The Fellowship of the Ring: PICK


The Two Towers: PICK


The Return of the King: PICK


Content advisory:

Some depictions of intense and sometimes bloody battle violence; scenes of menace and grotesquerie involving orcs and goblins and other “fell creatures.”

Can’t decide between the original theatrical editions and the DVD extended editions of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? Now both versions of all three films are available together in two-disc sets with both versions of the film on double-sided DVD-18 discs.

As Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was the first great science fiction film and John Ford’s Stagecoach was perhaps the first great Western, The Lord of the Rings is the first great cinematic achievement of its kind — a genre that might be described as epic Western mythopoeia, but is often popularly called “fantasy” or “swords and sorcery.”

The Fellowship of the Ring sets the stage, with its gorgeous, bucolic Shire, terrifying Nazgûl, awesome wizards, gruesome orcs and a central set piece in the Mines of Moria that Jeff Overstreet of Christianity Today Movies called “the greatest 30 minutes of action adventure ever filmed.”

The extended edition, far from feeling padded, actually improves on sequences that felt rushed or incomplete in the trimmed theatrical version. Among other areas, this edition offers a more lingering look at Hobbiton of the Shire and Bilbo’s last days at Bag End, new insights into Aragorn’s character and psyche, and — most importantly — the much-anticipated sequence in which the Fellowship receives gifts from Galadriel as they leave Lothlorien.

The Two Towers opens with a bravura sequence that recalls and continues a central sequence from The Fellowship of the Ring to stunning effect, but follows up imperfectly on the promise of this sequence. At its best even more jaw-dropping than its predecessor, especially with regard to Gollum, the sequel is also more flawed, with Faramir, Théoden and the ents all coming off less noble in the film than in the book. Even so, the extended edition does improve matters significantly, with improved coverage of the ents and more insight into the complicated relationship of the brothers Faramir and Boromir and their father Denethor.

In its theatrical edition, The Return of the King the grandest spectacle ever filmed; it also displays some of Tolkien’s most overtly Catholic themes and motifs. Frodo, walking his via dolorosa bearing a great burden on behalf of the whole world, has here his moments of greatest resemblance to Christ, while Aragorn, the hidden king who is finally revealed in glory, echoes the Harrowing of Hell in his his journey down the Paths of the Dead.

Unfortunately, the extended edition, which should have been the series’ crowning achievement, contains a number of missteps that mar Jackson’s tour de force. Among the most glaring faults: a scene in which an enemy shatters Gandalf’s staff; an over-the-top, inappropriate action-horror movie effect at the end of the Paths of the Dead; a graceless drinking-game gag; and a barbarous resolution to the interview with the Mouth of Sauron at the Black Gate.

All in all, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an extraordinary cinematic tribute to a great work of Catholic imagination. While not equaling the religious vision of the books, the films honor that vision with hints of divine providence and transcendence, an unambiguous portrayal of good and evil, and of the ever-present human susceptibility to temptation.

In the landscape of modern Hollywood, The Lord of the Rings is a rare beacon of light.