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‘Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings’

As the special extended edition of “The Return of the King” goes on sale today, fans of “The Lord of the Rings” will enjoy scenes that were cut from the theatrical release of the trilogy’s final installment.

As eyeballs and thoughts again turn to J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, it’s natural that they also turn to the man behind its cinematic adaptation: Peter Jackson. The filmmaker from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New Zealand pulled off a magnificent feat in bringing the trilogy to theaters worldwide—and his paycheck is now among the highest in Hollywood on account of it.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Anyone interested in the film version should pick up a copy of Greg Wright’s book, Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings. Wright is the Tolkien expert at HollywoodJesus.com, where he has covered the films faithfully and incisively, beginning with their pre-production.
 
Peter Jackson in Perspective is essentially a compendium of Wright’s articles from HollywoodJesus.com, neatly packaged—not to “correct” any errors Wright may have committed covering the films in real time, but to provide the trilogy’s viewers a handy resource for digging through Middle-Earth on celluloid.
 
Wright gathers his articles into several sections: “From Book to Screen,” wherein he examines the hard work of a mammoth adaptation; “Competing Visions,” in which Wright compares Jackson’s version to two previous attempts at putting Tolkien on screen; and sections on each of the installments.
 
Wright, who holds degrees in theology, English literature and computer science, makes a terrific guide for these films. Many people can enjoy the films; not all can write about them with Wright’s expertise, clarity and insight. His fascination with Tolkien goes back to the 1970s, so he brings several decades of knowledge to his assignment.
 
He begins the book with an informative and helpful discussion of narrative structure: in general, in Tolkien and in Jackson. He covers denouement, archetypal characters and much more, noting what Jackson chose to alter—and let stand.
 
Wright relies not only on his opinion of the films, but also on what the cast and crew themselves said in interviews (with Wright and other members of the religious press). When Wright thinks Jackson and his co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, miss the mark either in script or in conversation, he frankly says so.
 
Wright is both sympathetic to Jackson on account of the Herculean task he attempted and critical of the filmmaker and his co-writers for at times appearing as if they “hadn’t done their homework.” He felt the latter was most obviously the case in how they thought and talked about the religious and Catholic themes that buttressed Tolkien’s vision for Middle-Earth.
 
Though the filmmakers sometimes overlooked the spiritual significance of the story in their hands, Wright does not. He comments on various biblical, spiritual and religious themes throughout the articles: mercy, death, faith, charity, grace, redemption and more.
 
Also, because Wright has made no attempt to harmonize what he originally thought and wrote with what he now thinks and knows, Peter Jackson in Perspective functions as a bit of history, too. Readers will find Wright, for example, guessing whether Liv Tyler’s character, Arwen, will be more or less present in part two than in part one. These moments evidence good editorial decision-making.
 
Wright is so knowledgeable about even the minutiae of Tolkien’s work that his writing is at times intimidating. For example, in a discussion about how Elves appeared at Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers,” he notes:
 
“If the Elves had arrived from Lorien, their path would have taken them along the shores of the Silverlode and the borders of Fangorn, a route on a collision course with the road the Orcs must take from Isengard to Helm’s Deep.”
 
That may or may not interest the general reader, but one thing is certain: Wright knows Tolkien, and Peter Jackson in Perspective will deepen anyone’s appreciation of the trilogy on film.
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
 
Buy Peter Jackson in Perspective now from Amazon.com.
 
Also read our review of Greg Wright’s previous book, Tolkien in Perspective.