A Christmas season for me nowadays always seems like it lacks something, and that something happens to be a Tolkien film.
I feel the need to skip the airy, demeaning preamble that usually smears the first half of my posts, but I also want to say that often with these lists there’s a need to juggle the concerns of the demographic, eschuing all manner of qualifiable films for foreign masterpieces or eschuing all of those masterpieces for crowd pleasing extravaganza’s. Many more try to dialetically merge these two modes of film appreciation with varying levels of success, often leading to compulsory choices that tick demographic boxes, from Funny Games to Mission Impossible III, resulting in a strange, tensile list that tries to please everybody and enthrals no one. The upside to this is that we often get to see the tensions of our society played out in the lists. The downside is that the lists just become a farce.
So this is the beginning of my film “list,” which will trundle on until I am satisfied.
The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
The problem publications seem to have with adding The Lord of the Rings to their lists is that they are so rife with pedantry, cynicism and cross-examination by their very nature (a nature brought to the forefront of their sensibilities now that the internet allows, even champions the feedback of idiots) that a typically po-faced genre like fantasy tends to fall out of favour because they aren’t in a cycle of constant self-justification. While The Lord of the Rings is by no means po-faced (as its many derivatives are) it bears a sincerity that this post-modern nastiness finds hard to swallow.
I remember the first time I saw the teaser trailer for The Lord of the Rings. I had had no interaction with any of Tolkien’s books until then – although I firmly remember my cousin, who will forever be five years my senior, mentioning it as a literary classic. After seeing the trailer, I read The Lord of the Rings, then The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings again, all within a matter of months – which was incredibly tough for a child of my stupidity. I read it religiously, effecting a kind of pseudo-cool position within the realms of geekdom at my school; the acceptable face of geekdom if you will, for being gifted as I was at running like a bellend and naturally skillful with the football, the rugby ball, the basketball and the tennis racket, I served as a kind of emissary to the other schoolchildren, for I could deal on their level and then retreat back into a cabal of couplet speaking outcasts and bask in their favour for a time.
But if I thought I did a good job of representing a long maligned (and long po-faced) genre, then The Fellowship of the Ring was the 9/11 of fantasy movies; it was a complete game changer (probably a more appropriate reference somewhere). People – more specifically men – more specifically men born in the late 60s/early 70s – – often go on about the first time they saw Star Wars, seeing the Blockade Runner shoot past the screen followed by a dagger shapped ship that just got bigger and bigger and bigger. After this experience, they saw, everything changed: the possibilities of cinema opened up for them. They knew then, they just knew, that they were destined to regional sales manager for Enviromow Lawnmower Delivery LTD for the rest of their lives. Well, firstly screw them for helping ensure the infantilisation of the sci-fi genre, and secondly, allow this to happen, but third and most significant, I’m going to borrow their anecdote and apply it to Fellowship: I feel The Fellowship of the Ring performed a similar ritual to the young minds of the early 00s. From the first few seconds of the first film, you just had to be impressed with what had been achieved.*
Out of the three films, the first remains my favourite. This is not a detriment to the latter two films, for they continue the journey in unrivalled quality, but the first retains a charm for me, whether it be the whistful Hobbits, the stirring formation of the Fellowship, the riotous last ditch efforts of a heroic Sean Bean as Boromir (long my favourite character) or the ethereal disquiet of Lothlorien or even the cerebral beauty of Rivendell. But most of all, what guarantees its appeal to me is probably that it’s a magnificent statement of intent from Peter Jackson. It is truly a wonderful, life-affirming achievement to have adapted a book so unwieldy and troublesome into such a deserving and worthy film, evoking the spirit of the book at the same time. I mean the prose of Tolkien is a literal nightmare; it makes mine look like that of a poet bloody laureate.
But what’s also fascinating and magnificent about the trilogy as a whole, is its construction of Middle Earth in our world (for which New Zealand will always be a place on my “to visit” list); the visualisation of all these spectacular, serene or terrifying locations; the designs of the Uruk-Hai, brutish and jagged; the men of Rohan in their rich Saxon get-up; the Elves in their brilliantly rendered, gorgeously executed armours and costumes. And all this was clear from The Fellowship of the Ring. Middle Earth was brought to life with such confidence and aplomb that any conceptions of Tolkien’s Middle Earth I gain while reading the book are articulated through what I know to be Weta’s aesthetic.
* To me this began with the prologue, a wonderfully economic but exciting look into the masses of armies clashing on the slopes of Mount Doom. In particular, the Blockade Runner moment occurs when the Elves of the Last Alliance unsheathe their massive swords and play synchronised ninja with orc.