The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)

A small band of heroes embark on a journey to destroy an all-powerful ring before its evil conjurer can use it to enslave the world. [Dir: Peter Jackson/ Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen/ 178min/ Fantasy/ Power Corrupts]

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings literary trilogy has long been popular among libertarians, largely reflecting its “power corrupts” theme; now this classic series is a cinematic trilogy as well.

The ring in question is no common bauble, but a magical power-giving device, literally fired in the flames of hell by a sort of demon intent on ruling the world. Luckily, he loses the ring, and it falls into the hands of a relative innocent, who, on the advice of a beneficent wizard, undertakes to destroy it. Why destroy it? Because the supreme power that the ring imparts also corrupts the bearer, so even the most well-intentioned person may not be relied upon to use it for good alone; and meanwhile the evil demon is doing everything he can to get it back. The catch is that the only way to destroy it is to return it to the fiery depths from whence it came, which just happens to be where the demon and his myriad fellow demons reside. For a road trip like that, this innocent ring-bearer will need some help, and he gets it from an unlikely cadre of colorful heroes.

If all that sounds like fantasy, it is, but don’t think that fantasy means unbelievability. To judge by this film, Hollywood can now bring alive anything of which the mind can conceive, and on a scale that is almost inconceivable. The giant caverns inhabited by swarms of nightmarish goblins, the galloping horsemen of the undead, the wizards, the elves, the castles spiraling into the sky–all of it looks every bit the part.

Always concerned about the tendency of government power to corrupt, libertarians will appreciate the “power corrupts” theme as well as the portrayal of the central hero–Frodo, a wide-eyed “Hobbit” (a small elfin creature) admirably played by Elijah Woods. Small and elfin though he may be, he rises to the task of keeping the world free. As so often in real life, the great battles between good and evil, between freedom and slavery, are not won or lost solely in contests of giants, but in the incremental deeds of those ordinary heroes to whom the torch falls.

All that aside, this is for the most part a light-hearted and exciting, if at times grotesque, sword and sorcery adventure. Yes, each film is about three hours long, but the time is not wasted. These are more than just well-made adaptations of a great book; they are a triumph of effects and set design artistry and the sum of your worst nightmares and best dreams of heroic action.  The trilogy includes The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, (both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture) and The Return of the King (which won the Academy Award in 2003 for Best Picture).

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Films With Related Theme

Power Corrupts