Saturday, February 21, 2004

Now Playing: Return of the King

True to my word, I took my wife to dinner and a movie on Valentine's day. We went to Bubbalou's Bodacious Barbeque (where my menu selection was a model of cuisinary continence - a small pork sandwich with fries, beans, slaw and garlic bread - so as to save room for popcorn later). My wife popped the corn at home in the microwave, loaded it into large Ziploc storage bags, stuffed those into a large handbag, the kind every woman pulls out when she's going to the beach, the airport, shopping or shoplifting, and in this manner smuggled it into the theater. Cheating you say? Is this to imply that I owe the filthy rich owners of the Regal Cinemas four bucks for a small box of popcorn, not to mention three-fifty for a small drink? I paid for the drink. Arrest me.

Oh, the movie. It was LOTR's the Return of the King. You probably want to know what I thought of it. Well that's what I'm here for, to further endear myself to what seems like a Tolkien-worshipping blogosphere.

First, I want to say I stand in awe of those of you who are able to follow the story, remember the names of villages and kingdoms and shires, the inter-relations between them, what each is meant to stand for, and their relative positions on the map of Middle Earth. Most especially, I commend you for…well, let me give an example. Dale Price quotes a reviewer: … in "The Lord of the Rings," three women play minor roles: the powerful elf Galadriel (Cate Blanchett); the selfless Arwen (Liv Tyler), who is willing to give up immortality for the man she loves; and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece of the king who must disguise herself as a man to go into battle. Now, Dale is hot on this reviewer's case because of her PC obsession, and, though gripped by a similar revulsion, on one count I have to hand it to her: how'd she remember all those names? I didn’t even know who Arwen was, let alone that she had given up immortality. That reviewer was focused if you ask me.

And then Dale himself, in witty riposte: Strangely, I don't recall Eowyn whimpering for Aragorn or Eomer as she rammed about two feet of tempered steel into the Nazgul's cranium. He's got her there. But again, I ask you, how'd he remember those names? And who was Nazgul?

I did somewhat better at remembering the names this time because I made a point of it. Frodo, Sam, Rohan, Gandalf…and that's about it. There was someone named Erewhon or Earhorn or something like that, maybe someone else named Algore (but I’m not sure), and a shriveled homunculus named Speedle or Wheedle or Dopey or Sneezy, but after that it's all a fog. I can't remember the name of our warrior hero (the one who became King of Gondor), our elf warrior hero, our dwarf warrior hero, or why it's even important to become King of Gondor, and, worse, I'm not even sure I'm spelling it right.

Perhaps I should just make a list of questions and observations that interfered with my immersion in the story:

---Why are the bad guys so ugly? If they were intended to resemble the spawn of hell, the effort was successful. It’s just not been my experience in life that ugliness equals nastiness.
---Why do the bad guys have so many horrific creatures on their side – flying dragons, monstrous trolls, 12-storey elephants – while the good guys have none? Doesn’t seem fair somehow. And that guy riding the dragon – where’d he come from? And what the hell was he? Some nifty eagles do show up on the right side at battle’s end, but, hey, better late than never.
---Why does Frodo, an apparently central character, wear essentially the same expression through all three installments of this, to put it politely, lengthy epic. If I had to choose one word to describe him, it would be “pathetic.” Entranced by the ring to the very end, I don’t understand why he shouldn’t have perished in the molten fire along with Speedo. Sam had character. Frodo was a dodo.
---At the end, Frodo is going somewhere with the elves. Where? To a Better Place? And why? What did he do to earn it?
---Of what possible evolutionary advantage are excessively big feet on exceedingly small creatures?
---Why does the end take so long to end? As soon as I thought, “That would be a nice note to finish on after three frigging hours,” another scene popped up. It was the never-ending ending.
---What happened to Ian Holm’s character, whose name I can’t remember? Did he go to a Better Place too?
---I wanted to like the elves, because their pointy ears reminded me of Mr. Spock. But I must say I prefer Spock’s cold logic to the elves’ portentous diaglogue that sounded like a random mishmash from Proverbs, Khalil Gibran, and Vanity Fair.
---Why does our warrior hero (whose name I can’t remember) hook up with the Elf lady at the end? No sooner do I think he’s got something going with Rohan’s blonde daughter, than the blonde sort of fades from view and our hero ends up putting the lip-mash on the brunette. At least the blonde did something, suiting up and going into battle like Joan of Arc, while the Elf lady looks doe-eyed all day long.

I will admit that the cinematography, the settings, and the special effects were impressive, what with cities carved out of the sides of mountains and all. I remembered thinking, as the trolls beat the drums, what remarkable things they could do these days with computer generated graphics. I’m just not sure I should have been thinking it.

And I was able to follow the main storyline, if not the subplots, because I kept my eye on the prize. Something had to be done about that ring. Apparently it had to be melted down because it Represented Something Men Ought Not Be In Possession Of. I felt a little bad for the homunculus, though, seeing as how he had at least as much personality as Frodo. I had hoped he might find redemption, as the rest of us do for ourselves, but I guess he was irretrievable. Bad luck.

