This week the Lord of the Rings trilogy, written by J.R.R. Tolkien between 1954 and 1955 and directed by Peter Jackson between 2001 and 2003. It’s hard to remember a time before The Lord of the Rings movies. They have had a colossal impact on pop culture over the last ten years, and a made a GDP level of money. The final part of the trilogy matched the record number of Oscars won, and in many ways the films are the Star Wars of the noughties - and bear in mind two of the Star Wars prequels were released during the decade. Yet a series like this still tends to get overblown. The original books have held up much longer, and in places the special effects are beginning to wear thin. Can Orlando Bloom skateboarding on a shield really ever hold up to an author creating a whole world? Is The Lord of the Rings franchise a true cinema classic, or just twelve hours of walking and fighting? It’s only when you see what has followed that you really appreciate just how good these movies actually are. Every studio had imitated the franchise, and there is nothing that even comes close. The problem with bad fantasy is that most descend very quickly into silliness. Eragon, Dragon Wars, and the recent Season of the Witch have all tried to imitate the formula, and missed by a mile.
These weren’t just epic movies, they represented an epic production scale as a whole. Hundreds of people dedicated a significant part of their lives to making the trilogy a reality, and it shows. The mixture of CGI and prosthetics is seamless. The score is beautiful.  Although clearly popcorn movies, they have a real emotional impact, and crucially, feel like a journey. There are huge battle scenes and little moments, and each is treated with the same amount of care.  Whatever your opinion of the series, there is no doubt this is a colossal achievement. Of course, this is no different to the source material, except for one thing; it was all the work of one man. Tolkien put twelve years into writing the novels, and it runs at well over a thousand pages.  With a fifty year head start, he has had an unbelievable impact of fantasy writing. He is a true creator of worlds, with the level of detail on each of his projects being quite astonishing. There aren’t many writers who can claim to have a serious impact on music, painting, computer games, films and television. And of course, ninety-nine percent of the film’s creativity has a root in the book. Peter Jackson may have been in charge of the movies, but he was following someone else’s blueprint. And yet for me, the books do very little. The level of detail becomes rather tiresome in places, and there are moments where I don’t want to join Frodo and Co step-for-step on their journey, but just move on twenty or so pages.  The series lacked a real sense of danger, and whilst having some beautiful set pieces, I always felt the Good Guys rather cruised to victory.
Tolkien’s moment of superiority is the last surprise thrown in at the end of the final book.  I don’t want to give it away for those who are yet to read them, but whereas the film cruises to a comfortable stop, J.R.R. sends the poor adventurers through the blender one more time.  But apart from that, I always felt that they lacked the sheer sense of trepidation and wonder found so often in the movie adaptation. Verdict: Tolkien created one of the most influential fictional universes there will ever be, and nothing I can say will take that away. But the core of the story is delivered by the film, and succeeds in every way. I’m just being honest here: Film. However, there is no way I can sum up such an epic saga with just my opinions... Yashoda: I think the first two films are absolute treasures, and then something goes wrong in the third. While I understand the need to strengthen Arwen's character to have a stronger female presence in the Fellowship and Two Towers, it was done at the expense of Eowyn. As a result, what was one of the most moving and beautiful stories in the novel was truncated to a silly 'princess with unrequited love' plot-line. Maria: I'd go with the films: on the one level it's because I can't fully remember the books because I read them so long ago (and I'm far more likely to return to the films than I am to read the books again) and secondly, because it's pitch perfect in so many ways: the casting, the design, the locations, the direction, the music etc etc - it all brings it to life for fans of the book and those who've never read a single word of it.  But then we have to return to the books to thank for that...argh! Danny: I'm with Dylan on this one, but only just. Like he says, and he's spot on; there are times when your follow Frodo's journey so closely that it is almost physically tiring. Whilst that is a substantial literary achievement in its own right, it doesn't necessarily make for entertaining reading. And as both Dylan alludes to and Yashoda mentions, there are subtle but crucial elements to the narrative and certain character arcs that the film versions completely gloss over, to their detriment. Yet, still, the main reason I vote 'the films' is because they made what was always my favourite fantasy book, and one of my favourites of any kind, accessible to (and loved by) the masses, and that counts for a lot. Bring on the Blu-ray extended editions.