FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

a Review of Lord of the Rings

There was no way I was going to get out of seeing “The Return of the King,” the final installment of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In fact, it was more or less a forced viewing, word-of-mouth and community pressure to know what was going on was so great. Days ahead of time, my husband bought tickets for us, our children and several of their friends, lest our little movie house on the prairie sell out on opening Friday.

I’ll skip the plot summary, since the movie has been promoted relentlessly for more than a year and a half. Jackson shot all three parts at the same time, and parceled them out into simultaneous global blockbuster openings. Return of the King and the two previous installments are being reviewed in the same reverential terms as George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy. “Lord of the Rings” is said to be a classic, to have re-set the bar for fantasy movies. The battles of Aragorn, Legolass and Gandalf against the evil empire of Mordor are supposed to mark our kids’ childhoods the way the adventures of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker stamped an earlier generation’s imaginations. But I’ve always thought adults who like to sit around and talk about great Star Wars moments are dim, at best. There’s something I’m missing, I guess, because the movie opened earlier this week at midnight (on a school night) and hundreds of kids and otherwise sensible adults stayed up until 4 a.m. to see it.

I asked my 10-year-old son what I should look for. “Cool weapons, awesome moves, and awesome special effects. Like the oilephants, and the ents, those are giant walking trees. And trolls. I want to see trolls.” That about sums it up. The last two installments of The Lord of the Rings had kicked off an almost overwhelming epidemic of imaginary sword fighting and bow-making in our neighborhood. Which in itself isn’t so bad, except that constant vigilance is called for when the 10-year-olds are always flailing away at each other with branches, measuring sticks, broom handles and anything else that can be imagined into a weapon.

As I settled into my seat for a long, 3 1/2 hour bout with my stiff shoulder and cranky back, I tried to work up a good attitude. Surely ” Return of the King” would provide something interesting to think about. I read the J. R. R. Tolkien books in high school, when they were a cool, cultish fashion to indulge, and then forgot them completely. Now my kids are reading and rereading them. The movies are said to be as close to the interminable books as movies can be, so what else would hold my interest?

As my son pointed out, the digital special effects, as well as ordinary old costumery and scene setting, are remarkable. An entire parallel world has been created, with remarkable attention to detail. I found myself studying the textures of textiles, and the chasing and burnishing of swords. There are terrifying flying dragons, horrifyingly steep mountain trails, a marvelously defended city, a realistic volcano eruption, and oilephants, warrior-mastodons decked out for battle, the Middle Earth version of a Bradley fighting vehicle. It’s a war movie after all, and the main action is the desperate movement from one badly overmatched battle to another. Despite all the carnage and force, there’s more bravery than blood, more sorrow at the prospect of death than actual parting. I sat in a row behind the 10-year-olds and watched their heads. What would draw their attention? They were transfixed — the only thing that made them move were some giant animatronic eagles. But that makes sense, because these boys are all serious ornithologists. There was only one troll.

At first it would seem that the digital special effects are an efficiency. For example, instead of hiring 1000 people to canter downhill on horses for the camera, you can hire 100, and digitally multiply them by 10. “Return of the King” is full of some of the most massive battle scenes you’ll ever see, mostly digitally enhanced — the mind turns to World War I, for example, to wonder what if there’d been aerial photography over the trenches?

But in fact the digital technology is a very expensive investment, and only a few firms (Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic being one of the leaders) are good enough to deliver the sort of effects we see in “The King.” Art and skill aside, movies are a huge, increasingly world-wide business and their profits aren’t just measured in box office receipts and popcorn sales — if this were the case, a 3 1/2 hour movie would be a bad investment, because theaters couldn’t turn over the seats often enough. So the special effects must be there for another reason: they help knit the movie into a web of thousands of other products, and they mutliply the product. One example is the shift, since the introduction of the digital video disc, to the practice of re-viewing a movie: DVDs allow the movie to be viewed again with commentaries, translations, outtakes and alternative endings. They aren’t just videos in a new form, they are a new product in themselves. Special effects give DVD makers lots more to show, in a recycling, reusing sort of way.

