Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings
January 26, 2001
Capitalizing on the world-wide popularity of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and the release of the final installment, The Return of the King (2003), National Geographic has released another episode of their Beyond the Movie series that focuses on the trilogy’s relationship to actual famous figures and events in history. Narrated by the cultured British vocal stylings of John Rhys-Davies (Gimili from the Rings trilogy), this documentary also explores why the themes from the J.R.R. Tolkien’s book are still relevant today and resonate with movie-going audiences.
The documentary’s jumping off point is with one of the most popular characters of the trilogy, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen). He is a reluctant hero leader who fears that history will repeat itself and that he will fail as a leader of men just like his ancestor. In this respect, Aragorn resembles William Wallace (a.k.a. Braveheart); a legendary Scottish leader who was also wary of assuming power and only sought it as a means to an end. Both he and Aragorn were in love with freedom and independence and wanted their people to experience both.
When we first meet Aragorn he is in self-imposed exile. This is reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt who turned his back on his true calling—politics—after his wife and mother died on the same day. He traveled out to the American West, to the Badlands, and lived off the land on his own terms. He learned how the common man lived and thought and remembered that when he ran for President of the United States of America. Aragorn also turned his back on his destiny and lived off the land as a ranger only to find himself gradually being pulled into a quest that would affect the existence of Middle-Earth and transform him into the King of his people.
The documentary also touches upon how the horrific images of mass destruction and the great loss of life in The Lord of the Rings were inspired by Tolkien’s experiences in World War I. There are also elements in the book that echo events that took place in the American Civil War and World War II—the time period in which Tolkien wrote the book.
All of these points are made through clips from all three films, historical re-enactments and interviews with historians and various cast and crewmembers from the movies. Fans of history and of the films will find this hour-long documentary interesting as it explores, in greater detail, facets of The Lord of the Rings that is only touched upon briefly in the supplemental material on the Extended Version DVDs.
Not much. There is a skimpy photo gallery of stills from the documentary and a trivia quiz that should be easy for anybody who has a passing knowledge of the films.
National Geographic’s Beyond the Movie is worth a look for fans who can’t wait for this documentary to be re-packaged with the Extended Version of The Return of the King or for those people that are interested in the origins of many of the themes and character archetypes and how they often parallel events and people from history.