February 18, 2002
Tolkien For Dummies
miles to go: 1,950.01
a graduate of the Always
Read The Book Before You See The Movie school of film
appreciation, I still haven't seen "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Apprentice," "Bridget Jones's Diary" or "Ghost World." (And it will
probably be years before I do see any of these
movies, mainly because I currently seem to be tearing through books
at a rip-roarin' one page per every 4.6 weeks. Recreational
reading has once again become one of those things for which I have
limited time/attention/energy/opportunity molecules.)
made an exception for "The
Lord of the Rings" this weekend for two reasons.
One: free popcorn.
Two: I had no intention
of ever reading "The Lord of the Rings" ANYWAY.
tried to read J.R.R.
Tolkien, over the years. I really have. "The Hobbit" was the
centerpiece of our sixth grade *Smart Kids Who Will Be Geeky
Unpopular Outcasts in High School* advanced-level reading
class. I remember finding it ponderous, impenetrable and weird, like
an Algebra textbook, or The Bible. But I managed to get through it
anyway, earning an A- on my book report.
as a geeky unpopular
teenage outcast, I tried reading The Lord of the Rings, mainly
because all of the really cool people in my family -- my mother, my
grandmother, my groovy Uncle Jerry -- were rabid Tolkien junkies, and I
wanted to be just like them. (Sort of the same reason I started
drinking and smoking.) Once again, I found it
painfully slow-going. The prose and the imagery simply didn't capture
my heart and my imagination, the way they had my family members. So I
abandoned the effort after a couple of headachy
late-night library book sessions.
an adult, I had relationships with a couple of
men who were passionate about the Ring books, so I gave them
another spin. Once again, it was more than I could handle. (The books and
the relationships, actually.)
now I'm married to a Lord
of the Rings devotee. It must be fate.
his credit, David has never
put any pressure on me to read Tolkien. But then again, pressuring
people to do stuff they don't want to do isn't his style. (Instead, he
uses subliminal persuasion and subtle mind-control techniques, until
the next thing you know you're eating Thai food/listening to Pere
Ubu/riding a bike/celebrating three and a half years of sobriety. He's
a sneaky one, that
He owns a handsome leather-bound set of The Lord of the Rings, and once
in a while he drags it down off the bookshelf and re-re-re-re-reads
favorite passages. But he never says, "You should be reading
this book, Secra" ... or "I think you might enjoy
this book, Secra" ... or "I'm going back into the
chat room to shop for a groovier wife RIGHT NOW if you don't read
this book, Secra." I know the books are there, should I ever
want to read them. He knows I know they're there. I know he knows I
know they're there.
comfortable with this
the meantime, when
the movie hit the theaters last year -- when it immediately became this
huge international phenomenon, breaking all sorts of box office records
and garnering buttloads of awards and nominations and People Magazine
articles -- I was faced with a personal dilemma. Do I break my own
cardinal rule about reading the book before I see the movie? Or do I
attempt to schlog my way through 43,897,621 pages' worth of
incomprehensible dialogue, weird stilted description and ELFSPEAK,
forcryingoutloud, just so I can go see this year's Big Movie?
dilemma was solved for me
when David announced "You need to see this movie in a theater."
is my other
cardinal movie-going rule: when somebody tells you that this is a film
you need to see in the theater -- as opposed to waiting for it to come
out on video or on HBO or as an ABC Movie of the Week, six years from
now -- you go see it in the theater. Period. (To this day, I
still wish I'd seen 'Last of the Mohicans' for the first time in an
honest-to-goodness theater, instead of as a rental movie: I can only
imagine how enjoyably devastating it would have been to see Alice step
off that cliff in Dolby Surround Sound.)
had already seen 'Lord
of the Rings' -- he went to see it with his kids
last month -- and he assured me that the story line was linear enough
and backstoried enough for even the non-fans in the audience to follow.
Tolkien For Dummies, as it were. Plus, he said, attempting to
me with Secrastuff, there would be plenty of things *I* like.
Romance. Magic. Cute edgy anti-heroes. An Enya-worthy soundtrack.
Lavish CGI-generated scenery straight out of a Maxfield Parrish
next thing I knew, David
and I were settling into our seats at The Grand Lake Cinema in Oakland
with our mega-bucket of rubbery theater popcorn, watching the opening
credits roll by.
of course I was hooked,
three minutes into the film.
plot, at least as *I*
interpreted it, goes something like this. Elijah Wood -- he of the
snaggly teeth and the Go Speed Racer eyes -- is a hobbit who has
embarked on a complex and dangerous quest, attempting to return an evil
gold ring to the source of its creation in order to destroy it forever.
Accompanying him on his quest are his best friend Sam, a couple of
other hobbits whose names I didn't catch, a dwarf whose name I didn't
catch, an elf whose name I didn't catch, and not one but TWO
Cute Edgy Anti-Hero Guys whose names I didn't catch. Liv Tyler and
Cate Blanchett make brief luminous appearances, as Elf Royalty whose
names I didn't catch, but it's clear that their roles are secondary ...
mostly to ensure that there will be a couple of female Happy Meal
toys. Every once in a while the story line would explode into another
raucous, violent battle scene with progressively ickier-looking wraiths
and monsters and bad guys. It was like watching a football game:
prolonged periods of relative inactivity, where the players stand
around in little anxious huddles, discussing strategy and frowning a
lot ... followed by brief moments of violent noisy
activity ... followed by another prolonged period of inactivity. But it
was all done with such artistic and creative finesse that the periods
of activity and inactivity were equally interesting and watchable.
even experienced a major Whoa
Moment, about a third of the way into the movie, when Frodo and his
group of adventurers reach the elf kingdom. Rivendell is an EXACT
REPLICA of a place I visit in one of my favorite serial
dreams ... right down to the the Bavarianesque architecture, the huge
snowcapped mountains and the cascading waterfalls. My reaction was
intensely visceral: I almost shouted "Oh my god! I've BEEN
there!" right in the middle of the hushed movie theater. (But
I didn't: that would have been bad theater manners.)
suppose the thing that
surprised me the most about the movie, though -- besides unexpectedly
visiting the village from my dreams, I mean, or besides the fact that
my butt didn't go numb in that cramped little theater seat -- is how
quickly three hours flew by, even without an intermission. I only
recall checking my watch a couple of times.
other thing that surprised
me? How anxious I am to see the next installment.
want to know what happens to
Frodo and his faithful pal, Sam. (While we're at it, I want to know
who Sam's real father is. Is it John Astin? Or Desi
Arnaz, Jr.?) I want to know if Gandalf is permanently dead this time,
or just sort of temporarily dead again. I want to see more romance
develop between Liv Tyler and the Cute Edgy Anti-Hero Guy Who Didn't
Die in the First Movie. I want to see if the blond Bow-and-Arrow Elf
Guy braids his own hair in the mornings, or if he has somebody braid it
for him. I want to know if they rescue the two dim little hobbits who
were kidnapped by the bad guys. And of course I want to know if the
ring is destroyed, once and for all.
way I see it, I can either
wait another ten excruciating months -- until the second movie finally
arrives in the theaters -- in order to get the answers to these burning
I can cheat ... and read the