OBJECTIVE: Watch The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring once per every week of 2014.
WHEN: January 14, 2014, 2:49 pm. (Week 3, Jan 12-18.)
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME.
FORMAT: DVD on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV.
COMPANY: Cinemanaut John, who likes LOTR but hasn’t watched Fellowship in a while.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Eating chocolate pretzels. Mmm. Feeling hateful.
I don’t like The Lord of the Rings. Cinemanaut John does. However, he thinks The Fellowship of the Ring is the weakest installment. So, in the name of Fake Movie Science, I decided it was time to conduct a little experiment: watch the movie together and make separate lists of our ten least favorite things, in no particular order. Will they be identical?
Hey, remember last week, when I said the full title wasn’t even shown in the film?
Yeah, turns out there’s 43 minutes of exposition where the colon should be.
Alright, here’s what we dislike, exactly as we wrote it.
BILL’S HATE LIST:
1) Characters don’t act like they live in a magic world.
2) The slapstick.
3) Magic rules are often vague.
4) Scenes either feel like they were shot in someone’s backyard or on a green screen.
5) Frodo’s idiot friends hurt more than help.
6) Too much talking about gobbledygook that doesn’t seem immediately relevant.
7) Action scenes are fairly formulaic.
8) Female characters are handled shittily.
9) Exposition is woven in poorly.
10) Goofy physics.
JOHN’S HATE LIST:
Shit. I like this film a lot, but it is unbearably long.
2) Saruman’s Subplot
I love Christopher Lee, but with the exception of his capture of Gandalf (which might have been better handled via flashback), I find all of the Saruman scenes to be a real drag. They exist largely to set up plot elements for The Two Towers, but don’t add much to Fellowship.
The lack of good female characters is a serious problem with Tolkien’s books, but awkwardly expanding Arwen’s role probably isn’t the solution. I find most of her scenes with Aragorn to be Snore Town.
4) The Prologue
Oh, hey, a large chunk of exposition before we get to the exposition. Just what this three-hour movie needs. Seriously, save some of that information for later. Withhold it to build suspense!
5) Old Bilbo
It isn’t a big deal, but it’s always bugged me how old Bilbo looks. In the book, it’s mentioned how freakishly young he appears, and it bothered me seeing him as an old Hobbit.
6) Cave Troll
When the cave troll stabs the shit out of Frodo, Frodo should have died. I don’t care that he’s got the mithril jacket on, that shit would have crushed the little dude’s lungs.
7) Nazgul Run
I know it’s not fair to draw comparisons to the book, but I remember the run from the Shire to Bree being super creepy and intense. In the film it’s just a rather lackluster jog. No suspense. No sense of danger. We never get the impression that these tiny little jackasses could get the ever-loving shit slaughtered out of them; that makes me sad.
8) “Shire. Baggins.”
Gollum’s tortured confession of the ring’s location is handled really poorly. Until Gandalf explains it later, all we get is a scary building and a wonky voice shouting nonsense words. I’ve read the books, and even I think it’s unpleasantly vague. Either show Sauron’s goons putting the irons to our emaciated friend, or just have Gandalf explain.
9) Firework Shenanigans
I can’t stand Merry and Pippin’s jackassery at the birthday party. I know it’s setting up their characters and all, but I find it unendurable.
10) Farmer Maggot
“Hello, I’m a scary pitchfork. Derp, derp, derp.”
John specifically requested a screenshot of the pitchfork at the end of his list.
This proved difficult, mostly due to the fact that it’s actually a scythe.
Well, for starters, John picked much more specific scenes and plot elements, while I went for broad stylistic choices, but nevertheless, we have some similarities. I expressed a dislike of the copious amounts of slapstick gags, most of which involve Merry and Pippin, and John can’t stand them doofing their way through the fireworks cart, so I’d call that a match.
“Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”
We also both lamented the absence of well-written female characters and the lackluster attempt to beef up Arwen’s role as a solution to this problem.
“Eh, give her a cool line in the trailer, I guess.”
Oh, and my God, the fucking length. It’s such an oft-cited problem with this series that I just assumed it didn’t need to be said. Still, both John and I are pissed about several factors that contribute to the overlength of the film. I complained about the seemingly irrelevant side details and the poor handling of the exposition, which relate to John’s ire about how clunkily the prologue, Saruman, and Gollum’s confession seem to be jammed into the movie. Honestly, this flick could really use some streamlining. To prove our point, here’s the same flashback three goddamn times.
Other than that, we weren’t too terribly spot-on. John had concerns that some scenes from the book didn’t come across as urgently as they should have. I haven’t read the books (I will), but I can agree that a sense of urgency is lacking in many parts, especially the run to the ferry. Sweeping aerial shots of New Zealand aside, most scenes feel like the woods behind someone’s house or large CGI landscapes made on a green screen, hardly perilous locations for our band of characters.
“Kids! Dinner’s ready!”
“One minute, Mom! We’re makin’ a movie!”
One interesting gripe of note: John is upset that the mithril shirt protected Frodo from a troll stabbin’ that should have crunched his little Hobbit ribs. I just assumed the shirt was enchanted to protect the wearer from all harm or some shit like that, so it didn’t bother me. (I did, however, think the fake suspense of the scene was unnecessary, as the shirt was a fairly obvious plot coupon.) Hmm, I guess I’ll have to watch the scene another 49 times; maybe the shirt’s magic, maybe it’s not.
At the very least, we can agree that it’s fabulous.
Why do I find John’s complaint so interesting? Because I typically despise magic, so much so that I complained about it twice on my list. First, if you live in a magical world, act like it. Don’t take a magic ring, don’t look in a magic prophecy puddle, don’t trust a magic anything. I don’t know how a Hobbit can eat a sandwich without fear of it being a cursed sandwich that will make his butthole shout obscenities in front of his family or something. But all the characters in this movie seem to say, “Yeah, magic, neat, whatever,” and then move on. Everything has a spell on it, you guys.
You fools! Those are the Bewitched Dishes of Lord Evilmurder!
Then again, it’s not like the magic rules of this universe are consistent. I mean, shouldn’t Sauron be invisible right now?
I know, I’m sure it’s explained in Appendix Bullshit of Book Yawn.
I’d get into more detail on “goofy physics” right now, but I don’t want this article to suffer from overlength.
ONE THING THAT WOULD HAVE IMPROVED THE MOVIE:
When Gandalf jumped off of the tower and came up riding an eagle, John proposed a much better form of transportation…
I miss you, Doc.