Peter Jackson’s much lauded adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings continues to resonate with audiences some ten years after the final film, The Return Of The King (2003), was released. However, an analysis of the technique Jackson employed in these films, particularly this last film, reveals that much of the critical and popular acclaim was in fact misplaced. Before the details of these techniques are explored at length consider that these same aesthetics and tactics were employed to far less acclaim to Jackson’s laughable remake of King Kong from 2005, the project with which he followed up his version of The Lord Of The Rings.
It does not serve the purposes of film analysis nor critique to consider the narrative discrepancies between Jackson’s source material by Tolkien and the finished films. All that is really relevant in determining the success or the value of a film is in fact its technique and content. In this case, the reasons for the tremendous success and marketability of The Lord Of The Rings films are exactly the same reasons why the films fail to find any deeper purpose besides offering a momentary escape from everyday life.
First, lets consider the score by composer Howard Shore. Shore’s music is ever present in the film, providing countless themes and variations upon those themes for every set of characters and circumstance the narrative calls for. This elaborate kind of musical accompaniment is not unprecedented in the history of cinema, in fact it’s quite common and appears to be making resurgence in terms of popular stylization among blockbusters today. Not since the heyday of studio produced adventure films in the fifties has music been so vital and ever present in film. And it was understood in the fifties by the studios that such adventure films were predominantly marketable to young boys, who may or may not have been ill equipped to understand the insinuations of such films as the classic Robert Taylor vehicle Ivanhoe (Thorpe, 1952) from MGM. Thus such films depended upon music cues to convey the emotional content of a scene to its youthful audience as a sort of back up plan in case the actor’s dialogue was not understood. Jackson’s film in turn uses music in the same way, though he remains ignorant to the fact that his audience is much older than those who lined up for Robert Taylor’s latest sword wielding adventure and therefore becomes almost condescending.
But if one watches the film with an attentive ear and focuses exclusively on the diagetic sound in The Lord Of The Rings one is in for a startling realization. The dialogue and its delivery are as wooden as the Ents in the film. Whatever emotion Viggo Mortensen pours into his role is undermined by the dialogue with which he is required to express himself. The dialogue is at times so Wagnerian that the only way a performer can justify his or her speech is by calling up an emotional reaction that is equally though often even more operatic than the script. With characterization is such disarray the music by Howard Shore appears more as a necessity to mask the amateurishness of the script and it’s realization than it does to provide textual cues.
The prevalent unsophistication of Jackson’s trilogy is exactly why it was so popular. It’s not a challenge to find a film like this accessible. With its heavy handedness, blunt delivery of exposition, and tireless reiteration of character archetypes an audience of any and all demographics would enjoy the adventurous antics of Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo. The reason The Lord Of The Rings was heralded as a triumph in filmmaking by critics and artists alike has little to do with the completed trilogy. Instead such praise comes as a result of the mode in which the three films were produced in New Zealand. Jackson’s status as an auteur of film epics derives from the fact that he managed three momentous film productions at the same time. Still, such achievements hardly seem worth it when the product is devoid of any expression other than to cater to American audiences’ need for escapist fare.