[Warning: There is so much nerd going on in this entry, it is quite remarkable I am a functioning human being. My brain is mush. I hope yours is too after wading through the layers of geek in this entry. But I am thoroughly proud of my status as a Ringer.]
If you have been following my blog for any period of time, you may have noticed my entry celebrating (and in a way, mourning) the ending of the Harry Potter film series. The Harry Potter books and films were a formative part of my youth, and I remain very grateful to JK Rowling and the filmmaking team over at WETA and New Line Cinema for bringing it to life on the page and screen.
But they aren’t my first literary love. I know. I’m a bit of a lit-slut. I cheat on Harry Potter all the time with another man. He’s short, cherubic, and smokes a long pipe.
He also has large, hairy feet.
Yes, dear readers. I am in love with Frodo Baggins. As well as Pippin, Merry, Samwise, Bilbo, and the whole gang. And Arwen. Oh, God, Arwen.
When I was fourteen years, old, back in 2000, the first trailer for The Lord of the Rings hit the airwaves, mostly filled with interviews of Peter Jackson talking about the film process, and ending with the titles of each film and their release dates. The release of that trailer broke the Internet and shut down theonering.net for about 3 days. Fans were going insane. I personally just wanted to see it because I was a huge fan of Elijah Wood and Liv Tyler, but the rest of the trailer spoke to me as well. It looked creative, fun, and adventurous. Keep in mind, I was not as much of a nerd back in the day as I am now. Indeed, the height of my nerdiness was American Girl dolls and Babysitter’s Club.
I started getting more interested in the story, and the relationship built by the cast while they shot for fourteen months in New Zealand. 1
When the film came out, I was sixteen. I sat in the theatre, shovelling popcorn and Goobers into my mouth while drinking a Diet Coke, and watched my life slowly change before my eyes.
Because all of the things I had considered while watching the trailers, about what it would be about, were so wholly underwhelming when faced with the actual film. I knew it would be about a battle and a quest, and pretty boys doing pretty things (What up, Orlando Bloom?), but I had no idea it would be so lyrical, so humorous, so unbelievably emotional. I came to the film for Elijah Wood, but I stayed pinned to my seat with a very, VERY annoyed bladder due primarily to the relationship between Frodo and Sam. As Tolkien wrote, “His will was set, and only death would break it.”3
I adored the friendship between Merry and Pippin, built out of a familial camaraderie and love of fun and laughter; basically the proto-typical hobbits who just want to hang out and smoke some Longbottom Leaf and drink whiskey, as referenced by Merry’s potbelly near the beginning of the films. They are the ones, I believe, who are the most altered by the threat of war. Their complete maturation, followed by their separation and reunion on the battlefield in full Gondorian and Rohirrim garbs in Return of the King remains one of the emotional highpoints of the trilogy for me.
I swooned initially when Strider came onscreen-most badass entrance ever or most badass entrance ever?- but soon enough was transfixed by his constant fear of his inner weakness that comes from his cursed, doomed lineage as one of the Dunedain. (A descendant of Numenor. Google it.)3
Of course, this film also introduced Orlando Bloom to the public consciousness. It also told us you can be very, very pretty, and star in a variety of films that showcase your prettyness, and that STILL won’t help you act your way out of a wet paper bag.
I hated Boromir. Hated him. Hated him so, so hard. But then I grew to understand why he was the way he was. He just wanted to serve his people and to make his father proud of him, the same way Faramir unsuccessfully campaigned to do so in the subsequent two films.
SPOILER ALERT FOR A GAME OF THRONES: This film also gave me the impression that Sean Bean is under contract to die in every single movie/tv show he’s in.
In 2001/2002, my brother bought me the full trilogy in hardback for Christmas. I devoured it in less than two weeks, and considered myself fully a member of the psychotic beloved mess that is the LOTR fandom (what up, Ringers?). I saw trailers and release photos of The Two Towers online, and like a heroin addict, I kept on slapping my arm screeching “GIMME MORE.” I participated in online forums. I did roleplaying games. I wrote in fanfic groups. I met some of my best friends. I tried to learn Elvish. I wished my hair were longer so I could style it like Arwen. It took me ten years to learn the patience to grow it out, but I finally got it that length. And I’m keeping it because I love her hair that much.
