Lord of the Fans
Until Peter Jackson
launched his epic film adaptation of Lord of the Rings,
Tolkien fandom lurked outside of the mainstream. Strange that
it should, as everybody seemed to have read the books and
pop culture had been referencing Tolkien's masterpiece for
decades. It was worse than being a comic book reader.
Then of course came the films, and it was all out in the
open. Fans lined up in a display of affection not seen since
Star Wars, costuming themselves as outrageously as
any Lucas Drone or Trekkie.
But as Ringers: Lord of the Fans makes clear, they
were always there.
A sometimes awkward hybrid of historical documentary and
celebration of fans, Ringers provides a fairly extensive
look at the Lord of the Rings phenomenon. Impressively,
it does so without relying too heavily on footage from Jackson's
film. Though many of the stars make appearances, and Dominic
Monaghan ("Merry") narrates, it's not about them. It's about
Make no mistake, the fans shown here could fit in with
any type of following. Their passion matches the most dedicated
of sports nuts. Which is weirder, really, the guy who paints
his face his team colors and goes topless to a stadium,
or the gentle soul that puts on pointed ears and at least
somewhat warm clothing?
puts it all in historical perspective, even digging up footage
of Leonard Nimoy singing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins."
Director Carlene Cordova takes pains to be a completist
about the background of the novels, including a brief foray
into the controversy over unauthorized American editions.
Along with co-writer
Cliff Broadway, Cordova can be forgiven for mocking the
critics that trashed Tolkien's work. It seems a bit unfair,
though, when so many legitimate literary lights weigh in
on the side of Tolkien's quality, including Clive Barker,
here rehabilitated into strictly a fantasy author, instead
of one of the most deliriously bloody horror writers of
the 20th Century. No real dissenting voice actually gets
heard. Instead, the books' harshest critics are literally
reduced to cartoons.
the staged portions of the documentary come off the weakest.
A "recreated" protest pales in comparison to footage of
the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade with Green Party Ents marching
around. The real fans need to remain the focus.
celebrities, which Ringers draws from several different
walks of life. Writers, actors, rock stars and even comic
book artists weigh in on how Lord of the Rings has
influenced them. For some of us, it's a bit surreal to hear
Lemmy Kilmeister of Motorhead expound rationally on the
importance of the books. Heck, he seems more reasonable
than Viggo Mortensen. Conservative Fanboys might not find
that a stretch.
of Tolkien's work on rock music gets the strongest segments
and its own DVD extra. Geddy Lee of Rush weighs in, but
the high point really is the modern cover version of "Where
There's a Whip There's a Way" from the Rankin-Bass version
of Return of the King. If only the DVD came with
an mp3 of it.
Also among the
extras are fan confessionals, taken from a booth that the
producers set up at Comic-Con a couple of summers ago. Though
the film smoothly integrates many of these segments, the
Klingon Tolkien fan does need to be appreciated separately.
There's an issue
never quite dealt with, how fandom crosses over. The film
owes a debt of thanks to Comic-Con and features not just
a Klingon but footage of a Star Trek actor. Even
Executive Producer Tom DeSanto, though no doubt a devoted
Tolkien fan, has many passions - he helped attach Bryan
Singer to the X-Men franchise, stirred up interest
in Battlestar Galactica and has Transformers
on his docket.
Even the OneRing.net
has had to find other things to focus on; so where's the
bigger picture? Cordova might be trying to make the case
that it all falls from Tolkien, and that might not be a
bad thesis. But Ringers jumps around too much, yet
simultaneously keeps too narrow a focus, to explore such
Still, it is
fun, and if you can't take the trip to New Zealand, Ringers
is still a decent way to demonstrate your appreciation.