It is hard to underestimate the impact that director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy had on cinema. It created a masterful fantasy epic that was more than spectacle. With an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's iconic work, it brought the story to life and set a high bar that even Jackson wouldn't be able to top a decade later. However, there was one person who was just as skeptical from the beginning: Andrew Lesnie, who passed away today at the age of 59 from a heart attack. While his name may not be immediately clear, he was an integral part to how we viewed cinema, literally.
While The Lord of the Rings trilogy would garner a lot of Oscar nominations and wins, Lesnie only received one nomination and win for Best Cinematography on the first entry The Fellowship of the Ring. It is tricky to look back at 2001 when the first film came out and predict that it might have been a fluke and that Return of the King could have been a letdown. However, Lesnie was just as important in the long run as his counterparts by setting up the iconography and turning New Zealand into The Shire, of which we would meet the hobbits. With cinematography that encapsulated various regions of the country and turned them into gorgeous landscapes, he helped to craft a beautiful looking epic whose scale still remains unprecedented.
The more interesting note is that Lesnie initially didn't want to make the trilogy. At the time, it was a big gamble and nobody was sure if it would pay off. As announcers Donald Sutherland and Glenn Close noted at the Oscar ceremony, he had to take a few days to consider because he didn't think that it could be done. Speaking as Jackson had yet to prove himself as a big budgeted filmmaker, there was little reason to believe in him. However, things panned out and with special attention to detail, he made a breathtaking movie and won Best Cinematography in the only year that the series was nominated in that category.
That wasn't the end of Lesnie's career or even the collaboration with Jackson. He would go on to provide cinematography to every one of his subsequent films including King Kong, The Lovely Bones and The Hobbit trilogy. He continued to expand his scope and provide some visually attractive imagery. Away from the filmmaker, he also worked on other hits that included Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I Am Legend, Best Picture nominee Babe, and most recently worked with Russell Crowe on his directorial debut The Water Diviner, which was just released this past weekend in America.
With a career spanning back to his 1979 debut in the TV series Wonder World!, he has been consistently providing his visual skills to shorts and features alike while residing in his New South Wales home in Sydney, Australia. Even if we don't immediately recognize his name, his work has been influential to the pop culture landscape for most of the past 15 years. He mixed fantasy with realism and created a style that popped with beautiful images. It is sad to see him pass away so young, but in his short time managed to become quite an impressive talent.