‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies are stunning — except for one strange shot

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For a movie that was released 20 years ago, The Fellowship of the Ring — and the entirety of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy — still looks amazing. The visuals hold up, with everything from the Balrog to the fiery wastes of Mordor appearing real. It’s so easy to immerse yourself in the films’ version of Middle Earth, and Jackson and his team’s ability to so completely realize J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world is the trilogy’s greatest achievement.

The problem with all this visual excellence is that it makes one bizarre sequence — and one shot in particular — stick out like a sore thumb.

A little over an hour into The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo (Elijah Wood) is wounded by a Nazgûl’s Morgul blade at Weathertop, so Arwen (Liv Tyler) brings him to Rivendell for some much-needed Elvish healing. As Frodo risks succumbing to the blade’s poison, the film moves into a dreamlike series of cross dissolves showing Rivendell, Frodo, and Elrond (Hugo Weaving). It also includes this truly weird shot:

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The sequence only lasts 15 seconds, but it is jarring. Up until this point, we’ve been watching a fantasy epic unfold. Arwen literally just summoned a flood of watery horses to wash the Nazgûl downriver. The movie follows that badass sequence by taking a hard left into a ’90s music video.

It’s a mini fever dream, which I will grudgingly admit makes sense in context. This imagery mimics Frodo’s disorientation and places the audience in a similar state of mind. Unfortunately, it just looks far cornier than anything we’ve seen in The Fellowship of the Ring — off-putting, even. Having transparent Elrond gaze directly into our eyes while transparent Frodo drifts away into dreamland is nothing short of surreal.

That strangeness is the problem: The Lord of the Rings trilogy is so good because it feels so real. Middle Earth is fully actualized thanks to the incredible amount of detail put into every aspect of these movies, from costumes to props to visual effects. A moment as bizarre as this breaks up the visual language of The Lord of the Rings, and in doing so breaks our immersion.

The good news is that the illusion isn’t broken for long. The movie continues with Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) escape from Isengard, and not long after that we get the iconic scene that is the Council of Elrond. Within five minutes, transparent Elrond’s intense gaze is completely gone from my memory.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is so good because it feels so real. A moment as bizarre as this breaks up the visual language of The Lord of the Rings, and in doing so breaks our immersion.

Still, every time I re-watch The Lord of the Rings, I’m thrown off by the cheesiness of these 15 seconds. These are the same movies that revolutionized CGI with Gollum (Andy Serkis) and painstakingly constructed weapons, armor, and miniatures of entire cities. All three films deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

With all that in mind, these 15 seconds of strangeness simply aren’t up to par with the rest of the movies.

In the grand scheme of things, this sequence doesn’t make a huge dent in The Fellowship of the Ring’s impact. Maybe I’ll even grow to love it. After all, some of the trilogy’s cornier moments have become some of my favorite parts of the films (which are, in turn, my favorite movies of all time). I am fully aware that the Fellowship’s reunion at the end of The Return of the King is cheesy, but I bawl every time I see the hobbits bouncing around and hugging each other.

And what about the many, many memes The Lord of the Rings has spawned? It’s nearly impossible not to laugh at Legolas’s (Orlando Bloom) cry of “they’re taking the hobbits to Isengard!” or Boromir’s (Sean Bean) assertion that “one does not simply walk into Mordor.” These are moments that should be serious, but their lives beyond the films make it hard not to chuckle at them, even in context. With its corny visuals and music video vibe, it’s not so hard to believe that Frodo’s bizarre introduction to Rivendell could reach meme status at some point.

Until that day comes, transparent Elrond continues to haunt my dreams, and my Lord of the Rings rewatches, if only for 15 seconds at a time.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is streaming on HBO Max.

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