Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” couldn’t have sucked more if it was a wet/dry shop vac at a bukkake cleanup.
I just came off my second viewing of “Harry Potter,” mind you, so I know a modern almost-three-hour film doesn’t have to be painful. It’s not the length that makes the film so bad, but it certainly makes it agonizing.
Part of the fault lies with the fact the JRR Tolkien source material popularized certain now-staple sword and sorcery themes and visions since its publication in 1954. I say “popularized,” because many of the themes and visions had been done elsewhere and better… Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, par exemple.
What happens, of course, when you put to the screen themes and visions that have been beat to death by every other entertainment media since the 1950’s, including books, pulps, graphic novels (and their antecedents, “comic books”), movies, tv shows, and computer games) you face a daunting task in making them fresh. Such a move requires two approaches: revisiting the original material (always a disaster) or standing firm and somehow marketing the thing as the “original.”
Well, what one finds out after sitting through Peter Jackson’s overlong exercise in Moviola masturbation, is that sticking to the original material isn’t a sure thing either. Especially when you pick out all the expensive (nee “action”) bits of a massive book and skip over the rest of it.
As a result, LOTR is a collection… yes, that’s probably the best word… of different action sequences from the book, not necessarily in order, not necessarily true to the source, but gooey fodder for the SFX team. With LOTR, Peter Jackson firmly places his creative vision beside that of his apparent mentor, Michael Bay. I’d invoke the names of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, but hopefully Hollywood has smartly banished those two hacks to the realms of straight-to-video, and saying their names in a public forum might somehow resuscitate them, like saying “Bloody Mary” three times.
In order to begin what appears will eventually be a nine hour long string of cinema cliches, Jackson starts out with a cliche device: the historical narration. A deep voice intones, John Huston-like, bringing everyone in the audience up to speed on all the parts that Jackson filmed, but cut out at the demand of the film executives who, for once in their lives, did the right thing and told him to keep the first film under three hours. We see huge battles, armies of orcs and elves, and all sorts of other quick-cut crap that ruins any building of suspense regarding the film’s creatures within the first two minutes. A convoluted explanation ensues: here’s all these rings but only one is powerful and who knows what happened to the others but who cares the bad guy made the one ring and then had his finger cut off and blew up and mankind sucks and orcs are ugly and elves …. you get the picture. If this were a sci-fi pic, the backstory would have been printed across the screen with a little anachronistic typing sound.
Ahh, but after the intro film slows down and one thinks — incorrectly, it winds up — that maybe Jackson is onto something. He takes his time in developing the main character of Frodo, and even the culture of the Hobbits. We get to ooh and aah over the realistic hobbit sets, even as we giggle at the inconsistent scale between the short hobbits and the human Gandalf, a problem when your actors are all the same height. But we get to see how they live, what they eat, what their furniture looks like. What they laugh about.
Then, something happens. It becomes evident that a bit TOO much time is being spent in Hobbiton. One wonders: when is this thing going to get goingr What is being sacrificed along the way to put this much development into the hobbitsr Why does this look like a Little House on the Prairie Episode (with Elijah Wood soon starting to physically resemble little Melissa Gilbert.)
Well the answer comes soon enough. Frodo is off on his adventure, carrying the ring that everyone wants so badly, with his band of hobbits. Some wraiths come on horseback and pursue our little heroes, while screaming this really obnoxious high-pitched wail, for what…. tenr Fifteen minutesr The chase goes on and on. Then, when one thinks it’s just about to conclude, there they are again, wailing and screeching again like Jerry Springer transvestites. I got up to go pee and let me tell you something… I MISSED NOTHING. They were screeching and galloping just as hard as when my bladder had been full. In retrospect, I should have marched upstairs and pissed on the projector; I would have simultaneously spared the audience the rest of that crap, while putting myself out of my misery through penile electrocution.
Having lost about an hour to narration, hobbit development and wraith chases, where was Jackson to go with the rest of this bulky novelr Into Bay-ville, of course. What follows for the rest of the film is a series of action sequences punctuated only by occasional pauses, which themselves are condensed little scenes whose sole reason is to keep the source material flowing. Because of the lack of background and development, entire sequences could have been excised without damage to the film (although not without damage to the novel.) Fair to say that any scene with an elf in it could be cut without anyone noticing.
