Peter Jackson was in constant communication with all of them through satellite linkup – imagine directing five things at once, any given scene of which could be for any of the three films! His extraordinary energy and talent is the main reason why the film works so well. He deserves a Best Director Oscar for The Lord of the Rings, even if it's given to him only for one of the three films, and the fact that he wasn't even nominated for the Best Director AFI award is an outrageous travesty, and an insult to the scope of his achievement.

Here's one more example of Peter Jackson's brilliance: In order to display the potency of the One Ring, and to ask the audience to accept the fact that all the action centers around it, he did everything he possibly could to make the One Ring become a character in the film, even giving it a voice (for which an actor is given credit as "Voice of the Ring"), which is something that didn't happen in the novels. He gives extra weight to sound effects centered on the ring, when it falls to the ground in Gollum's cave and when Bilbo drops it to the floor of his home in the doorway. He wisely provides close-ups of the ring whenever possible, allowing it to fill the screen in the same way that the character's faces sometimes do. The scene in which Frodo sees Sauron's Eye in the Mirror of Galadriel, and the ring slips from inside his shirt and hovers over it, is incredible! When Gandalf enters Bilbo's home and looks down at the ring on the floor, the camera even circles it slowly, in perfect silence. Then we see Gandalf from the ring's perspective, looking up at his face! This is exactly what was needed to bring the Ring's power home to the audience – by almost giving it an evil personality. (And I think the ring's view of Gandalf in the doorway is the only perspective shot in the entire film, unless you count following the flight of arrows as they home in on their targets.)

Awards for the film

Allow me to get greedy and talk about awards for a moment. It's a fan thing.

When Michelle Pfeiffer opened the Best Picture envelope at the AFI awards and said, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," I literally leaped out of my chair and jumped for joy, and probably disturbed the neighbors as I let loose 25 years of frustration in an incredible yell.

Back in 1977, Star Wars single-handedly redefined not just cinema but the entire cultural landscape of the United States, possibly the world – in addition to being one of the finest films ever made. People lined up around city blocks to see it. Yet it was snubbed for the Best Picture Oscar because it was science fiction. (At least it got nominated, though. The Academy was decent enough to do that much. But it still should have won, hands down. To this day I'm still stunned that there was any doubt at all, much less that it actually lost. Does anyone even remember Annie Hall?!?! Anyone?)

And let's not forget that when George Lucas tried to nominate Frank Oz for a Best Supporting Actor award for bringing Yoda to life, he was told that puppeteers weren't eligible! Wow!

Science fiction and fantasy films traditionally receive short shrift at awards ceremonies, as if the subject matter somehow negates any drama, depth or talent of the people involved, and if the film is a sequel its chances are far worse, even if it's a better film than its predecessor. This is a damned shame and has always been a major sore point with me.

Can anyone honestly say that Terminator 2: Judgment Day was just another mindless action flick? It had a powerful message, and instead of being preachy, it actually demonstrated this message within an incredibly mind-stretching science fiction plot, with fantastic editing and directing and a superb story. Yet James Cameron had to wait until Titanic for his Best Picture and Director awards. Heck, even a nomination would have been fine.

Or what about Back to the Future? Robert Zemeckis used exactly the same directorial techniques to create one of the most underrated, overlooked films of the 20th century as he did when filming Forrest Gump, but no time-traveling Delorean would earn him his Oscar, and the sheer cleverness of that script and the superb acting team of Lloyd and Fox went unnoticed by the golden statue. That film had incredible editing, as well.

How can Steven Spielberg continually turn out film after film which enchants the public – and Raiders of the Lost Ark was also one of the century's best films – but had to wait until he made Schindler's List before being recognized by the Academy?

I was even frustrated when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn't win Best Picture, but perhaps that was because people truly felt Gladiator was so good.

The Fellowship of the Ring had the best chance ever for a fantasy film to earn the top honors at the Academy Awards. I wish it had won, but with actors making up the largest voting bloc of the Academy, your typical straight-up drama – especially one set in another time – will usually win, and that's what happened with the 2001 awards with A Beautiful Mind.

