Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lord of the Rings

This post is dedicated to Chana. She knows why

For the longest time, I refused to watch any of the Lord of the Rings movies for fear that I might like them, thus creating a conflict with my extreme dislike of the books. Or rather, of the first book, since I was incapable of mustering up the energy to read any of the others. In fact, I only finished the first one since people told me that I couldn't appreciate or insult it until the end. And after putting myself through one afternoon of pure agony, they went and told me that I had to read the entire trilogy to be able to have a say in these things. Grrrrr.
Anyway, I need not have worried about watching the movies. Last night, I saw Return of the King with a couple of friends from high school. It was, and I say this without hesitation, unmitigatedly awful. Now, admittedly, I was predisposed to mock it, given the fact that I was a little crazy with seeing old friends, sugar, and the lateness of the hour, as well as the fact that I always mock movies as I watch them. It's part of the viewing experience. Or rather, not always mock, if they happen to be good, but engage in a steady stream of comments, predictions, critiques, anything that pops into my head. For some reason, this occasionally annoys people, but last night, everyone else was also mocking at full speed. The movie just made it so darn easy.
To be fair to Tolkein, it is possible that his ideas did not seem so worn-out, humdrum, predictable, pathetic, stereotypical and all around ridiculous when they were new and pioneering. But it is impossible that they ever sounded clever. I mean, I know that the book is fantasy and that this entails some things, but did he really need to have all of the characters converse only in vague, pretentious epic last words at one another? While they gaze, tormented or noble-looking off into the distance? I mean, if I were in a battle and about to die, I don't think that I would comfort others with speeches about a land of white beaches with swift sunrises (What the heck is a swift sunrise, anyway?) More likely the conversation would go like this: "So." "Yeah." "Well. It was..." "Yeah. Let's do this." "Goodbye." "You too." I mean, probably not, probably I have no idea what I would say, but that's more the way that I would write the scene. Probably in real life, no conversation of the kind would go on at all. But certainly not long-winded speeches about honor and courage and love. Read Killer Angels or All Quiet on the Western Front, my friends, if you want to know how people about to die really talk. Or any decent book in the world to learn how people in normal situations act. Not Tolkeinesque, that's for darn sure.
Anyway, the movie, I suppose, had the virtue of cutting out Tolkein's twenty page descriptions of trees, but at the cost of leaving his plot and characters intact. They tried to make up for this by cool action and long, long actions sequences, but you got the impression that they were pouring pepper into concrete- just because you make it spicier doesn't make it edible. Plus the fact that the action sequences all started to look very much alike. Plus the fact that every single twist of the plot, down to the "I am no man" was painfully predictable. Plus the fact that I never felt a scrap of emotion for any of the characters, except for some vague amusement at that crazy one who set himself on fire. I liked Aragon's final rallying speech, but mostly because one of the radio talk show hosts uses it as his opening montage.
All in all, it was a thoroughly ridiculous movie. I suppose that I should be grateful that it did not force me to re-evaluate my opinion of the series, nor concede that the movies were actually good. And it was awfully fun to watch, with a similarly scornful co-audience and plenty of sugar in the blood stream.


Mike said...

Tobie remember at least it wasn't Star Wars

e-kvetcher said...

Tolkien was a scholar of language and literature and also of mythology. I won't address the issue of the movie, but the books certainly CAN be appreciated for things other than their plot or verisimilitude. I mean you can say that about most opera as well - the plots are ridiculous. But that's not why we go to the opera.

In terms of what people do when they die in battle - you're probably aware that he served in the British Army in France during WWI and saw quite a few of his friends die in battle. I always understood the non realistic portrayal to be intentional - it ties in with the mythical hero themes.

Certainly to each his own when it comes to taste in books, but I think there's quite a bit in the books that is very impressive.

Tobie said...

Mike- it may as well have been. Yup, that bad.

E-kvetcher- I know that the books are classic and artistic and so forth, but I have been entirely unable to find them readable. I think that my personal thing in books is character- I view books primarily as the story of a person or people, struggling their way through whatever. As such, I find it hard to bear any book that utterly sacrifices any realism or personality in characters, even in the service of heroism. Tolkein, as far as I have seen, neglects his characters entirely, and as such, I simply don't have the patience to admire any other aspect that he may have. It's hard for me to care when the story isn't happening to anyone about whom I care.

Pragmatician said...

I'm glad you watched the movie , now I'm truly the last person on earth wathich movie that didn't see that one!

Chana said...

Haven't we been through this? Ah, well. LOL. As you know, I loved the books and the movies, especially "Return of the King." I was SO happy when that won best picture.

This is not about realism. "All Quiet on the Western Front" is realism in its most chilling sense- the senseless destruction, Paul Baumer's death without cause. LOTR is about individualism- how one man, Frodo, cannot go it alone, but needs Sam and Gollum to back him up. It's also an epic as opposed to "All Quiet" which is very specifically about war and the tragedy of war. They can't be compared at all- they're totally different genres with totally different messages.


Frodo's failure at the end is the most moving part of the whole movie, "The ring is mine," where Gollum has to help him. It's the same exact concept as expressed in Judaism by the ketores/ incense, where we have the unpleasant-smelling one in addition to the sweet-smelling ones, according to some explanations, because we are all Jews and we need everyone, good and bad.

The movie's beautiful- I think it depends on the lense through which you view it.