Note to Hollywood: action sequences are supposed to be the punctuation between the story, not vice versa. And… ahh, screw it, no one’s listening anyway.
The non-hobbit characters are introduced with brevity, if at all. In some cases, they merely appear (Gimli the dwarf, for example.) A kiss between Aragorn the human and Arwen the elf comes about so quickly — it’s literally tacked on right after another scene between the two — that if it were any more forced it would qualify as a tokamak reactor.
So, after knowing the creepy-looking Elijah Wood thing inside out — we are left with a slew of other characters that are total blank slates. This includes, the wizard Gandalf, who gets huge screen time but who is so poorly defined as a person, you’d have to add a dimension to bring him up to two. Ian McKellen looks about as thrilled in this role as, well, Richard Harris did in Harry Potter. Maybe those beards itch or something.
The action sequences that ensue, for the rest of the film’s length, are of course nice to look at. Fight scenes still don’t hold up to that of Boorman’s Excalibur or even some of Milius’ Conan, but of course where CGI is used, it’s used spectacularly. The cybersets are beautiful, and the camera work realistic. There are a few shots where the tiny running characters look worse than Tomb Raider the computer game, but those are few and far between.
But you know whatr Good effects don’t score points for the film’s director. They score points for the effects house.
Back to the cliches. Again, this may in part be due to the adherence to an aging source material that has been already recycled elsewhere, but dammit if every frigging scene in this film hasn’t been done before. We see lots of people hiding under trees or bushes as evildoers pass overhead, feet in foreground. We see a dying guy make an important acknowledgement to his friend with his last breath. We see a drowning guy’s hand descend into the water, only to be snatched up by another hand at just the right moment. We see a guy holding onto a ledge with his last strength, only to fall into “shadow” presumably to his death (yeah, right.) We see monsters poking their heads around corners, screaming into the camera.
Where have we seen all this stuff beforer Christ, where do I beginr A lot of it seems lifted from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course (as one of LOTR’s leads fights on with three arrows in him, I heard the crowd giggling, everyone thinking of the infamously smart-mouthed Black Knight of Python.) There are scenes from Excalibur, from Jason & The Argonauts, Lawrence of Arabia, Last of the Mohicans, The Ten Commandments, Aliens, Seven Samurai, Halloween, and countless others. Oh, and every Star Wars film made.
But how could it not be clichedr Given that the popularity of Tolkien’s books may have created some of these clichesr
Well, a little more creative filmmaking wouldn’t have hurt. Here’s a trick Jackson uses: have character look toward camera, but frame him slightly to screen right… so we know well in advance that a hand will pop up from behind him, grab his shoulder and scare the shit out of him. Can’t anyone figure out a way to film this from another fucking angler
When you are filming cliches, it might be best not to use cliched filmmaking in the process.
So, is Tolkien to blame for this collection of clichesr Or Jackson for filming it so soullesslyr Suffice to say that’s one for historians and film reviewers with far more ego than I. But, hey! We have six more hours of this tripe to sit through for the next two years, as Jackson releases the next two films of the series! Maybe we can decide then. Well YOU can, I have no intention of sitting through those monstrosities.
In conclusion, let me remind you that this movie sucks. In a fairly full theater of mixed age groups, here’s what I noticed: a lot of watch lights blinking as people checked the time, a guy yawning next to me, and a constant parade of people getting up for the lobby— presumably to go pee so they could at least say SOMETHING worthwhile had happened while they were at the theater that night. Whereas the other mega-anticipated films of the past few years — Phantom Menace and Harry Potter — ended in applause, this one was met with utter silence. People were standing up early in anticipation of the end credits, and then filed out in a grim funereal march, seeking the light of the lobby like moths, where they could gather and analyze what had just happened to the last three hours of their lives.
Peter Jackson did succeed admirably in making his characters come to life. The audience was left as soulless as his Ring Wraiths. Good going, jackass.