What's unusual is that all three films, more than any other series, will all have exactly the same feel and talent, which makes me curious as to how the second and third films will fare at the various award ceremonies. This will be the first time in history that a series of films is being used to tell, specifically, one continuous story. (Even the Star Wars films – which had different directors – told individual stories which made up chapters of an overall whole, not a single, continuous, flowing story such as The Lord of the Rings.) Let's assume for the moment that no shoo-in powerhouse films of Titanic or Gump proportions will come along in the next two years. Since The Fellowship of the Ring didn't pick up any of the big guns, will its two sequels be snubbed further, or will they be seen as having the same chance as the first film?

My feeling is that the second two films are doomed for the sake of awards. Everyone will acknowledge, even though it didn't win Best Picture, how wonderful The Fellowship of the Ring is, but part of that is its novelty. Once that wears off – which will be quickly – the Academy will be less impressed, even if the second two are better than the first.

The Fellowship of the Ring won Cinematography, Makeup, Original Score and Special Effects, all well-deserved.

I wish it would have won Best Picture and Original Song with Enya's May It Be, but that's just a personal preference, I can't honestly say it was better than the others in either category. I didn't see any of the other nominated films. As for the song, I do know that I liked it better than the others, but I've always been a fan of Enya.

I consider it a travesty that it did not win Costume Design, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Art Direction. I honestly, honestly, honestly do not understand how anyone can consider another 2001 film to be better than The Fellowship of the Ring in any of these four categories. The costume design and art direction were detailed and superb, lovingly rendered by an incredible team of artists over the course of an entire year!

Directing: Peter Jackson pulled off the impossible. (See my extensive praise for him above.) The simple fact that he directed three films at the same time, tirelessly over the course of two years and turned out something which was a contender for Best Picture should have netted him this award alone. How, how, how was this ignored? Ron Howard's good, but he's never done that.

And then there's the category that would actually upset me if I were more unbalanced than I already am – Best Adapted Screenplay. People, this is Tolkien we are talking about. His trilogy runs something on the order of 300,000 words with a 3,000-year backstory and several new languages! This is the story that has been called by many people the finest literary work of the 20th Century. Without exaggeration, I boldly proclaim that only the Bible would be a harder tale to film. To adapt something this monumental, this complex, this beautiful for the screen is a tightrope of nightmarish proportions. What to cut? What to leave in? How to explain the backstory to the audience? How to please the Tolkien fans without losing the general audience and vice versa? How to make a villain sinister on the screen when his only role is to sit in a far-off tower and send out his servants? How to portray a fantasy world without getting all sappy and Disney-like, and to have comic relief at perfectly timed intervals? There were a billion ways to get this script wrong and one way to get it right. Jackson, Boyens and Walsh found that one way. This Academy Award should have gone to them, and I can already tell you that it should go to them for the next two years as well. The fact that they went unrewarded is a crying shame and blight on the Academy, a blight that can go take its appointed place next to Annie Hall.

Things I wish (about the film, anyway)
Gimli and Legolas

I realize that some things had to be cut from the book in order to make the film, and I agree with 99% of the cuts. In a way (not totally, mind you, but in a way), I actually like the film better than the novel, as it's not weighted down with Tom Bombadil and the barrow-wight – extra stuff which enhanced the story, but ultimately had nothing to do with it.

However, there is one thing cut from the film which could have made it even better had it been left in, and it would only have taken another two minutes of screen time, at most, which might have been worth it. This is a further exploration of the relationship between Gimli and Legolas.

One of the subplots of the novels is that Dwarves and Elves dislike each other, and this is mentioned in the film. But even before the end of the first novel, Gimli and Legolas have become fast friends despite their racial divide. This could easily have been interpreted with some very concise dialog in the film.

