Do you remember the first shot of every Middle-earth film?
Sure you do.
It’s also interesting to note the similarities of every opening – further reinforcing the connections between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
At the same time, I’m sure you’ve noticed the odd-one-out of the entire lot …
In the first five films, we have references to the element of fire – a strong symbolism of the persistent menace of Smaug during The Hobbit trilogy, and the One Ring’s indestructible force except through the fiery chasms of Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings.
An Unexpected Journey: Bilbo kindles the flame – a warm, reassuring light that is a beacon of hope as it dispels darkness.
The Desolation of Smaug: The village of Bree glows dimly in the night, as its fires are almost quenched by the rain. Trouble begins to brood. The cold and gloomy atmosphere starts to seep through into the story. Things are about to become pretty dark.
The Battle of the Five Armies: A stark contrast between the raging fires in Erebor and the snow-covered rooftops of Lake-town. There is a nice reference to Tolkien’s chapter “Fire and Water” (snow and ice being the solidified state of water). The red glow amid the oppressing cold-coloured environment is a foreshadowing of the approaching doom and the storm of fire.
The Fellowship of the Ring: As with An Unexpected Journey, the flames represent fire’s extraordinary ability to create – in this case, the forging of the most powerful artifacts opposing the One Ring. Once again, Hope emerges to battle Despair.
The Two Towers: Similar to the opening shot in The Battle of Five Armies, we have a radiating sun (the celestial orb made of fire) glowing over the snow-covered range of the Misty Mountains. However, unlike The Hobbit, this is the purest form of fire and one that cannot be dimmed or quenched. There is a beacon of hope as a new day emerges, and with it, the Free Peoples live to fight another day.
The Return of the King: the black sheep of the Middle-earth prologues. There is no apparent connection with either fire, water or snow. However, one can associate the worm with the element of earth.
The 5 films prior have been a vast expansive telling of a story concerning the creation and presence of the One Ring. The worm has emerged out of the soil of Middle-earth, reflecting a scene which establishes the roots and beginnings of the Ring’s reemergence – a moment which will ultimately tie the stories of the two trilogies through the meeting in the Riddles in the Dark.
The links are tied. The circle is complete.
Earth, Air, Fire and Water are our introductions to Middle-earth: elements that make our own world an existing one, and so does Tolkien’s fantasy creation come to life for us.
Next time you sit down to watch any of the 6 films, as the screen fades from black and you see the first few images flicker before your eyes, think of the wider scope of that shot within the extensive storytelling Peter Jackson has offered us.
Middle-earth is as real as much as we decide to believe in it.
Copyright of the images belongs to Warner Bros. Studios, MGM Studios and New Line Cinema.