You might be starting to see why I didn’t date in college.
The Two Towers was released, and I was surprised and slightly taken aback by it. I absolutely loved it, don’t get me wrong. The introduction of the people of Rohan was exactly like I had imagined it in my head, and the way Tolkien wrote it – Beowulf with horses, as John Howe said. Eowyn, Eomer, and Theoden are painfully human, and the movie emphasized that. Eowyn, in particular, has a real, beating heart in the films, whereas in the book she can come across as unforgiveably cold except in the presence of Aragorn.
The depiction of Gollum, as well as being technically stunning, was emotionally gripping due to the abject suffering of Smeagol inside of Gollum’s possession. I almost took it to represent a demon possessing the mind of a hobbit, and the performance of Andy Serkis clinched that for me. Serkis is a God amongst mortals, and they should have structured an award for achievement in MOCAP just for him. He gave Gollum a heart and a soul that he would have lacked in anyone else’s hands. And who can forget that voice? We even forgot our own name. My…prrrreciousssss…..
All of that being said, the changes that were made to the text to make it more of an action film, rather than a plot-drive set piece like Fellowship was, really threw me for a loop. The whole ‘wargs of Isengard’ motif, while SORT OF put into context with the mention of them in the book, really didn’t jibe well with the whole tone of the film. In addition, us fans of the book KNEW Aragorn was alive. He’s the KING of Return of the KING, after all!
The biggest issue I take with the third film is the changing of the character arc of Faramir. It stunned me. Here is a man in the book who is one of the most purely goodhearted men you will find, who acts almost like a Robin Hood of sorts; you don’t know precisely what his motives are until he tells Frodo and Sam that he will do anything to help them. To turn him into the Middle Earth equivalent of a douchebag was kind of insane to me at first, bordering on unconscionable. However, I read an interview with Philippa Boyens who managed to set things right for me a little bit: By developing the personality of The Ring as something that poisons everything it touches, that reduced Gollum to the wretch-like addict he is, then to introduce a character who so wholly and easily rejects its power, that in essence strips the ring of all of the power you have fought so hard to display. In that way, I can understand the need for an arc. But it’s no surprise that during our marathon this weekend, my friend and I saw no problem in ending The Two Towers a bit early in favor of Return of the King.
Oh, and Return of the King.
The trailer alone nearly brought me to my knees (one of the best trailers in film history, if I do say so myself…go here), so I had no idea what to expect for the movie. I ended up needing to be wrung out like a dish towel. All of the tears. ALL of them.
My goodness, that movie ripped me in half. I ended up getting tickets for Trilogy Tuesday – an entire day at my local movie theater, filled with nerds just like me who were geeking out hardcore, fueled by geek love and Mountain Dew. The very nice woman next to me kept talking about how she had been waiting for this moment for twenty years. Which made me feel like the biggest wagon-jumper in the history of wagon-jumping, but I’m pretty sure we are all equal in the eyes of the fandom.
When the entire trilogy unspooled before my eyes, I felt as if I were being slowly torn apart, by skilled and perceptive hands that knew exactly what buttons to push to get the tears to flow and my heart to break, and the final film pushed it even further. The image of Frodo and Sam, on their hands and knees because the force of evil has pushed them there, and pushed them to the edge of their physical and mental strength, crawling up the mountainside until Sam gets the courage to sling his master over his shoulder to pull him towards the goal…that is Biblical in its scope. If you didn’t get it from the trailer, you get from the film a sense of yes, victory, but also profound sadness and sacrifice. You don’t really leave the theater fistpumping; you walk out with a lot of questions about what it means to be alive, to fight for what you believe, to really be a friend, to commit to a partner, to honor your family, and to live for the greater good. As ridiculous as it sounds, Return of the King made me a better person.
