Light in the Midst of Darkness: The Most Visually Striking Scenes from ‘The Lord of the Rings’

As you read this, I am on my way to New Zealand, completing the most sacred of my nerd pilgrimages: a journey to Middle-Earth. J.R.R. Tolkien’s creations are the closest to my heart, and since I am visiting the land of Elves and Hobbits, I thought I’d share with you some of the most striking scenes from the films, so that you can share my adventure with me in a small way. So, without ado, forth Eorlingas!

The Fellowship begin their journey

Let me take you on a journey back to my childhood; although I had been a fan of the books since I was seven, as a teenager, I was not prepared for stunning visuals that Peter Jackson produced in the original trilogy. When the Fellowship leave Rivendell on their quest, and the camera spans over the landscape and we see the cast appear over the crest of the hill one-at-a-time, well, to me it felt as if Middle-Earth was real.

A Balrog of Morgoth

Arguably the most famous scene from the first film in the trilogy, Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog in the mines of Moria remains cinematically stunning. Before this scene, a great deal of the film dealt with setting up the scene of the war in Middle-Earth, but the careful depiction of light and dark in this scene shows us just how close the battle between good and evil really is.

The Argonath

I could blather on for days about the visual effects of the trilogy, but I’d rather have you watch this scene and just take it in. (My facial expression is a lot like Merry’s whenever I watch this)

The White Wizard

Going back to light v. dark…very few scenes have it more distinct than this, when Gandalf the Grey is revealed to be Gandalf the White. It was also a clever way of demonstrating that Gandalf is more powerful than Saruman.

Arrival at Edoras

I’ll save my 10,000 word dissertation on the importance of Eowyn for a later post, and instead focus on the emotional significance of Eowyn wearing white (which is the colour of hope for all of the trilogy) as Aragorn arrives at Edoras. Also significant is the falling of the banner of the royal house of Rohan, a potential omen of what was to befall their king. Ironically, this was unplanned by the director. The New Zealand winds tore the flag from the post, and Peter Jackson appreciated the symbolism so much that it made it into the final cut.

Forth Eorlingas!

When Gandalf appears, all in white, as a beacon of hope to the hopelessly outnumbered Rohan soldiers, it feels as if it is the first time we’ve seen sunlight after years of darkness. Indeed, the scene becomes even more powerful when the dawn’s sunlight blinds the orcs as the Rohirrim ride into battle. In the Mutineer’s opinion, this is the most powerful scene in all the films.

The Rise of the Witch King of Angmar

This the scene that really demonstrates how widespread and powerful the evil in Middle-Earth has become. Jackson cleverly uses light and darkness again, but in much more subtle ways. Gandalf’s white robes appear almost grey in the darkness, and indeed the entire city of Minas Tirith is dimmed in the shadow of Mordor. The pillar of eery light that erupts when the Witch King rises is even more potent in light of this.

The Beacons Are Lit

There’s a reason that these films were nominated for so many Academy Awards, and it was because of scenes like this. The careful attention to detail in the wide expanse of New Zealand scenery really evokes a feeling of Middle-Earth. Paired with the music…well…I cry every time I see it.

The Nazgul

So much of this film relies on the archetypal story of light v. darkness, and this scene, moreso than all the rest, shows a clear divide between the two, as the divide is nearly split evenly down the middle. Gandalf’s use of pure light to drive away the Dark Lord’s Nazgul is evocative of the earliest Middle-Earth stories about the light of the Two Trees, and is just as effective here.

The Grey Havens

This scene looks like a Ted Nasmith painting (a very prevalent Tolkien artist who I highly recommend). The soft light and the complete lack of darkness is the most powerful ending that the film could’ve had. I’ve not yet been able to watch/talk/write about this scene without crying, so I’ll leave it at that.

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

What’s your favorite LotR scene? Tell us in the comments.