by Jordan King
2020 was a rough one wasn’t it? Globally, the COVID-19 Pandemic ravaged societies, bringing communities to their knees, businesses to the brink, economies into recessions, and most heartachingly rivening families and friends in their times of most desperate need. Personally, this writer has felt the rippling effects of the pandemic brutally. I lost a child and couldn’t be there to hold my partner’s hand as they passed; my young sisters have grown almost an entire year older without me seeing them; I have spent more of the year out of work than in it; and, to steer us towards the track with which this piece is concerned, that hallowed cathedral of escape, the cinema, has never felt further from mine and the film-loving community’s collective reach.
In such desperate times, physical media and flights of fantasy have never been more important. Whilst streaming services’ subscription levels have unsurprisingly soared, the simple act of holding a film case in your own hands, leaning over with a mild groan to pop a shiny disc in your chosen viewing receptacle, sitting back, tuning out of reality, and then losing yourself in the home cinema experience has been a potent, timely reminder of the rightfully ritualistic act of film viewing.
Never has that home viewing experience been as overwhelmingly satisfying or satisfyingly overwhelming as in the case of Warner Bros. newly released 4K remasters of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, both of which were completed under Jackson’s personal supervision.
Boasting full 4K HDR10+ picture quality and the deeply immersive spectacle of a Dolby Atmos audio track, the entire sextet of films are an audiovisual delight. From Bag End to Barad-Dûr, Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain, there and back again, the rich and rolling landscapes of Middle Earth are awe-inspiring to behold.
In the case of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy especially, the remastering work is remarkable. A welcome recolouration has been performed, eliminating the distracting green tint of older blu-ray releases. This allows for the rediscovery of the fine details of Jackson’s ever-intricately set cinematic frame, and whilst some have cited the crispness of this transfer as somewhat alienating in light of our familiarity with the soft, dream-like hues of older releases, the restoration here not only feels definitive, but also serves to tie The Hobbit and LOTR trilogies together visually just as Jackson attempted to bind them thematically.
All of the sprucing up and remastering would mean nought though if the films themselves had failed to stand the test of time. Thankfully, in a world where sprawling fantasy epics on the big screen have grown few and far between, Jackson’s films have proven as ageless as the elves themselves.
In these almost dystopian times, where division and disunity have become buzzwords for our global consciousness, Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R Tolkien’s tales of friendship and fellowship forged in adversity and celebrating diversity feel not only relevant, but essential.
Whilst I am amongst the minority who highly rate Jackson’s admittedly bloated but still wildly ambitious and adventurous Hobbit films, I’d like to reflect here on the incredible depiction of connection and friendship we are given in his Lord of the Rings. But where do we begin? Well, the beginning sounds about right.
Following a prologue sequence in which we learn of twenty rings strewn across Middle-Earth, one of which we discover is The One Ring that many have battled over, died for, and lusted over in the pursuit of power, we are taken from the sweep of fantasy spectacle to the intimate little land of The Shire. Therein we meet Bilbo Baggins, who bears The One Ring in secret, as well as his nephew Frodo and Frodo’s friends Samwise Gamgee, Pippin ‘Peregrin’ Took, and Merry Brandybuck.
On Bilbo’s 111th birthday, he announces that he is to leave The Shire, and after using the ring to disappear from view, he returns to his home and informs Frodo that his home in Bag End and the ring are now his. Suspicious that the ring may be the fabled ‘One Ring to Rule Them All’, wizard Gandalf the Grey tells Frodo to take leave of The Shire and head to Bree to hide it before nefarious forces converge on the young Hobbit.
With Samwise, Pippin, and Merry in tow, so begins the Quest for the Ring. I shan’t continue with plot description, as if you are reading this then you likely know these plots and scenes off by heart by now, but this set-up has become legendary for good reason.
By presenting the framing device of the monologue of the rings in his trilogy’s opening, Peter Jackson places his cinematic and storytelling canvas into the grandest and largest possible context. By immediately then transitioning into preparations for a birthday party in a sleepy little village, introducing our soon-to-be heroes as naive young things more concerned with beer, ladies, laughter, and pipeweed than anything remotely as epic or worldly, he inculcates the notion of ‘greatness from small beginnings’ whilst creating an intimate atmosphere that places the importance of friendship front and centre.