I know it’s my own fault. I missed the boat on this one. Back in the mid-seventies, when the Tolkien craze began, I saw people – hip-eyes, straight arrows, rednecks, Christians, atheists, panhandlers and drug addicts – walking around campus and coming out of Goring’s bookstore with an LOTR in each hand, one in the armpit, and The Hobbitt in a hip pocket. While I tried to learn how to write, read back issues of The Sewanee Review, played intellectual hot potato with various philosophies, and even began toe-dipping in the Christian pond – some Bonhoeffer here, some Muggeridge there – it seemed the whole world was reading Tolkien.

I heard the other day that “The Simpsons” recently passed “Ozzie and Harriet” as the longest running sitcom in television history. I have seen almost every episode of the latter, but have never seen even one, or even a part of one, of “The Simpsons.” There the world goes again, passing me by.

We stopped by the Mobil station on the way home so I could pick up a beer. James, the young man behind the counter, asked me what I’d been up to. He’s not long out of college with a degree in computer graphics and having trouble finding a job in his field. A nice young man, by the way. Married with a kid on the way. He’s nervous about it. I told him where I’d been and he gasped, “Wasn’t that great?”
“Well…” I began.
“Have you read the books? You should read the books,” he said. “They’re that thick,” and he formed a wide gap between thumb and forefinger.
“So was ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’,” I said. He didn’t get it. So I lied and said I’d look into it next visit to the bookstore.


I read LOTR sometime between 1968 and 1972 - I don't remember exactly when. I think I read it more than once, even. I liked the story, but then I am addicted to SF and fantasy, and I don't expect the world to share my addictions. I have a story about my dear husband, the CA National Guard, and the lettering Tolkien invented for Middle Earth's elven folk. Maybe some day I will tell it on the blog. LOTR (the movie) probably makes close to zero sense to those who haven't read the book(s). I think Jackson did a fairly decent job, given the limitations of the medium.Oh - the reason the bad guys had all the biological fire power is that they created them by processes that were morally unacceptable to the good guys. Think embryonic stem cells and in vitro and cloning, and throw in a pinch of pure evil and you get the picture. There were some interesting film shots of the process in one of the prior flicks.
Posted by alicia email at February 21, 2004 09:53 PM

WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO! finally! the first thing i told hub when *return* was over: "they should have used the first ending (when everyone knelt); the other four kinda sucked."***thank you for bursting my illusion that hub and i are the only two people on the planet who know that *clan of the cave bear* is a book and not just a movie. you do know there's a movie, right?
Posted by smockmomma email at February 21, 2004 11:04 PM

Zteen is all about LOTR, both movies and books. I liked the books, but was lukewarm on the first movie and haven't bothered to see the 2nd OR 3rd movies, though my son believes I'm the next thing to a heretic for that.
I think it's one of those things that either speaks to you or it doesn't. The books did. The movies didn't.
I love me some fat books, but please, oh please, NOT Clan of the Cave Bear....... And it was 1000 times better than the sequels (of which I've only read excerpts).
Posted by Terry email at February 22, 2004 01:06 AM

Oh, and Smock, didn't Darryl Hannah play the lead in the movie of Clan? Yeesh......
Posted by Terry email at February 22, 2004 01:08 AM

Yes, Micki, I knew there was a movie. I haven't seen it nor have I read the book. But what I want to know from Terry is how she knew the original was better than the sequels. Hmm? And does "better" really have any meaning in this context.Alicia, I'm a sci-fi guy too.
Posted by William Luse email at February 22, 2004 01:23 AM

Thank you for the beautiful articulation of my misgivings......I sent the family to see the LOTR movies. I was so happy to see them happy that I even offered to pay for the popcorn. On account of the fact that I wasn't going to go and my husband will not schlep my blue/yellow/white striped purse that is used for movie treat smuggling.
I thought I had some sort of defect because I never read the books and my misgivings of the movies have been based solely on TV previews and snippets seen on DVD when I awoke from a long winter's nap. In conversation I chalk it all up to a lack of "willful suspension of disbelief" but I know that's not the total problem because I like absurd things like Brigadoon - singing and dancing Scots who sleep 100 years at a stretch!
Posted by Ellyn email at February 22, 2004 07:32 AM

I tried to read LOTR in HS, but got bogged down with middle-earthiana in the middle of The Two Towers.
I just recently saw the DVDs 1 and 2. Do you know what I stumbled onto BY ACCIDENT that was a HUGE help in understanding the names and hushed British-accented dialog?
That cleared up a lot for me.
BTW, the hero made a "love forever" pact with Arwen the dark-haired elfwoman in part 1. That's why he was faithful to her, resisting the genuine admiration he felt for the valiant blonde Eowyn, who had a bit of gumption (compared to her idiot father, the "king" of Rohan).
Love that dwarf!
I have yet to see #3! My husband would heartfeltedly endorse your sneaky popcorn ploy! That kind of "rage against the machine" is definitely his cup of tea!
Posted by KTC email at February 22, 2004 09:05 AM