In the novel, when the Fellowship is stuck at the doors of Moria trying to find a way in, Gandalf mentions the ancient friendship which existed long ago between the Elves and the Dwarves, and is sad it no longer exists. Gimli says, "It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," to which Legolas replies, "I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves."

"I have heard both, and I will not give judgment now," says Gandalf. "But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both."

Imagine if, in the film, someone such as Sam or Frodo asks Gandalf why the language over the door is Elvish if the land they are about to enter is that of the Dwarves (because a possibly confused viewer new to the story might be wondering exactly the same thing – I know I would). Gandalf could mention the friendship which used to exist between the races, and the above exchange could then take place, straight from the book. Not only would this clear up a tiny bit of confusion for the new viewer, but it would enhance the feeling of Middle Earth history that little bit more, and make the later scene with Legolas saving Gimli's life by hanging onto his beard all that better. All this could be accomplished in about a 20- to 30-second exchange, and that's a fair trade.

Also in the book, some of the differences between Elves and Dwarves are healed when Gimli and Galadriel compliment one another. Basically, when the Fellowship tell her and her husband Celeborn what happened to Gandalf, Celeborn curses the Dwarves for their greediness, saying that if Balin and the other Dwarves hadn't returned to Moria to try to retake it from the evil forces which have overrun it, then the Balrog might never have awoken. Galadriel gently rebukes him, speaking some of the Dwarves' place names in their own tongue, and says, "Would we be able to stay away from the woods of Lorien or deny ourselves the chance to retake our homeland, even if it were overrun by dragons?" Celeborn realizes then how silly he is being for criticizing the Dwarves for trying to retake Moria and apologizes to Gimli. Gimli then compliments the beauty of Galadriel.

Now, the above scene might have been too complicated for the film, because the fact that Gimli's cousin Balin was trying to retake Moria would have needed to be explained to the viewer, whereas, as things stood, all the casual viewer needed to know was that Dwarves once lived in Moria. But still, it would only have taken about 30-45 seconds, and it might have enhanced the film tremendously, especially since the Fellowship's stay in Lorien seems to have been covered only cursorily. All we see is that Galadriel shows Frodo a mirror, gives him a phial and then gives the Fellowship some boats. I got the feeling as they set sail down the river that some scenes from Lorien had ended up on the cutting room floor. It seemed just a little awkward, over too quickly, but maybe that's just me. Even an extra 60 seconds of seeing the Fellowship interact with Celeborn and Galadriel might have been enough.

Excerpts

The other thing I wish is that different clips would have been shown at the AFI awards! The best scenes were passed over entirely for much lesser ones.

One of the best scenes in the film is of the Fellowship leaving Moria in slow motion, then streaming out the doors into sunlit snow and crying with grief. Imagine a single clip starting with Gandalf shouting "You shall not pass!" all the way to the moment Frodo turns around, looks right into camera, and sheds a single tear.

Here's another perfect clip to show to an audience: Start with the moment Aragorn startles Frodo (after Frodo has been frightened by Boromir), when Frodo runs from him and Aragorn says, "I swore to protect you." Frodo shows him the ring and asks, "Would you destroy it?" Aragorn gives him a perfect, sad smile and tells him he would have gone all the way to Mordor. Frodo asks him to look after the others. Then Aragorn urges Frodo to run when he notices that Sting is glowing. As Frodo reluctantly runs, Aragorn turns and faces the approaching orc army alone. He raises his sword in salute, and the clip would end with his first swing as he wades into battle.

Or how about the political fighting at the Council of Elrond, the scene which perhaps defines the entire film? Everyone starts arguing with each other and Frodo sees their anger reflected in the One Ring (and at this point, the One Ring fills the entire screen from top to bottom and from side to side, more than at any other time in the film) – and in perfect irony, we hear a voice whisper in the language of Mordor (at least, I think so), "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." Great stuff! (Although the image of fire spreading around the ring was perhaps a bit much, as if Peter Jackson didn't think the audience could get the point without it.)

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