Also, for someone who despises spiders in every shape and form, having to deal with one the size of a Volkswagen was really too freaking much. Goddamn you, Shelob.
And Arwen. Oh, God, Arwen. She’s my favorite. Seriously. Hear me out.
I thought I knew what the whole deal with Liv Tyler was in the films. Someone pretty, the love interest, the basic and bare bones of a shot of estrogen in the testosterone-dominated atmosphere of the trilogy. I was so happy to be wrong. Surrounded by light, she rode into the clearing and into my consciousness, knelt before Frodo, and spoke gently “Frodo, im Arwen, Telin le thaed. Laso beth nin, tolo dal nongalad.” And yes, I know, in the book this office is taken up by Glorfindel, and in actuality the River Bruinen is summoned due to Frodo and not due to an elf. But it still works, and if you’re going to expand the character of Arwen without character mutilation, this seems like the only logical way to go about doing it. The connection between Arwen and Aragorn is palpable even in this small scene, and despite the overall heinousness of what they did to Aragorn’s behavior in regards to Arwen, it remains a potent and touching relationship, and you don’t have to put a sword in her hands to make her strong. Eowyn gets a lot of the glory in the films for being a shieldmaiden and the one who killed the Witch King, but without Arwen, there is no Fourth Age and no scion of both Elf-kind and Man in the shape of her son with Aragorn, Eldarion.4
Why am I freaking out about Lord of the Rings right now?
Because Monday marked the 10 year anniversary of the release of Fellowship of the Ring.
10 years. In those ten years, I have lost friends, hours of sleep due to school, and 70 pounds. I have gained a high school and college diploma and started graduate school. I completely changed careers and became a writer. I became an aunt.
I feel very, very old. Old, and honored that I am alive at a time when these films were made, and still commented upon and celebrated.
But it’s not over yet. Thank God.
Last night, the trailer for An Unexpected Journey, the first film in a planned 2-part Hobbit adaptation, hit the Internet. It has been well documented that The Hobbit hasn’t had the easiest transition from page to screen. First, there was an embargo on the films due to copyright restrictions (although we all knew they would be lifted because, it’s Tolkien). Then, there was uncertainty as to who would direct it, which I know got a lot of people worried. At one point, Guillermo del Toro was set to direct, and while that would have been a great film, it wasn’t what most of the fans wanted most of all. Then, suddenly and without warning, it was announced Guillermo wouldn’t be doing it. The time was right. Peter Jackson could come back and direct. And he announced it, and our hearts exploded with joy. Because it would have been fine if Guillermo had done it. But it wasn’t Peter. Peter is the one who gave the world the first three films. It’s his baby.
Photos were leaked over the course of the past year or so, and the more people that signed on, the more excited I got. Martin Freeman as Bilbo was too perfect to be real, and the return of Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, and Andy Serkis was just icing on the nerdy cake.
When I saw that the trailer had leaked (first from a link on Twitter, then as it was posted to my wall by about fifty people), I hesitated. I had built up so much love and appreciation/anticipation for these films, and the cast was simply stunning, and if they messed it up….
I pressed play before I could think about it any more.
Three minutes later, I sat back, hands over my mouth, laughing and crying. From the opening shot of Frodo and Bilbo walking in Bag-End, to the image of a brilliantly-lit Lothlorien (which I had completely forgotten would be more in a summery phase for these films…indeed, everything looks drenched in sunlight!), to the final beautiful shot of Bilbo wandering in the woods and the Ring glowing behind him, it all became real and wonderful again. And then the shot of Gollum. Oh, my, God. I nearly convulsed.
I was sixteen all over again. Sixteen, sitting in a cinema, without any idea that I would be swept away on a journey that would change the course of my entire life.
Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Thank you, Peter Jackson/Philippa Boyens/Fran Walsh, and every single actor.
