Sunday, February 16, 2003


Here goes…

Okay, I admit it. I was bored and confused during The Fellowship of the Rings. I started looking at my watch after only thirty minutes of The Two Towers, and then, kept looking at it every five minutes for the next two and a half hours. The idea of having to sit through one more of these dark and dripping marathons this November is casting a dreary pall over the whole year for me.

Ahhh.. That felt good.

Three hours (twice!) of filthy men with bad hair. Dismal looking, cavernous sets and lots and lots of gray everywhere. Oh, and lots of burning and smokey places. Ahhh… even better.

Legions of repulsive CGI things, oozing fluids and grunting menacingly. Flat, unmemorable dialogue mumbled by characters whose weird names I still don’t know after watching them tramp around for six hours. HA HA HA HA!!!

I don’t think The Lord of the Rings and The Two Towers are good movies. I don’t care if I am the only person in Christendom who dissents. And every one who tells me it’s just because I haven’t read the books, only makes my point stronger. Great movies are defined by being able to stand on their own. They don’t need a three-volume study guide.

Clearly, The Rings movies are big movies, with impressive production values and lots of extras and surging, if not haunting, musical scores. But even with all that going for them, they still don’t hold together as good storytelling.

My sense is, because they come from source material created by one of our guys, Tolkien, the whole Church is urgent to get behind them with effusive plaudits. The films are visually interesting, but not profound in insight. They have a lot of action, but because the characterizations are so halting and incomplete, they do not ultimately challenge the viewer. Does anybody really want to be any of the characters in these movies? Does anybody walk away puzzling over some life-changing paradox here? No. The Rings movies, are “full of sound and fury. Signifying (almost) nothing.”

To be fair, I did see in the Gollum sequences of The Two Towers some of the deep theological themes people keep telling me are present in the trilogy. I thought it was brilliant filmmaking that the first time I saw the Gollum, I thought he was disgusting, but by the end of the film, I thought he was cuddly looking. Watching him yodel happily while catching fish was one of the most charming screen moments of the year. (And yet, one of the world’s leading Tolkien scholars spoke to me of that particular scene with disdain, assuring me that it was untrue to Tolkien. Of course, it was…whatever…) I thought the dualism reflected in his personality was clever and bordering on the profound. Bordering. For anyone who has ever cracked the Letter to the Romans this stuff about us doing the evil while loving the good isn’t that earth-shattering. It’s rather, just a description of human existence.

In my generation’s epic fantasy trilogy, Star Wars, we knew Darth Vader and the Emperor and Jabba the Hut were evil because they did bad, mean things to people. They were, in the words of St. Bernadette, people who "love sin." Darth choked somebody to death very early on with almost no provocation. The Emperor nearly sizzled Luke to death, all the while gurgling and chortling with glee. Jabba ate frogs! And, um, fed his enemies to a big hole in the sand, in which they would be “slowly and agonizingly digested over a period of a thousand years.” Indisputably bad guys all.

In the Rings movies, the bad guys are proposed to be bad, why? Because they are ugly, and because their building projects are ecological disasters? It’s as though the filmmakers want us to just take their word for it, "These dark oozing guys are bad. Look what they do to the trees, after all!"

There are SO many scenes that should have been cut from both of these movies. There are SO many unnecessary characters whom we don’t care about because they come out of nowhere and fade away just as fast. I never got why the ring is so bad. Just because Gandalf said it was early on in the first movie? Yes, it made Uncle Bilbo look a little odd once, but I tend to look that way whenever people tend to disagree with me. Sorry, I just don’t get it. (If you are feeling the impulse to tell me that is because I haven’t read the books, please feel free to send me $1 instead….I figure it’s as good a way to get rich as any.)

Okay…let me have it…

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