I guess it’s partly my fault: I made a bet
with Stefan just after Lord of the Rings came out, and as part
of that bet I promised him that if the film got nominated for either
Best Director or Best Picture at the Oscars, then I would go see it.
So it got nominated, so I went to see it. I mean, how bad can it be?
It’s now at #2 on the IMDB top
250, in some extremely exalted company.
How bad can it be? It was dreadful. If we’re talking IMDB top 250
here, you need to go down to #65 and Braveheart before you
even start getting close to a movie as bad as this one. Actually,
it was a lot worse than Braveheart. It felt like the bastard
offspring of Phantom Menace and Conan the Barbarian,
only stretched out to 178 of the longest minutes I’ve ever had the
misfortune to spend in a cinema. If I wasn’t with two friends, and
if I hadn’t been in the middle of a row, I’d've got up and walked
out less than halfway through. I would happily give up my bottle of
1990 Pol Roger never to have seen the thing.
The film opens with an epic battle scene (natch), but rather than
start us off with a bang likeGladiator did, Peter Jackson decides
to treat us to the sort of dreadful computer-generated animation which
we’ve all grown to hate through seeing the likes of The Mummy Returns
or the Phantom Menace. Immediately, we’re in the mindset of
watching a video game, rather than an Oscar-worthy film. Not coincidentally,
the only other film of 2001 which I can think of which is as bad as
this one was Tomb Raider.
The weird thing is that the nauseating overreliance on CGI continues
well past the tens-of-thousands-of-orcs scene and well into the innocent-hobbits-frolicking-in-bucolic-bliss
act which takes up most of the next half hour. The Shire looks like
nothing so much as the set of Teletubbies, with acid-green
rolling hills and cute wide-eyed little people.
Into the Shire rides Dumbledore, I mean Obi-wan Kenobi, I mean Gandalf,
a wizard (you can tell by the pointy hat) played by some Grand Old
British Actor or other. And Ian McKellen (for it is he) turns out
to be the best thing in the film: quite up to Alec Guinness’s hammy-but-not-too-hammy
standards. The way in which Peter Jackson sends him on his way after
a fight to the death with the incarnation of the Forces of Darkness,
faced off against him on a slender bridge over a bottomless pit, is
a little bit much, however. And Darth Vader is an infinitely more
convincing baddy than the Balrog. (In fact, rather than try and come
up with something original, Jackson simply nicks the Balrog straight
from the Night on Bare Mountain part of Fantasia.)
Come to think of it, was there any scene in the whole film which
didn’t feel as though we’ve seen it a hundred times before? The dark
riders galloping out of the fortress gate, the collpasing staircase,
the swordfights in the woods, the helicopter shot of our plucky heroes
dwarfed by nature as they paddle down the river… it was cliché
after cliché after cliché. The genius of a film like
Raiders of the Lost Ark is that it takes a tired genre and
revitalises it; this film looks as though it was cobbled together
out of offcuts from Hollywood’s recycling bin.
The rest of the cast generally looks like it’s been chosen solely
on the basis of how blue their eyes are, although Jackson makes sure
that Frodo, the purest of them all, also has the bluest eyes. The
Fellowship, note, is 100% white, while most of their opponents are
shades of brown. It’s frankly racist, the way in which the Aryan Fellowship
happily hacks its way through hordes of sub-humans at every available
opportunity, and completely defeats the whole purpose of comprising
the Fellowship of various different races. That dwarf is tokenism,
although he does get the only (deliberate) laugh line in the whole
It reached the point where I could feel the whole audience sighing
in exasperation every time we had to endure another close-up of Frodo’s
large blue eyes. It’s a bit like Zoolander: he has the same
expression throughout the film, whether he’s impaled by a monster’s
weapon or whether he’s just seen Queen Galadriel Nerwendë Artanis
Alatáriel of the Galadhrim for the first time. And when we’re
not subjected to Elijah Wood’s face, we’re subjected to his hand,
outstretched, with the ring sitting in the palm, over and over again.
I could moan about the plot, too, I suppose, but there’s little point:
this type of film never has any plot to speak of. But I think it is
reasonable to point out that there’s no structure to the film either:
it’s plucky Frodo and his gang versus yet another threat and… repeat,
with no indication that they’re actually getting anywhere, or that
this latest obstacle is particularly dangerous compared to all the
others. I mean, thousands of orcs in the caves scarper when they see
the Balrog, and we managed to cope with the Balrog alright, but then
a couple of hundred orcs later on in the film manage to capture a
pair of hobbits and kill one of our blue-eyed heroes.
A lot of the weakness of the film can certainly be laid squarely
at the door of JRR Tolkien and his ridiculously over-written epic.
Jackson wanted to be reasonably faithful to the book, so that explains
the hilariously archaic dialogue and the directionless episodic nature
of the screenplay. All the same, it makes for very bad cinema. And
the dreadful mattes, especially elf-land, which looks like it was
nicked straight from Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, are unforgivable.
Is there really appetite for another six hours of this? Why is it
that it seems to have any chance at all of winning multiple Oscars?
Although I hated Braveheart or Forrest Gump or Titanic
with a passion, at least I could see where the Academy was coming
from. But if they give this thing multiple gongs after having ignored
all the great films in its genre for the past 20 years, I will be
mute with incomprehension. Is Peter Jackson really a better director
here than Steven Spielberg was in any of the Indiana Jones films?
Is Lord of the Rings better than Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon? This film has achieved the impossible: it’s made me actually
want a Ron Howard film to clean up at the Oscars. That takes some