' Cinema Romantico: Lord of the Rings Trilogy: It Was Never That Good

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lord of the Rings Trilogy: It Was Never That Good

Over on Salon.com Andrew O'Hehir has been weighing in on just why Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy was pretty much nowhere to be found in the cavalcade of Decade-End Lists. Were they overlooked? Overhyped at the time of their release? Were they so huge they have now become overrated? What was it? There were several posts over several days with readers of all sorts weighing in with varying opinions. I, of course, have my own opinions on this matter and I'll get to those in the second but O'Hehir chose to end the entire debate with the following mini-essay from Open Salon blogger Scott Mendelson.

"It's called 'blockbuster backlash,' and it's not a new phenomenon. I actually found an essay I wrote in early 2005 about this, which stated that 'the Lord of the Rings backlash has only recently started.' Can you find anyone, film critic or otherwise, who still admits to loving or even liking 'Independence Day,' 'Jurassic Park,' 'Titanic' or the 'Lord of the Rings' series? Someone did back in the day, as those films made tons of money, back in the olden days when it wasn't so easy to gross $200 million, let alone $300-$600 million. But since it's considered uncool to like something so beloved by the masses, blockbuster backlash has set in, swinging the pendulum in the other direction. What starts as 'Oh, it wasn't that great' quickly turns into 'That movie was terrible.' The tide of critical opinion almost immediately turns, so that the focus on these films revolves purely on the technical merits, with snide disdain at the idea that the films succeeded for any reasons related to character, story or craftsmanship.

'Oh, those films were just about the battle scenes,' says someone who bawled like a baby during the finale(s) of 'Return of the King.' 'Oh, it was just the groundbreaking FX of the dinosaurs,' says another who gripped their seat in terror during the raptor kitchen attack in 'Jurassic Park.' We immediately forget that these films were not only popular with the masses, but with the critics too. 'Titanic' received rave reviews upon its release. 'Jurassic Park' received solid notices too. And each of the 'Lord of the Rings' films was greeted with a wave of 'I can't believe Peter Jackson pulled this off' hysteria, to the point that 'Return of the King's' Oscar triumph was a foregone conclusion. Just you wait: The tide is already starting to turn against 'The Dark Knight' ('It only made so much money because Heath Ledger died'), and I can only presume that 'Avatar' is next on the chopping block ('People only went because of the 3D effects,' which explains why 'Captain Eo' was the century's top-grossing film).

This isn't a case of people who disliked the film from the get-go voicing their opinions louder than everyone else. This is a case of mass amnesia that renders any prior smash hit as something to be disdained by the critical elite, which then filters down to the general public."

Woah, woah, woah, hombre! Is there a blockbuster backlash? Hell yeah, there is. "Titanic" certainly did fall victim to it. But let's not forget I'm one of the few people out there who is still willing to defend "Titanic". I'll defend it to the death. Heck, I called it one of "My Great Movies" a month ago on this very blog. "Titanic", for all its terrible dialogue, is still a story told about as well as a story can possibly be told. (Sure, there's a heap of melodrama, but then like my profile says - I'm melodramatic.) Which brings me to "Lord of the Rings".

I was never much of a fan. Especially of the last two. I said it at the time. I said it many times at the time. There is potential that this year Kathryn Bigelow could become the first woman ever to win the Oscar for Best Director for "The Hurt Locker" but if you ask me Sofia Coppola already should have become the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director for "Lost in Translation" back in 2003 when Peter Jackson beat her out for "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." (This is why I need an Oscar vote. I would have had your back, Sofia.) She directed a far better movie. Ah, but "Return of the King" was the more impressive "accomplishment". Yaaaaaaaaaawn.

(Note: The Theory Of Accomplishment is directly related to the Theory Of Importance whereby a movie's quality and value supposedly stems primarily from "importance" in the, as they say, "grand scheme".)

Yes, filming the three famous J.R.R Tolkien novels simultaneously is an impressive accomplishment. But impressive accomplishments do not automatically great movies make. The first one was decent, particularly the early portions where it felt like Jackson and his cohorts were really paying attention to the characters. But as it wore on....and then the two sequels. My God. Plodding, way too long (especially the insidious "Two Towers"), characters becoming not so much characters as Inhabitants Of The Screenplay's Ideals, and endless battle sequences that wound up blending into one unbearable mélange of fancy-pants CGI. I suppose it only felt like Frodo stood at the top of Mount Doom about to toss the ring into it 47,414 times but, man, it really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really did feel like it. I didn't find any of them thrilling.

For people I know who were fans of the books and who openly moaned and griped about the flaws of the films and yet purchased the DVDs anyway I think the success of "Lord of the Rings" stemmed from "Star Wars" Prequel Syndrome. That is, straight denial. People wanted these films to be so darn good they deluded themselves at the time of the release.

Perhaps that is unfair. Perhaps people do really think these are good movies as well as impressive accomplishments. Fair enough. I apologize. But don't tell me I dislike "Lord of the Rings" solely because of "Blockbuster Backlash". I didn't like it then, I don't like it now, I won't like it tomorrow.

1 comment:

Castor said...

Nice post. Hope you don't mind if I submit this to Reddit. It might subject you to the wrath of some fanboys but it's decent traffic ;)