The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, is undoubtedly one of the most successful adaptations of recent times. It owes this success to a faithful reproduction of the novels’ epic sense of adventure, with the sheer scale of their story drawn from breathtaking landscapes and a treasure trove of deep, dark histories that keep us intrigued and enticed. In other words, it’s a great adaptation in spirit.
Fans of the books might bristle at the changes and omissions Jackson made to the storyline, often seemingly for the sake of action spectacle. It’s also arguable that no film could hope to match the narrative effect of Tolkien’s meticulous geographical description, however photogenic and CGI-augmented New Zealand might be. But where Tolkien’s work could run a little dry in his loving emulation of Anglo-Saxon literature, with whole paragraphs spent locating characters in extensive genealogies, Jackson manages to scale back a few of Tolkien’s excesses and recreate the fundamental appeal of his storytelling through all the arts of cinematography and sound, complete with Howard Shore’s tectonically epic score.
Jackson, of course, has indulgences of his own. Elves dispatching their enemies while shield-surfing down staircases springs to mind. And dialogue that was sometimes stiff and formulaic in the books fares no better when injected with Hollywood bravado and dodgy, Costner-esque accents. But these things can be overlooked when, for the most part, the films make such a decent job of it. Here’s hoping Guillermo del Toro’s The Hobbit nails some of that adventurous spirit on it’s 2011 release.