Bringing Tolkien’s Middle Earth to life is a monumental task. The locations, creatures and monsters have to be conceptualized, designed and created from the ground up. Capturing the spirit of Tolkien’s work is an even more daunting challenge because of its tremendous scope, complexity and beauty. Furthermore, its legions of fans are staunch in their visions of Tolkien’s universe, and satisfying all of them is impossible.
That the movie has been a phenomenal success and, more importantly, an incredible realization of Tolkien’s visions is a testament to the skills and dedication of Peter Jackson and his team. The most visible aspect of the movie is the artistry underlying the costumes, weapons, architecture, and scenics. Jackson’s most far-reaching impact was perhaps his decision to bring in two of the most influential Tolkien artists, Alan Lee and John Howe, as art directors. Both have illustrated Tolkien for a long time and in many cases their works have become widely accepted if not standard interpretations of Tolkien. The artists and their talented teams are responsible for virtually every element of the movie. Indeed, the production designs have the look and feel of works of art. The most direct result is the movie’s breathtaking beauty, which exceeds even the most fertile imagination among Tolkien fans. A secondary result is the harmony and consistency of artistic elements and designs from beginning to end.
The book is a comprehensive chronicle of the art of the movie. Its 192 pages are lavishly illustrated with lush color photographs and gorgeous drawings and paintings. The book is divided into four main chapters: Locations, Costumes, Armory, and Creatures.
The Locations chapter is further divided into sections that correspond to major locations. These are Bag End, Bree, Weathertop, Isengard, Rivendell, The Misty Mountains, Lothlorien, Anduin, and Amon Hen. I couldn’t help but stare in stupefied silence at the paradise-like beauty of Rivendell or the alien grace and intricacy of Lothlorien. This section alone is worth the price of the book. The architectural pencil drawings are outstanding. Many excellent designs were created even though only a few eventually made it into the movie. If, like me, you get goose bumps when the camera sweeps through the hall of Dwarrowdelf, know that it’s no coincidence.
The costume and armory designs are most conspicuous for their painstaking details. Each costume is unique and manages to evoke the characteristics of each race. Thus hobbits look like townspeople out for a stroll, human tunics are rugged and martial, dwarven armor exudes fine craftsmanship, and the flowing robes of the elves accentuate their delicate features and natural grace. The weapon designs follow the same line and display remarkable details. Sauron’s various armor designs are my favorite.
The Creatures chapter shows drawings, composites, maquettes, and sculptures of the various Orc races, the Uruk-Hais, the troll, the Watcher, the Ringwraiths, and the Balrog. The design of the Watcher illustrates the high artistic standard of the designers. Tolkien never described the Watcher in details, so many outstanding designs were considered and rejected before one was finally selected. Of all the creatures that stalk, crawl and fly in the movie, perhaps the Balrog is the most awe-inspiring. The Balrog is another creature that Tolkien only briefly described. It’s fascinating to see the various interpretations, from reptilian to winged humanoids to centaur-like. The end result of all this is one of the most awesome monsters on the silver screen.
This treasure trove of artwork is a must-have not only for Tolkien lovers and fans of the movie but also for those who appreciate great fantasy art.
Originally posted April 30, 2003 on Amazon.com