Ringers: Lord of the FansReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 11/21/05 22:10:13
And now it seems I have another chance to shill for “Trekkies,” the endlessly wonderful documentary which followed a series of hardcore “Star Trek” fans, laughing both at and with them and their bizarre obsessions. The film is a pure joy, biting but never mean-spirited, a great chance for geeks to chuckle over their own silly ways.I mention “Trekkies” because I have just watched “Ringers: Lord of the Fans,” a mostly unwatchable documentary which presents itself as a “Trekkies” for the “Lord of the Rings” set. “Ringers” takes a different approach, spending as much time following the history of the books and films themselves as it does the fans. This might work, except: a) we’ve already been handed this material in the 4,000-plus documentaries on J.R.R. Tolkien that came out as cash grab tie-ins during the movies’ theatrical runs; b) it’s doubtful that if you’re into “Rings” enough to watch “Ringers,” you’ll already know all of this info anyway (and, conversely, if you’re unfamiliar with Tolkien, chances are good that you wouldn’t bother watching this film); c) it’s all done so very, very poorly that fan and non-fan alike will have lost interest all too soon.
What “Ringers” purports itself to be is a movie about fans, by the fans. We get Cliff Broadway, writer/editor for “Rings” fansite TheOneRing.net, acting as an interviewer at the films’ premieres. We get Dominic Monaghan as our trusty narrator, and with him, we get most of the “Rings” cast, Tolkien fans all. (And, for some reason, David Carradine keeps showing up. Fine. Whatever.)
On paper, this sounds good enough, I guess. But let’s see what the film actually has to offer:
- Bland talking head shots of the “Rings” cast (as well as random authors and celebrities) explaining why they like the books; even the interviews that don’t look like they may have been lifted from press junkets come off as one-note back-patting fluff that you’d find on the flipside of a DVD, right next to the sneak preview for “Stealth.”
- “Reenactments” of college kids over the years getting “into” Tolkien’s books; this requires a cast of young talent to dress in (and I swear I am not making this up) hippie threads, disco outfits, and 80s mullet wigs, while standing in front of movie posters for whatever was hip that decade. Because just telling us these books were popular isn’t enough. No, we have to get the director’s friends play dress up.
- In-depth discussions of how Tolkien’s work appeared in many classic rock tunes of the late 1960s and early 70s, especially influential works of Led Zeppelin; without the rights to play such songs on the soundtrack, however, all the filmmakers are allowed to give us are photos of Pink Floyd and quickie footage of Cameron Crowe talking about Yes. We do, however, get to hear a few seconds from Rush’s “Rivendell,” thanks in part to a brief appearance from Geddy Lee. I like Rush, and even I felt cheated here.
- In-depth discussions about the “Rings” movies, which once again go completely unseen (outside of a few public domain still images) thanks to the filmmakers’ failure to obtain clip rights. We do get to hear hard rockin’ covers of songs from the 1970s cartoons, a novelty which wears off long before the songs end.
- “Wacky” animation that hopes to come across like Terry Gilliam’s best work from his Monty Python Days; it instead comes across as cheap, lame, annoying, and lame. (I wrote “lame” twice for obvious reasons.)
- Said “wacky” animation is used to make fun of old timey scholars who once gave Tolkien’s work bad reviews; the theme here is that anyone who disagrees with the filmmakers that Tolkien is the greatest author who ever lived must be cruelly mocked. Yeah, those are the kinds of fans I’d want associated with my obsession.
- A bizarre left turn in which the filmmakers attempt to tell us that all those “Beastmaster” movies and the like that used to show up in video stores were actually part of a 1980s fantasy boom that was the direct result of a Tolkien revival; it’s all part of the filmmakers’ belief that Tolkien is, in fact, responsible for every fantasy, sci-fi, or adventure work produced since 1955. I’ll allow that “Rings” has inspired many, but come on. Dial it down a bit, folks. Nobody was filming “Wizards of the Lost Kingdom” because “Rings” merchandise was selling well at the local RenFest.
- A side trip to Hobbiton, California, where a local family has built a walking tour of the entire “Rings” story using self-made giant models; here, finally, we think we’re about to get into the mind of a rabid fan, but no, the film is too brief in its visit. Just when we’re about to examine what’s going on in these people’s heads, we’re off to talk about tourists flying to New Zealand or something.
- People declaring how much of a diehard “Rings” fan they are - while they’re wearing an Obi-Wan Kenobi or Captain Jack Sparrow outfit.
Of them all, it was this last one that bugged me the most. Not even the actors disco dancing in their dorm room could top this wrong move. Consider: here we have a movie that’s supposed to examine the serious, life-long Tolkien fanatic, but all we get are interviews with people whom the camera guy could catch walking by. I’ve been trying to avoid comparisons, but… “Trekkies” gave us people who lived, breathed “Star Trek.” “Ringers” just gives us fanboys and fangirls from the local sci-fi convention who just think “Rings” is cool. The filmmakers fail to make their point.
Worse, the film is so sloppy in its presentation that it never manages to find a workable rhythm. We come to one moment where we’re sure the film will stop to discuss the character of Gandalf - but the entire Gandalf bit lasts, oh, ninety seconds, tops, and then it’s on to something else. It’s the same with those Hobbiton folks - we never get to know them because the filmmakers simply aren’t curious enough.
This lack of curiosity ruins what could have been a fun movie experience. We should have been given a detailed study of fan obsession, both serious and light-hearted. We should have been given an in-depth look at how Tolkien has affected culture in ways perhaps not noticeable even to the rabid “Rings” fan. We should have been given a chance to meet people who seriously dig “Rings,” not just some chumps who kinda like it, but would rather dress up like a Pirate of the Caribbean.And the filmmakers don’t even notice how shallow their movie is. They’re too busy tripping over themselves to praise Tolkien and his work to realize that they’ve made nothing more than a cheap, self-congratulatory effort that, if it were a DVD feature, would get turned off after a few minutes. This is an uninteresting film made badly, and it doesn’t even know it.
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