I just watched the DVDs of all three movies by Peter Jackson, and they confirmed my initial impression: what a sad, tragic, almost hopeless story. I’m not comparing the films with the books, just expressing my opinion of what I saw in the last few days.
The heroes are great, flawed and contradictory, and most actors did wonderful jobs bringing their characters to life. Even those who didn’t act entirely honorably often inspired my sympathy. I understood their purely human motivations.
I especially liked Boromir, with his burning desire to help his people. For them, for his country, he would do anything, commit any crime, betray and butcher. He only appeared in half of the first film before dying, but Sean Penn fleshed out his hero so well that he stays with me even after all three films rolled to their final credits.
The rest of the Fellowship of the Ring also played their legendary heroes to perfection, albeit none was as alive as Boromir. Perhaps they are not supposed to be – they’re not real. Gandalf is a powerful wizard, Legolas – an immortal elf, and Gimli – a dwarf. All three are as much creatures of mythology as unicorns or dragons. The hobbits, on the other hand, are a bunch of adolescents, no matter how short or tall, so they don’t belong in the real world either.
Only Aragorn does. When the films were first released, I was in love with Viggo Mortensen who played him. On the mythological scale, Aragorn is in between mortals and elves. He knows everyone, has served every leader and king on Middle-earth, and everyone trusts him. His only problem – he is too good to be true, but he is from mythology as well, like a centaur, so I forgive him.I'm still half in love with the guy.
Actually, everyone except Boromir is black and white; either good or bad. There is no ambiguity in the films. The orcs and other flunkies of Sauron are heinous, bloodthirsty monsters, while the elves are noble and wise. Only humans and hobbits are indifferent, but they’re not the ones making decisions. They’re faceless puppets, sitting immobile in their places until some king or wizard pulls the strings, like in real life, and then they march to the tune.
The story itself is gloomy, with very few bright moments, mostly with the elves in their enchanted forests. So much death and blood and battles explode on the screen that optimism doesn’t stand a chance. I don’t think Tolkien believed in happy endings either, and the filmmakers stayed tuned to his sorrow. As everyone knows, Tolkien wrote the story during and after the WWII, and his allegory is transparent. He wanted so much to believe, to think positively, but history wouldn’t allow him the luxury, and his despair leaked into the films.
Ostensibly, the heroes won and the ring was destroyed, but so much was lost. Yes, the orcs won’t kill and pillage anymore, but countless people perished, Frodo was damaged beyond repair, and the elves and their unearthly allure are leaving forever. Nothing will remain the same. The scene of Frodo leaving with the elves was one of the loveliest and most poignant scenes in all three movies.
Another scene – my absolute favorite – is the attack of the Riders of Rohan. I loved it. Its triumphant power and its exhilarating, unavoidable victory almost brought me to tears.
On the whole, it’s a beautiful but melancholy series, inviting contemplations into the nature of good and evil, sacrifice and forgiveness. Does any war have a happy ending, even if ‘our side’ has won?