Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned wide recognition as one of the most significant accomplishments in the modern age of cinema. The films translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose through popular filmmaking tropes and cutting-edge technology into a stunningly visceral travelogue of brotherhood, grief, sacrifice, and storytelling itself, enlivened by the panoramic vistas of New Zealand where they were shot. However, there’s a caveat to the retrospective glow that has steadily amassed around the trilogy since The Return of the King swept the Oscars in 2004. Perhaps due to the epic scope of the project, which forms an almost 10-hour opus when connected together, the long view of director Peter Jackson’s accomplishment deemphasizes the minutia tantamount to its success.
Therefore, as we await Jackson’s latest foray into Middle-earth with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the time appears ripe for a fresh look at The Lord of the Rings films. However, rather than focusing on where and how the pieces fit into a broader mosaic of the trilogy, an inside-out approach to these movies would make for a more worthwhile account of their riches.
For this piece, I’ve appropriated the concept of Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy’s “Moments Out of Time” annual look-back at a given year’s cinematic offerings. My hope is to highlight individual moments, disconnected not just from the trilogy’s story, but also from the generally accepted account of its collective achievement. Thus, the “Moments Out of Time” concept applies beyond merely the format of highlighting specific excerpts from the movies. These moments—some of which are individual shots, others extended sequences—aren’t necessarily the best or most pivotal within a certain context for evaluating the films.
Each of the following 10 moments illustrates a slightly different shade of the films’ fluid realization of a complex visual, thematic, and emotional spectrum. They encompass moments large and small, every one offering a distinct flavor of Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-earth, and all magnifying the larger accomplishments of the trilogy as a whole. I’ve limited my list to 10, though dozens more could arguably have been featured.