Your review made me chuckle so hard that my head bounced off the keyboard, making major qwerty marks on my forehead. Kudos, Mr. Luse.
"Have agreed to carry Ring to Mordor. In hindsight, probably a bad move."
Frodo Baggins, in Frodo's Diary by C. Claire.
PS. Terry read snippets of the sequels to COTCB and formed an opinion accordingly. I concur that a snippet was as much as a feast. The sequels rotted.
Posted by Julie email at February 22, 2004 01:31 PM

BILL! You haven't read the books?!?!?!::shakes head::I don't know if I can continue reading this blog...
Nah, just kidding, but really... you should read the books- The Silmarilion, The Hobbit, and the LOTR trilogy. Go, quickly! You can get them fairly cheaply at K-Mart.
::wanders off, totally disconcerted by the fact that Mr. Luse hasn't read Tolkien::
Posted by Jeanetta email at February 22, 2004 03:38 PM

You guys crack me up. Don't know how I missed that love pact, Kathy, though it seems a long time ago now. And you remembered the blonde's name. Again, I am in awe.Jeanetta, I knew I'd get in trouble with somebody. As long as War and Peace, several volumes of Conrad, and huge chunks of the Bible still wait my attention, Tolkien may have to take a back seat. But I did read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to my kids. Does that help?
Posted by William Luse email at February 22, 2004 03:52 PM

And the fighting wizards in #1--Gandalf the Gray vs. Saruman the White: nothing more than a couple of flying Pekingese!
(I guess you can't take some people any nice places.)
Posted by KTC email at February 22, 2004 05:49 PM

LOTR books very good. LOTR movies very bad.
Many people (including yours truly) grew up with the books and really, really, really wanted the movies to be good. Some are still deluding themselves that the movies are good, because a little tiny itty bitty bit of the good in the books shines through if you can ignore all the b-grade horror movie claptrap and shallow hollywood "relationships", and if you already know all of the characters, plots, and sub-plots.
Very bad movies though, typical Hollywood crap. Wish I could like them.
Posted by Matt email at February 23, 2004 07:45 AM

Did you notice that the actor who played the King of Rohan, was also the captain in Titanic? Type casting or what!!!
Posted by Elena email at February 23, 2004 09:14 AM

Hilarious! Enjoyed this review. I thought I was the only one who couldn't keep track of the names but then I figured if that were important they'd say the names more. LOL at the "eye on the prize" line. I too figured early if I was hip to what was going on with the ring I'd be ok.
Agree on the slopppy neverending-ness of the story. But I liked this 3rd installment, maybe because my expectations were lowered by the first two. Flaws and all, I'm glad I went to see it. But I haven't read the books so I can't compare.
Posted by tso email at February 23, 2004 09:50 AM

Well, Matt, I appreciate your not mincing words.Elena, I hope this doesn't get me in more trouble, but I haven't seen "Titanic" either.
Posted by William Luse email at February 23, 2004 03:26 PM

You didn't ask for answers, but here they are anyway...
1) The bad guys are ugly because a long time ago, a really evil spirit created them by taking elves and deforming their appearance and character. This is hinted at in the first movie.
2) The guy riding the dragon was - like the other guys on dragons - a king who was given a ring by Sauron. Sauron then used magical ring power to enslave them. Oh yeah, these guys are also the Nazgul, or wring-wraiths. Additionally, I'm not sure why the bad guys have all the horrific creatures, but it seems to me that in the ancient times, if you were a horrific creature, your best bet for a solid living was to go evil.
3) I'm not thrilled with Frodo's presentation in the movie. In the book, he goes a lot farther in his journey before becoming so controlled by the ring. The movie wants to emphasize the ring's corruptive power, but does so at the expense of the main character, which is kind of silly. The real quality of Frodo's character is supposed to be that he is much more resilient to the power of the ring than any of its former bearers.
4) All the ring bearers must leave middle-earth for the lands to the west. This is also where Ian Holm (Bilbo) is going.
5) The books relate that hobbits are excellent at walking very quietly - maybe the big hairy feet have something to do with this. Additionally, big hairy feet are cute (at least that's what my wife says to console me) - maybe they help charm the ladies - I would think that would sway natural selection in that direction.
6) In the books, Sauron (the main bad guy - or bad eye rather) is destroyed about halfway through. The rest is the journey home, which is far more exciting than it is in the movie. When they get home they have to kick some bad guys' asses out of there.
7) See 4
8) The elves aren't quite so jerkish in the books. They are definitely a higher species, but they tend not to rub it in as much.
9) KTC was right about the pact. That's why Aragorn (the warrior hero) wears the fairy thing around his neck. Also, it should be mentioned that the elf-lady is the same Arwen who gave up her immortal life in order to be with Aragorn. Also, in the books I think Eowyn dies, so if Aragorn did have any lingering affections, Arwen wins by default.
Posted by Chris email at February 27, 2004 03:08 PM

Thanks, Chris, that was exhausting - I mean exhaustive. With all that information I can now re-watch all the installments and make sense of them. I should get around to it by 2020 at the latest. Your number 5 cracked me up. I just keep picturing a Hobbitt slapping one of those feet against the ground like a beaver's tail when trouble approaches.
Posted by William Luse email at February 27, 2004 05:05 PM

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