Saturday, January 31, 2004

Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS is, in my opinion, not quite on par with the invention of sliced bread.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, but have only just now decided to put it all down on ether. I know the books backwards and forwards, having read them, on average, once every two years since I was in jr high (that would make about 10 times, but it may actually be more than that), so I awaited the release of the movies with a great deal of excitement and a tiny bit of trepidation. On the one hand, I was thrilled at the chance to see with my eyes what I’d so often seen in my mind, while on the other hand I was a tiny bit worried that my eyes wouldn’t make me as happy as my mind had. With that in mind, I must say that I enjoyed all three movies to varying degrees. I loved the first one, and loved parts of the other two. There was nothing in any of the films that made me angry and very little that disappointed me. I suspect, however, that I like the movies primarily because I can fill in any gaps in or zips through the plot without a second thought. Given that, I don’t think I’ve done a good job of evaluating the films as films. So I’ve tried to put the books aside and think only about what’s on the screen. I have not, by the way, seen the extended editions. I will, but lack a DVD player as yet. Anyway.

I’ll give you a short preview of what I’m going to say: I am not at all convinced that, aside from costumes/sets/effects, the movies are all that good. I certainly don’t think they deserve the Major Award that “The Return of the King” is likely to get. Find out why below (if you care).

NOTE: Part of this is informed by my having watched all three films with people who don’t know the books at all. As their questions about plot points mounted up, I started to realize that there were lots of things missing from the movies that a “great” movie really should have. After I talk about the movies as movies, I’ll point out a few of the things that I think should have been brought in from the books.

“The Fellowship of the Ring” opens nicely. What is clearly a very complicated backstory is told rather efficiently. We learn that elves are pseuds, dwarves are greedy, men are power hungry, and a very evil giant somehow put an absurdly high degree of his power into a ring, to his chagrin. This presumptive lord of the rings was defeated, but his evil lived on in his jewelry, which corrupted a slimy creature (or added to his corruption) before passing on to something called a “hobbit” (which is apparently an “unlikely” creature).

Then we see these hobbits in their natural surroundings. Quite bucolic. The young lad Frodo eagerly greets an old wizard, Gandalf, who is there to see the holder of the ring (Bilbo) on the latter’s birthday. So far, so cute. We meet Bilbo, who is a bit scatter brained, and the scamps Merry and Pippen. Bilbo goes off to enjoy his retirement abroad (he wants to see “mountains again!”). Then, rather quickly, we learn that the ring is THE ring and that Frodo has a major task ahead of him. With his pals Sam, Merry, and Pippen, Frodo takes off for the nearby town of Bree, which is totally the opposite of the bucolic Shire. Evil things are on his tail, and spies seem to be all around. The owner of the inn seems to vaguely recall Gandalf, and Frodo learns that he hasn’t been around for a while. Frodo needs guidance and help, obviously. One suspicious dude (among the many in the inn) seems to know a little about Frodo and his problems, so the hobbits throw caution to the wind, hook up with said dude, Strider, and head into the wilderness. WHY DO THEY TRUST THIS GUY? Gandalf explicitly warned Frodo to be super careful, and the innkeeper certainly didn’t seem to like him. Mistake number one? Nah. Fortunately for the hobbits, he turns out to be a pretty good fella. He seems to have arranged for them to have a pony, so maybe he’s an immigrant from Poland (get it?).

Frodo is stabbed by one of the Wraiths (which is what the evil pursuers are called: turns out they are the men from the opening set up, and they seem to have little use for fire. They aren’t so high and mighty, if you ask me) and Liv Tyler, as an elf who seems to know Strider, shows up to rescue him. This is fortunate, as she is good at riding a horse and can do magic (the Wraiths don’t do water, either. They are like evil henchmen from a Bond film, clearly). Frodo wakes up in Rivendell, which is an elf city.

While Frodo was having his adventure, Gandalf was imprisoned by his former boss, Saruman (another wizard). Saruman is in the thrall of the evil giant Sauron (see opening scene), who is now just a giant eye (how he hopes to wear the ring he covets is not made clear). Saruman is building an army to help Sauron get the ring back. Gandalf escaped thanks to his ability to speak to a moth, which apparently relayed a message to a giant eagle who flew past Saruman’s tower in the knick of time.

Back in Rivendell, Frodo is reunited with Bilbo (who reveals just how close he came to being driven over the edge by the evil ring) and his friends. Then, at a big meeting, elves, men, dwarves, Frodo, and Gandalf discuss what is to be done with the ring. We learn at the meeting that elves and dwarves don’t care much for one another and that at least one of the men (Boromir of Gondor, the mannish kingdom) sees the ring as “a gift”. We also learn that Strider is none other than the lost heir to the throne of Gondor and that he and Liv Tyler (aka Arwen, aka the daughter of Elrond, who is the king of the elves) have a love thing. In the end, it is resolved that Frodo must take the ring and throw it into the volcano where it was made. As escorts he gets his friends, Strider (aka Aragorn), Boromir, an elf named Legolas, a dwarf named Gimli, and Gandalf. And the pony. No horses. No soldiers. Just them. For some reason.

The gang tries, and fails, to go one of the ways it wanted to go (the other way went too close to Saruman), and so they have to go through a dangerous old dwarf city under a mountain. They have to ditch the pony, since no one among them ever heard of coal mines. Gandalf and Aragorn seem to think the city deserted, but Gimli says his cousin lives there. Turns out his cousin is dead, as are all other dwarves who once lived there. But there are monsters called orcs in there. The gang is attacked, but is on the verge of escaping when a fire monster called a Balrog attacks. Gandalf hangs back to fend off the monster while the others make good their escape, but the monster pulls him down into a chasm. Gandalf, it seems, is dead.

The gang soldiers on, lead by Aragorn, into a forrest full of suspicious elves. The elves know Aragorn, however, and even allow Gimli to enter. It seems that the elf/dwarf hatred is over and done with. The queen of these elves (Galadriel, who also narrated and appeared in the opening sequence) knows all about what is going on and gives Frodo a glass full of starlight (or something) and sends the gang on their way. She has a ring of her own, and seems to be incredibly powerful, but other than the glass thing and some boats and some new cloaks, she basically just cautions them to not let the door hit them on the ass on the way out. What was THAT all about?

The gang is now able to float. They float down to a state park (a lake and a waterfall and some old statues and ruins) for a rest. Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo, and Frodo and Sam run away. Boromir is killed and orcs take Merry and Pippin (on orders to get halflings for Saruman: they don’t know anything more). With a ho hum shrug, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli decide that Frodo and Sam are no longer all that important compared to Merry and Pippen, and the movie ends. What the fuck?

As part one of the trilogy ends, so too ends part one of my critique. I think you can see where it is going, though. More to come.


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