PS. Yes, I am also aware that the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises came out too. But that one just made me incredibly depressed and I couldn’t really figure out the best way to ‘celebrate’ something that looks so relentless and bleak. Although I have an unabashed love for Anne Hathaway and everything she chooses to be, so there’s that to be said.
1. Admittedly, I was still mostly interested in the film because the guys they cast in it were super hot. I was 16 and hormonal, what do you want from me? Orlando Bloom is the prettiest man on the face of God’s green earth with the SLIGHT exception of Mr. Michael Fassbender.
2.”Are you frightened?” “Yes.” “Not nearly frightened enough.” That was the line in the trailer that hooked me for good. What a brilliantly terrifying line.
3. My feelings about Frodo and Sam (and I have a lot, I mean a LOT, of feelings) are expressed beautifully by Tolkien’s own thoughts about their portrayal. He described the attachment Frodo had to Sam (and Sam’s to Frodo) as that of an officer and his batman in World War 1. It is much, much more than a servant/master relationship, yet it is something that also goes into the servitude aspect. Without Sam, Frodo doesn’t do it. Without Sam, Frodo succumbs to the darkness and would have died either in Shelob’s lair or on the steps of Cirith Ungol, or would have succumbed to the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, or he would have throttled Gollum. In addition, Sam gives Frodo his soul. When they’re on the side of Mount Doom and Sam is holding Frodo, urging him to recall ‘the taste of strawberries’, and reminiscing about Rosie Cotton and his heartbreak about losing her to his own bashfulness, it takes a constitution stronger than most people I know not to explode into an emotional mess. Also, I really don’t subscribe to the whole “they’re secretly very very gay and having lots of gay sex with each other” argument. Tolkien wasn’t depicting homosexual love, he was depicting the very real and very deep love that comes between soldiers serving in the trenches at war. It is intense, consuming, and self-sacrificing, but it is not sexual.
4. My whole point to this harangue about Arwen is that, to me, she is the strongest character in regards to ‘motive’ or ‘theme’ in the entire film, with the exception of Gollum and Sam. Whereas those two introduce the themes of the Ring’s effects and the power of friendship* respectively, Arwen introduces the theme of death. She casts off her immortality for the love of a mortal man, knowing full well that she will have to watch the man she loves die and then be forced to subsequently walk the earth by herself, without any family or friends to comfort her. The moment in The Two Towers where Elrond lays out the implications of her chosen fate is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the entire trilogy because of its sacrificial nature; Arwen is giving up something extremely precious, and Elrond is trying to make her aware of that, and also heavily guilting his daughter into not leaving him the way his wife left. “Here you will dwell, bound to your grief under the fading trees, until all the world has changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent.” Elrond, and his eyebrows, present a convincing argument, but Arwen decides to stay after realizing she will bear a son. In addition, Aragorn’s behavior in the film towards Arwen is problematic because in the book, it is made profoundly clear that most of the impetus for Aragorn to even go to the War of the Ring rests on Arwen’s choice. Elrond tells Aragorn, without hesitation, that if he doesn’t defeat Sauron and destroy the One Ring, he won’t be able to marry Arwen because he hasn’t earned the right. I get the purpose of making Aragorn feel that he needs to ‘give up’ Arwen because he doesn’t want her to die, but at the same time they both are aware of the implications of their individual sacrifices. Also, without Arwen’s present of The Elfstone (Undomiel, or The Evenstar, or the pretty piece of jewellery that is not The One Ring), Aragorn’s healing powers would not have increased, so it is highly unlikely he would have had the strength or the healing gifts to heal Eowyn in the Houses of Healing. Arwen’s present also gave Aragorn the kingly nickname of Elessar, which is what Galadriel calls him in the departure from Lothlorien (“I can offer no greater gift than the gift you already bear.”) Plus, just as a side note, I was a fat single lonely Goth chick when I saw these movies. That, I am sure, informed my feelings (my many, many feelings) about the Arwen/Aragorn relationship. But I digress.