But perhaps the most important part special effects play is to create interest and word-of-mouth far beyond the hard-core fandom of Middle Earth impersonators that exists around books. Since in film today the profits are really made in licensed merchandise, spinoffs, video and DVD sales, and promised sequels, all the buzz about the digital battle scenes and lumbering mastodons is adding extra oomph to an industry that’s always depended on blockbusters. It’s an industry that also has been deeply threatened by television, cable, and video cassette rentals. The real success of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is that it’s profits are supposed to crest in the billions, not the mere millions, through integrated merchandising. The New York Times reports that the licensing rights for “Lord of the Rings” video games alone will bring a minimum of $20 million.

It’s impossible where I live to meet someone who hasn’t seen the latest of the trilogy, or isn’t planning to see it, or hasn’t heard about it. Our local bookstore is doing a brisk business in volumes that explain the special effects, the swords, the back story, the costumes and of course, the preparation of handsome actors. So it’s hard not to think that the triumph of the “Lord of the Rings” movies is really the triumph of an intricate, consolidated marketing system, on a global scale. Peter Jackson and his actors and writers and technicians will all win Oscars for sure, for their service to this world-wide industry. Still, we want more trolls!

SUSAN DAVIS teaches at the University of Illinois.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 25, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
A Major Win for Trump’s War Cabinet
Andrew Levine
Could Anything Cause the GOP to Dump Trump?
Pete Tucker
Is the Washington Post Soft on Amazon?
Conn Hallinan
Iran: Sanctions & War
Jeffrey St. Clair
Out of Space: John McCain, Telescopes and the Desecration of Mount Graham
John Laforge
Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track
David Rosen
Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?
Gary Leupp
Pompeo’s Iran Speech and the 21 Demands
Jonathan Power
Bang, Bang to Trump
Robert Fisk
You Can’t Commit Genocide Without the Help of Local People
Brian Cloughley
Washington’s Provocations in the South China Sea
Louis Proyect
Requiem for a Mountain Lion
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Israel: a Match Made in Hell
Kevin Martin
The Libya Model: It’s Not Always All About Trump
Susie Day
Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”
Pepe Escobar
How Iran Will Respond to Trump
Sarah Anderson
When CEO’s Earn 5,000 Times as Much as a Company’s Workers
Ralph Nader
Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities
Chris Wright
The Significance of Karl Marx
David Schultz
Indict or Not: the Choice Mueller May Have to Make and Which is Worse for Trump
George Payne
The NFL Moves to Silence Voices of Dissent
Razan Azzarkani
America’s Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel
Katalina Khoury
The Need to Evaluate the Human Constructs Enabling Palestinian Genocide
George Ochenski
Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department
Jill Richardson
Our Immigration Debate Needs a Lot More Humanity
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again a Slaughterhouse Raid Turns Up Abuses
Judith Deutsch
Pension Systems and the Deadly Hand of the Market
Shamus Cooke
Oregon’s Poor People’s Campaign and DSA Partner Against State Democrats
Thomas Barker
Only a Mass Struggle From Below Can End the Bloodshed in Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
Australia’s China Syndrome
Missy Comley Beattie
Say “I Love You”
Ron Jacobs
A Photographic Revenge
Saurav Sarkar
War and Moral Injury
Clark T. Scott
The Shell Game and “The Bank Dick”
Seth Sandronsky
The State of Worker Safety in America
Thomas Knapp
Making Gridlock Great Again
Manuel E. Yepe
The US Will Have to Ask for Forgiveness
Laura Finley
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
Rob Okun
Raising Boys to Love and Care, Not to Kill
Christopher Brauchli
What Conflicts of Interest?
Winslow Myers
Real Security
George Wuerthner
Happy Talk About Weeds
Abel Cohen
Give the People What They Want: Shame
David Yearsley
King Arthur in Berlin
Douglas Valentine
Memorial Day
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail