Even though everything that should be said about the Lord of the Rings film has probably already been said (along with a lot that didn’t need to be said at all), I feel compelled to add my two cents to the discussion anyway. My thoughts, summed up in a very un-intellectual sentence, are this: It’s great to finally see a fantasy movie that doesn’t just suck.
I was, am and probably always will be a fantasy buff. I was collecting Dungeons and Dragons figures at the age of 8, reading The Hobbit at about 10, writing my own fantasy stories and actually playing Dungeons and Dragons at 11, and then putting Rodney Matthews posters on my walls and reading any crummy fantasy book I could get my hands on from about the age of 12 onwards. At around 13 or 14 I read The Mists of Avalon, and though I am loathe to admit it, I think that book changed my life. I became obsessed with Arthurian legend - which in turn lead to an obsession with England and with medieval history, which perhaps lead me to study medieval history and, ultimately, move to England.
So my “thing" for fantasy has been there as long as I can remember. It takes guts to admit this, seeing as fantasy buffs are even higher on the “geek quotient” list than science fiction buffs. As geeky as it may be, science fiction is still far more acceptable than fantasy. The fantasy genre has been pegged - not entirely unjustly - with the image of elves and unicorns cavorting about in magic fields, and with grown men and women dressing up in medieval costume and calling themselves Lord Baldric of Raven’s Keep or Lady Jessica of Brighthelmstone or whatever. I also get the feeling that it’s been pegged as a “girlie" genre. Martians are for boys; elves are for girls. And while a boy who is into science fiction may be considered a nerd in the greater scheme of things, he is still more highly regarded than a boy - or, heavens forbid, a girl - who is into fantasy.
Maybe this is why, as far as making movies goes, science fiction has flourished (or at least had some great moments), while fantasy has languished in a Hell of tackiness. Science fiction gave us the Star Wars trilogy, the Alien movies and Blade Runner. Fantasy gave us First Knight. Moviemakers are able to take science fiction more seriously than fantasy. Science fiction movies can be dark, intense and thought-provoking. Fantasy movies seem to have to be shiny, silly and aimed at an audience of seven-year-olds.
When a new science fiction film comes out, I tend to think, “Well, it could be great or it could be stupid.” Though it often winds up being stupid, I have been pleasantly surprised sometimes - and in this context, I’d like to mention Pitch Black, a little science fiction movie from a few years ago that truly surprised me with its terrific atmosphere, its intelligent character development and solid acting, and its occasional moments of brilliance (“I was supposed to die in France…").
When a new fantasy film comes out, on the other hand, I almost invariably think, “You couldn’t pay me to go see that.” I wouldn’t touch most fantasy films with a ten-foot pole. There are very, very few exceptions, and almost all of them have some sort of disclaimer attached. Legend: it has its moments, but it’s a kids’ movie, and really, it’s pretty cheesy. The Princess Bride: it’s a comedy - and a kid’s movie. Maybe Excalibur, even though I could never get into the movie myself. The only glaring exceptions are the films of Terry Gilliam, particularly Time Bandits - which is ostensibly a kids’ movie, but which scared me to death as a kid and which I still find brilliant.
And now, of course, The Fellowship of the Ring. In some ways, I’ve been waiting for this movie all my life - not because I’m a huge Tolkien fan who’s read The Lord of the Rings a thousand times (I’m not and I haven’t), but because I’ve been waiting for a fantasy film with the scale and background story of the Star Wars films, the thrills of Alien and the gritty, realistic atmosphere of Blade Runner. I’ve been longing for a fantasy film that was fantastic and yet utterly believable at the same time, and one that really did justice to what the fantasy genre is capable of.
The Fellowship of the Ring has not disappointed me in any respect. Granted, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t as entranced by it as I had expected to be. I chalk that up to seeing it in a horribly uncomfortable seat in the second row of a tiny, stuffy, full-to-capacity movie theater, and to spending the entire movie just waiting for the cringeworthy moment that I was sure would come. But there was nary a cringeworthy moment to be found, and the second time (and third time!) I saw it - in a big, cool, comfy, quiet movie theater in the middle of the afternoon - I was completely blown away. It’s as brilliant as it could possibly be.
I don’t suppose it will convert anyone to liking fantasy in general, though it will certainly prompt more people to read the books, which is always a Good Thing. If you can’t suspend disbelief for three hours and accept a world full of wizards and elves, then you will not like this movie. But if you look past the pointy hats and pointy ears, you will find a real story there. It’s not a simple story of pure Good versus pure Evil, as some have wrongly assumed. It’s more about the ambiguity of Good and Evil, and of the addictive power of power itself. And ultimately, like Star Wars, it’s about the Hero’s Journey, which is precisely why the story has appealed to so many people for so many years.
For my part, I like the pointy hats and pointy ears, and nothing gets to me like a mysterious man in a black cloak with a sword at his side. Yes, I am a fantasy geek. But I am a geek whose time has finally come.