It’s sad to be alone at Christmastime. My friends have abandoned me, branded me a loon and a miscreant. While they rejoice, I’ve gone underground. My crime? I think the “Lord of the Rings” series up to this point reeks like a sweaty Orc. Okay, bad poetic license -- it’s not that foul. The epic scope of the movies is impressive and several action sequences are spectacular, as are the fanatical attention to detail and technical accomplishments. Peter Jackson’s ambition in directing the trilogy in a marathon 18-month shoot is as grand as his ability to pull it off. But for all those folks scooping up those ghastly Gollum snowglobes, have you guys pilfered Gandalf’s pipe weed?
Before I proceed further with my self-immolation, understand this: I like to think of myself as an imaginative and possibly well-adjusted adult. LOTR was one of my primary adolescent obsessions. I rolled the geometric dice and played Dungeons & Dragons, though I was reckless and was too often smote to be any good. I even collected and painstakingly painted several score of lead figurines based on Ralph Bakshi’s ill-fated animated “LOTR” adaptation. So I should dig these films. But I don’t.
The main reason is that they –- let’s stick to the movies for the sake of time and space -- just don’t make any sense. I will gladly enter Jackson’s Middle Earth, a brilliantly realized world in which the disembodied Sauron is a giant evil eyeball in the sky, all men have beards and elves don’t work for Keebler. But it’s once we’re in that world that storytelling logic takes a vacation.
Lapses in logic
Consider the story’s very origin, the flashback in Fellowship, wherein Sauron is initially defeated in a massive apocalyptic battle against Men and Elves when the One Ring is lopped off his finger. Later, Elrond, a powerful elf, and Isuldir, the man who gained possession of the Ring, stand before a fissure in Mount Doom, the only place it can be destroyed. At the last moment, Isuldur refuses to toss it in -- and Elrond lets him walk. Elrond, dude, Middle Earth was nearly obliterated because of a fashion accessory. Do one last favor for your millions of dead buddies and push this idiot into the fire. Then, six thousand years later, Elrond, instead of joining the Fellowship to make amends for his passivity, incessantly whines and rags on the race of “weak” Men. The only weakness here is in satisfying character motivation.
But character arcs flatline throughout because logic and motivation are treated in the same manner as the many set-pieces, contrivances to suit a Byzantine plot that takes hours to run in place. The moment when Sam begins addressing his best friend Frodo as “Mister” somewhere in “The Two Towers” counts as a major psychological beat. Speaking of those two, the subtext seems clear from the beginning, so how many watery looks, heaving bosoms and pregnant pauses between them until we “get it?” I began to think of Sauron’s flaming peeper as “Queer Eye for the Hobbit Guy.” Or maybe that’s an angry vagina that all those burly warriors flee. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. By now I’ve accepted this intricate yet sterile world where characters move according to mythic direction. But the myth itself is long and repetitive. Boromir, “Fellowship’s" most interesting character, is predictably sent packing. Indeed, the only true dramatic twist is Saruman’s big reveal, in which he flips to the dark side and kicks Gandalf’s ass. Even Gandalf’s supposed death at the hands of the Balrog, a winged yet surprisingly flightless demon, is lessened when he returns in “The Two Towers,” proclaiming, “I was sent back.” That’s a convention known as deux ex machina, or hand of god, and I wish it would’ve sent me back home.
All action, no story movementWhere Fellowship was bogged down in exposition, “The Two Towers,” for all of its action and sense of momentum, likewise accomplishes little in the way of actual movement. Frodo and Sam begin the movie looking at the distant belching of Mount Doom – and that’s how they end it. In between, they do find Gollum, a CGI-character ironically infused with more soul than the live actors. He’s essentially a junkie who says the word “precious” way too often, yet amidst the movie’s chaos and circular wandering, he’s the only character to actually come up with a plan. Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn, meanwhile, kill Orcs at an ever faster rate. In the nadir of the series, Merry and Pippin, the Cheech and Chong of Middle Earth, hug a walking, verse-spouting tree in one of the most clock-stopping sequences put to film.
As if they’re not long enough, both movies follow the recent and so very greedy trend, see “Kill Bill” and the middle “Matrix” movie, of just ending – nearly in mid-sentence. How would you like this article to have ended three paragraphs ago? Don’t answer that. Yes, they’re segments of a whole but I didn’t put my satisfaction on the two-year installment plan. Each movie should offer at least a taste of closure, rather than be content with itself as a single frustrated act of an epic designed to suck 30 bucks from my billfold.
Nonetheless, I’ll see “Return of the King” along with everybody else hankering for an ending. Whenever I’m chided for being a killjoy, for nitpicking the rising torrent of illogic (love that gaping sewer hole in the middle of Helm’s Deep, the “impenetrable” fortress), or for considering the tale’s queasy political and social conservatism, I think of how much respect I have for the whole undertaking. And how I wish I could like it.
Larry Terenzi is an entertainment writer based in Los Angeles.