This focus in the story mirrors the experience of creating the trilogy in real life. Cast and crew alike frequently joked that they were creating ‘the most expensive indie film of all time’, and the culture on set of treating every crew member as part of their own fellowship of sorts even amidst the rigours of working on a behemothic blockbuster translates into a trilogy that feels personal even as its themes and ideas reach for the universal and outwardly epic.
As it becomes apparent that Frodo and his friends’ journey will end up reaching far beyond the little town of Bree, their introduction to the mysterious Strider heralds the beginnings of the building of a fellowship. In time, the party that set out as four friends from Hobbiton will grow to include amidst their number Gandalf himself, the fiery dwarf Gimli, the enchanting marksman elf Legolas, and two men – Aragorn and Boromir.
Through careful, slow-burning assemblage, and a method of writing that has the specificity of a novel and the kinetic momentum of fantasy film, this unlikely band of brothers come to represent the incredible power of a common cause and the emboldening influence of trust and support. That prodigal sons, ordinarily pissed-up Hobbits, angelic elves, and full-blooded dwarves, each with their own personal histories to contend with and allegiances and feuds to see out can come together to change the course of history is a shimmering beacon lit and held high to the power of friendship.
It is this potent, palpable sense of brotherhood amongst the fellowship that means when charged to achieve a greater good, we learn that even an elf and a dwarf can become pals. There is a reason why Legolas and Gimli’s unlikely bromance becomes a highlight of Jackson’s trilogy, and why ‘I never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an elf’, ‘What about side by side with a friend?’, ‘Aye, I could do that’ is one of cinema’s most enduring dialogues and one of meme cultures most treasured pop cultural touchstones.
The story of Gimli and Legolas’ journey from racial prejudice and deep-rooted rivalry to fierce admiration and new-found respect for one another is a simply delivered, superlatively effective reminder that there are always more ties that bind than tear us apart if we only take the time to know one another.
The most enduring image and example of the power of friendship across Jackson’s Middle Earthian adventures however surely comes in the shape of his trilogy’s true hero, Master Samwise Gamgee. Whilst the battles of Helm’s Deep and Barad-Dûr titillate and excite as the forces of Good and Evil collide in The Two Towers and Return of the King, the greatest displays of courage and heroism come from Frodo’s most loyal friend and constant companion.
Spurred on by a promise – ‘Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee’, Sam literally and figuratively follows his friend into the fires of hell to keep him safe and to keep his word. Not only does Sam inspire fortitude in Frodo when all hope seems lost (THAT monologue from the end of The Two Towers arguably encapsulates all that LOTR is about), and not only does Sam carry Frodo up Mount Doom after he has been treated like dirt as the duo face almost certain death, but he does it all with the simple dream that one day they will make their way home, smell The Shire’s sweet grass, and drink to better days ahead and in memory of worse ones passed.
Ultimately, I think Sam’s simple hope centralises a lot of the reasons why, especially in these painfully trying times, friendship and fellowship is so important. To have friends and to have faith in our friends is to have hope and to find courage. It is because of friendship that when Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin reach Bree and realise more is to be asked of them than they were ready for they rise to the challenge nevertheless. It is because of friendship that all of Sauron’s amassed forces of darkness cannot quell the coming of the light. And it is because of friendship that when the time comes to say goodbye to the fellowship, they each in turn part with a smile, safe in the knowledge that their halcyon days are safe and their reunion awaits beyond the horizon.
No matter the challenges we face, the tests that come to try us, we can all take comfort in the knowledge that even if we have to go the long way round to get there, we will find a way to stay together and we will find a way to once more be together. The Lord of the Rings is a sweeping, epic tale, resplendent with fantastical creatures and tremendous clashes and deep, complex lore to devour, but it is at its heart a testament to the unconquerable strength of our connection to one another. There is some good yet in the world folks, and it is worth fighting for.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is available to buy now