When the first installment of
Lord of the Rings,
The Fellowship of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson, came out at the end of
last year, I passed on it. I was going to leave the country for an indeterminate
period of time to work on board the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), and having
only a brief time before my departure, I decided to spend my time and money on
David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky. One of these
choices panned out and the other turned to be a total disappointment. But the
quality of the Lynch was more than adequate compensation for the failure of the
by no means humble Crowe.
But The Fellowship of the Rings never aroused my
attention, especially since I had seen a trailer for it which left me totally
indifferent. However, during my sojourn on the ship I ended up catching parts of
Jackson's pseudo-epic, which was being presented on site TV. First, I saw one of
the sequences that occurs towards the end; later, while sitting in
ADP--computing central for the Stennis--waiting for a screen to load from the
Internet, I suffered the fate of viewing more or less the entire last half of
the movie. Although I had not expected to like The Fellowship of the
actually found myself repelled by it.
When I finally returned to San Diego at the end
of May, I made a point of checking to find out if the film was still playing
somewhere, so I could ascertain whether my reaction was simply a fluke or
adversely influenced by the distracting circumstances in I which saw it. Now
having had a chance to watch The Fellowship of the Rings in a more or less
correct setting--a movie theater instead of a ship's television monitor--my
dislike is if anything stronger than before. Yet I do not regret the effort.
What I recognize now is that the film is quite effectively made, and even
stylistically coherent in its peculiar way.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the
Rings is the first part of a screen adaptation--by Francis Walsh, Phillipa
Boyens, and Jackson himself--of J.R.R. Tolkien's phenomenally
successful ersatz allegorical romance. But this intransigently pretentious movie
has been made on a grandiose scale, as if its creators had confused Richard
Wagner's Ring with Tolkien's. In spite of
The Fellowship of the Ring's fairytale subject matter, the
spirits of the air do not seem to have presided over its birth. Portentous gloom
dominates from beginning, to such an extent that I sometimes had the feeling I
was looking at a bizarre remake of Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky in which
the noble Russian peasants and evil Teutonic knights had been inexplicably
replaced by elves and orcs.
In his Aesthetic Theory, Theodor Adorno
sarcastically notes that Stefan George fancied he could produce a poetic effect
by piling up words like "gold" or "carnelian" in a poem.
Fellowship of the Ring goes in for the cinematic equivalent of this procedure on
a hitherto unparalleled scale. Nothing like a simple shot exists anywhere in the film, and every
last detail seems to have been digitally polished to the last degree. Yet no shot
stands out in my memory. Even the first sequence I viewed on board on ship left
me feeling more numbed than anything else. Nevertheless, it made me wonder what
could account for the enormous success of the film. Was it only the cachet of
the Tolkien books?
Since the movie has a plot convoluted enough to
put that of any Gothic novel to shame, I am not going to try to summarize it at
any length. Nor am I going to attempt to do justice to Tolkien's division of his
world into orders of beings such as hobbits, dwarves, and the like. Anyone who
is interested will have no difficulty in finding Web sites dedicated to either
Tolkien's books or the movie, any of which will do a far better job of
synopsizing the action than I could ever hope to do. Suffice it to say that
everything revolves around a ring as fatally cursed as the one in the Ring of
the Nibelung, a ring that also supplies the stake in a contest between two
rival wizards, Gandalf and Saruman the White, played with great aplomb by Sir Ian McKellen and Christopher
Early on, the ring falls into the hands of a
youthful hobbit named Frodo Bliggins (Elijah Wood). But since no one can safely possess this
bauble, disposing of it becomes as hot a question as figuring what to do with
the radioactive isotope in Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly. About halfway
through the movie, Frodo acquires a band of helpers to protect and aid him in
this onerous task--the "fellowship" of the title. The film ends with
Frodo and his best friend parted from their companions, but still on their way
to get rid of the ring, thus paving the way for the next installment, to which
The Fellowship of the Ring furnishes an extended
Regressive and oppressive are the most fitting
adjectives to describe this movie. Tolkien's name already brings to mind
associations with the 1960s, when Lord of the Rings became an "in"
item. But Fellowship of the Ring has far deeper affinities with the period.
Today, most of the overtly counter-cultural productions of the era like Dennis
Hopper's Easy Rider and The Last Movie, Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammel's
Alexander Jodorowsky's El Topo come across as faded curios on a par with flaming
youth movies of the 1920s. But Fellowship of the Rings is more of a 1960s motion
picture than anything actually produced at that time. Jackson has made
exactly the kind of movie an ambitious director might have made back then had
all the high tech resources of film making in the year 2001 been available--and
that difference is hardly insignificant.
Fellowship of the Ring's paranoid vision of a boy
facing a world fraught with peril is ideologically a direct descendent of one of
the most widespread fantasies of young Americans during the later years of the
Vietnam War (see Easy Rider). But in the most direct celluloid transcriptions of
that fantasy like Michelangelo Antonioni's eccentric Zabriskie Point, the hero
was still a virile young dude in the mould of Montgomery Clift's Prewitt in From
Here to Eternity or James Dean's Cal in East of Eden, a clear and present danger
to all available father figures, literal or symbolic.
However, Fellowship of the Ring alters the
potentially disturbing potential of this fantasy beyond all recognition by pushing the age of the hero and his closest
companions from early manhood back into the earlier teens. This
"fellowship" looks like a pubescent boy band in medieval drag. And who would confuse the sweetly
innocent Frodo with a rebel? This born role model hardly ever protests at all,
only to inwardly whimper at the end about having had the ring thrust upon him.
And then, not surprisingly, his superego Gandalf springs up on screen in a
subjective recollection to admonish the faltering boy of his duty, just like
C.Aubrey Smith in a saga of Empire building from the 1930s.
This little band of do-gooders seems to have been
cooked up to please the folks out there who think rap and rock music are the
root of all evil in contemporary American life. In an excruciating touch,
Frodo's best friend constantly addresses him as "Mr. Frodo". Indeed!
Even more revelatory is Fellowship of the Ring's treatment of sexuality. On the
face of it, neither adult sexuality nor anything else adult penetrates into the
chastely cloistered world of the movie. Although the film allows a bit of
discrete courtship between Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Arwen (Liv Tyler), all the feminine figures in
the Ring appear garbed in white as if they were luminous embodiments of purity.
In this way, Fellowship
of the Ring exploits one of the main
themes in Hearts in Atlantis, the revulsion from adult sexuality, but goes much
farther with it, as if sexual predators were lurking around every corner. Still
early on, when Frodo and his sidekicks from the shire go into an inn where they
are supposed to meet Gandalf, they find the place filled with leering, bearded
older males, like a lecherous motorcycle gang out in search of hot boy
ass. A later episode in which Boromir (Sean Bean) and Frodo are alone together in the woods
and Boromir tries to take the ring from the boy has equally obvious
connotations of sexual assault when the older male approaches the younger
seductively and then attacks him after Frodo proves wary of his intentions. But
what attracts him more, taking the ring or the boy's cherry?
data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database