OBJECTIVE: Watch The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring once per every week of 2014.

WHEN: August 9, 2014, 7:56am. (Week 32, August 3-9.)

WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME.

FORMAT: Blu-ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV.



A couple days before this week’s viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring, I noticed a pattern in a lot of similar Campbellian hero’s journey films that I couldn’t ignore: the majority of the protagonists have a crappy home life, or at the very least, a minor real-world problem before the major catastrophic problem that kicks off their adventure. I’m sure you don’t need me to give you a giant list of examples for you to buy this premise, but Star Wars.

Yes, Luke Skywalker flies away to stop the Empire from ‘sploding all the planets, but before that major snafu, he’s sick of working on a farm and wants to get out and see the universe. One example should be enough, I think–oh, duh, Back to the Future.

Marty McFly will eventually get wrapped up in a time travel disaster that could erase him from existence, but before all that, he’s got a shitty family of wimps, losers, and alcoholics that he hopes to get away from with a successful music career. If you take out the sci-fi, our main character still has a problem to overcome. Oh man, and it’s not just sci-fi.

Boom. Wizard of Oz. Dorothy has a crazy neighbor lady trying to kill her dog and she sings an entire song about wanting to get the fuck outta Kansas before a tornado whisks her away to have witch-murdering adventures in a Technicolor dream world. And I already know what you’re thinking next: that’s just like Die Hard!


Yep, the rule doesn’t just apply to sci-fi/fantasy shenanigans. Before Hans Gruber and his henchmen start taking hostages, New York cop John McClane has to deal with the toll his wife’s new L.A. job is taking on their marriage. More of these, you say? Yippi-ki-yay.

The NeverEnding Story. Big problem: the Nothing consuming all of humanity. Smaller pre-existing problem: bullies, school, getting over your dead mom.

Shaun of the Dead. Big problem: zombies. Little problem: break-up.

The Little Mermaid. Big: Faustian bargain with a sea witch. Little: overprotective daddy.

Tremors. Big: giant killer worms. Little: small town blues.

The Terminator. Big: robot assassin from the future. Little: crappy waitress job.

Gremlins. Big: gremlins. Little: A crazy neighbor lady trying to kill your dog, wait, we’re repeating too many of these. It’s time to get back to The Fellowship of the Ring.


Here are scenes from the miserable home life of Frodo Baggins.

Reading in fields!

Wonderful friendships!

Gorgeous scenery!

Happy community get-togethers!

Drinking buddies!

Okay, fine, so this fuzzy little fucker is the happiest Hobbit in the whole damn Middle-world. But what if, like Luke, Ariel, and Belle, he simply craves much more than this provincial life? They all got a whole scene early in the first act to lament about their boring existences, so Frodo must get something more sweeping and dramatic than Gandalf casually remarking, “Hey, you’re curious about things outside of your home town,” right?


In fact, there’s even a scene where Bilbo considers asking Frodo to come with him on his journey, but changes his mind because Frodo just loooves the Shire.

“He’s always texting and playing video games anyway.”

It isn’t until an hour and 18 minutes into Fellowship that Frodo talks about dreaming of being off with Bilbo on one of his adventures. I’d say that’s way too late to establish your protagonist’s desire to travel, but since this movie is nine days long, I guess that’s technically still the set-up phase of the story. Ugh.

“Rivendell seems like a good place to establish my character traits.”

Anyway, since I hate this movie, you’d probably think its deviation from the typical hero story is another sore spot for me, but believe it or not, I actually came to enjoy it, and here’s why: it’s not failing to hit all the beats of a Campbellian monomyth, it’s just modifying the refusal of the call to adventure in a different way.

While I’m not letting Peter Jackson off the hook for failing to show us the hopes and dreams of his protagonist on a personal level, I don’t think a perfectly happy life is necessarily a bad start to an adventure. While I’ve provided many examples of films where characters either run from or solve their smaller problems while being caught up in major disasters, there’s another way to call your main character to action: the shake-up.

Hell yeah.

This is Tony Stark. Before becoming Iron Man from Iron Man, his life is awesome. He’s rich, he’s popular, he gets whatever he wants. He makes and sells weapons to anyone that can afford them, and his adventure begins when he’s caught in the middle of a conflict and realizes that war fucking sucks.

“Wait, dying is bad?”

The shake-up is a great way to jolt a character into realizing that life isn’t perfect, and it comes as more of a shock when their lives up to that point have been nothing short of ideal. It works especially well in war scenarios, which is the case with Lord of the Rings, Iron Man, and–oh, shit, and Top Gun.

My nemesis!

Now, I’d say that Maverick at least has a bit of an unhappy past, but when the movie starts, he’s King Badass of Fuck Yeah Mountain. Everything is cool and nothing can go wrong. Until things go wrong, at which point he has to confront the dangers of living like a rebel. Top Gun is a good example of a shake-up story with sprinkles of a crappy home life, and some films try to drop their protagonists at a point between both situations.

Lookin’ at you, Mister Dead Parents Billionaire.

So, while it’s a bit odd that we barely get to see Frodo’s desire to leave the Shire the moment we’re introduced to him, I think it’s pretty effective to throw him into the shit and watch him struggle along the way to accept his mission. You wanted adventure, Baggins? Let’s see how you feel once you’re miles from paradise.

Just one song about leaving home.


“I can’t contain my ire for the Shiiiiire…”