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Meanderings by josh m. shepherd: #4: Sub-creation and Peter Jackson
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Ian Holm as Bilbo Tells a Story From The HobbitOscar-nominated actor Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf leads up the 450+ cast (total from all three films) in giving Middle-Earth its strong human grounding. Perhaps Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins delivers the best performance. Every second he's on screen, the hobbit psyche comes to life in little laughs, glances, and fears. As far as visuals are concerned, no expense was spared.

Blacksmiths, costume designers, and other artisans lived in New Zealand for the full two years of production on The Lord of the Rings, churning out 900 hand-made suits of armor, 20,000 culture specific "settings" items and 1600 prosthetic elf ears/hobbit feet, to only scratch the surface.

The Crew Makes Hobbit HolesCrews came a full year before filming to plant the greenery atop hobbit-holes and their adjoining gardens. A scholar's love of languages and centuries of history are textured deep into scenes, whether by Aragorn's refined Elvish, or Dwarf-runes in the Moria mines. Though coordination alone was near impossible, the director pieced together actors, lighting, sets and effects into a believable Secondary World.

But that blinding, "capital J" Joy that Tolkien stipulated—does it shine through? Here may lie the weakness of Fellowship. Dread follows Frodo and his band throughout the picture in the form of Black Riders who strike with dark horrors. Brawny Orcs swarm the nine heroes for the battleground climax. Death overruns the journey’s every advance, whether from the tentacles of a Watcher in the Water or the glare of an eye that never shuts.

The Watcher In The WaterIf these are viewed as examples of a "Hollywood makeover" done to the original work, these scenes have a common problem: Tolkien wrote each and every one. Just as terrifying, just as fast-paced as any three-hour movie. Granted, the bombastic soundtrack of this first LOTR film misinterprets the novel's hopeful anticipation. For the original purpose of the fantasy, some source material must be sought out.

"Why do you speak to them in parables?" the disciples ask in Matthew 13:10. Jesus answers, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven…many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see." Simple innocence cannot be seen clearer than in Hobbiton. A wayward believer's right to rule reveals itself in a ranger's slow ascent to the royalty. And is not Samwise Gamgee the very essence of abiding loyalty?

Aragorn Encourages His Friends To Keep Pressing OnThese are not Star Wars conflicts, where computers generate landscapes lacking dirt and experiences sans people. Weapons clash, men fall, and a discovery is made: the warfare of millennia wages on. In The Lord of the Rings—and today—this private yet persistent evil must be met by the redeemed, or else the world will never know eternal, intimate Good. A quote from Aragorn seems fitting: "Let's hunt some Orc."
- Co-founder of cMusicWeb.com and a charter member of The LOTR Fan Club,
Josh M. Shepherd holds a marketing position in Colorado Springs, CO.
Special thanks to Nick Shepherd for transcribing this article.
October 2004
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