We're going to make a guess: this isn't the first place you've heard of The Lord of the Rings.
That's because it's a Really Big Deal. It's a cultural phenomenon. For many people, Jackson's trilogy served as Fantasy 101.
But Jackson was hard at work long before he was overseeing the construction of hobbit feet. In fact, he was directing movies that were more terrifying than a Nazgûl—Bad Taste, Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures, and The Frighteners to name a few.
Then, in the late 1990s, Peter Jackson soared to fame (a shift from his more critical-darling and cult-following past). Universal Studios wanted to do a remake of King Kong, which had long been one of Jackson's favorite films.
But when King Kong was shelved, Jackson decided to try and adapt Tolkien's beloved series. And Miramax threw him a $280 million dollar budget and flew him and an enormous crew to remote areas of New Zealand in order to film all three movies at once.
Luckily for everyone, The Lord of the Rings wasn't a triple flop. It was a huge success the thrust Jackson into the spotlight as a well-known director… and gave him the license to turn The Hobbit into a three-movie marathon.
Three pens for writers men… well, two women and Peter Jackson anyway.
Let's start with Philippa Boyens, MNZM. No, our keyboard did not malfunction with caps lock on; MNZM is like the knighted "Sir" of New Zealand, and is for "for those persons who in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits," which sounds pretty important if you ask us (source).
But what's more important and more impressive than receiving national honors for New Zealand royals? Writing the script for The Fellowship of the Ring. Not that Boyens, MNZM stopped there. She's co-written the final two Lord of the Rings scripts, all three The Hobbit scripts, and The Lovely Bones and King Kong.
But it wasn't just Jackson and Boyens, MNZM that were toiling on all of these scripts. Their third partner in crime is Fran Walsh, another New Zealander who is also the life partner of Jackson and mother of their two children. She met with Jackson early in both of their careers and has co-written almost all of his films, including all the films Boyens, MNZM was a part of. Before venturing into the realm of fantasy, the duo started out with a lot of comedy-horror blend movies like The Frighteners and Meet the Feebles.
Walsh was also a co-composer for The Return of the King. Almost as impressively, her vocals were used to create the terrifying Nazgûl screechy speech.
You don't make a fantasy marathon like The Lord of the Rings without plenty of people working behinds the scenes (and behind the cameras, but we'll get them in a moment).
The Fellowship of the Ring was produced by Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh, but they didn't do it alone. Tim Sanders left the team early but was a producer on the first film, which is added to his resume of other New Zealand-based classics like The Frighteners and Whale Rider.
Then there's Barrie Osborne (producer throughout the LotR trilogy) who also worked on the first Matrix film and more recently produced the latest adaptation of The Great Gatsby. There's been talk about a Muhammad biopic or an epic Viking film to boost Norway tourism: who knows what the future holds for Osborne?
Next up is Paul Zaentz, who's made a career of adapting novels to the big screen. He's an acclaimed producer not just for The Lord of the Rings, but also for adaptations of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, and The English Patient. And not only has he had a thing with adaptations, he's also had a long relationship with our fantasy series of concern. Way back in 1976, he gained rights to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit (and actually made full length Lord of the Rings animated movie in 1978 that you've probably never heard of).
New Line Cinema "presented" the movie (translation: it was one of the production studios). The studio has a storied history and was saved from bankruptcy—at least for a few years—by the LOTR films. But WingNut Films is the primary production company of the trilogy and is, for the most part, the pet company of Peter Jackson. It produced his earlier films, as well as King Kong, The Hobbit, and more recent adventures. But the real question is this: why is their logo a naked dude riding a dragonfly with a banner?
When you're producing something as groundbreaking as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you're expected to go out and hire some crazy-famous design production company to create all of your costumes and props.
But Jackson did just the opposite. He turned to the New Zealand-based Weta Workshop, which at the time was a small (and mostly unknown) company.
We say "at the time" because The Fellowship of the Ring made Weta Workshop a powerhouse: turns out that costume and set design for LotR is kind of a big deal. They've gone on to do work on Jackson's Hobbit, Mad Max: Fury Road, and tons of other blockbusters.
We could go on and on about Weta's surprising use of props and how seamlessly they're integrated into the movie. We could spend hours talking about how intricately the costumes of the different characters and races were put together (both for purposes of realism and subtle characterization). We could write essays on the accuracy of the armor and weapon forgery.
But it's really better if you turn to the experts.
So if the story of molding literally thousands of pairs of temporary hobbit feet sounds interesting to you, head over to our Best of the Web section for all the nitty-gritty details.
Howard Shore has composed scores for more than eighty films. He might as well change his last name to Score.
That's right: eighty. (He even wrote the score for The Score.)
And popular opinion and critical reception have agreed that one of his greatest movie scores (and in fact, one of the greatest scores in cinematic history) is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
With so much to say and so little space, let's start by taking in the big picture. The Fellowship score is all orchestral (and a big orchestra at that with large sections of woodwinds, brass, strings, and a variety of non-orchestral instruments) which you can watch perform live alongside the choir in the Lord of the Rings Symphony, a condensed version of the score that toured concert halls.
All this instrumentation provides the musical space for some very complex pieces, always building toward the grandeur the score is known for. This music is epic enough to tell this epic tale.
Before we get into too many specifics, we should direct you to this Nerdwriter video that covers the basics of the themes in The Fellowship and how they interact with one another and develop over time, weaving a story that parallels the on-screen narrative and the places and characters it contains.
In short, the score consists of a number of recognizable melodies, like the Fellowship Theme, the Ring's Theme, the Hobbits' Theme and others, that punctuate the film and help the audience subconsciously recognize specific moments (and their relationship to past and future moments).
Without thinking about it we can feel the heroism and adventure in the Fellowship Theme, the warm simplicity and desire for home invoked by the Hobbits' Theme, and the dark seduction of Ring's Theme.
Not only does the score move with the narrative of the film, but also from location to location. Elven music, for instance, is very elegant, with a lot of strings (even a Celtic harp) and the chanting of the female choir voices. But there are even subtle differences between the Rivendell sound and that of Lothlórien, which is a bit more unsettling: the female choir is deeper, there are more solo strings, and some lower percussion from the bass drums that make Lothlórien a bit more uncomfortable than its delightful counterpart.
Well done, Howard Shore. We might even say this is the best score out of eighty (how is one man so prolific?!).
LotR fans are as populous and the hordes of Mordor (although thankfully less aggressive).
You'll find no shortage of Lego sets and action figures (everyone loves a good Gollum), and cosplayers that look better than the actual cast. People love LotR so much that Jackson even made a prequel trilogy.
But we can't talk about Lord of the Rings fandom without moving past Jackson's movies and into the realm of hardcore Tolkien fans (and Lord of the Rings fans are so hardcore that simply having a little tat doesn't get you into the exclusive club).
We're talking about people that have chronicled the journey of all fellowship members through Middle-earth and have made extensive genealogies, and people who have created enumerable websites dedicated to facts and insight and community. Tolkien fandom actually has its own Wikipedia page. How many fandoms can say that?
Tolkien has even "been accorded formal taxonomic commemoration like no other author," having numerous newly-discovered species named after his creations (like the enormous ancient crocodile, Anthracosuchus balrogus).