Friday, January 23, 2004

(Another warning: spoliers for Lord of the Rings - Return of the King)

At last I see the final Lord of the Rings film. Laura Hersch and I meet Thursday evening, get some great luminous yellow butternut pumpkin curry at Busaba Eathai and then take our seats in the inordinately expensive (£10.50!), inordinately large (biggest in cinema in Europe, baby) Odeon Leicester Square.

Nu? Not a disappointment. Better than #2 but probably not as good as #1 (which is lusher, lighter and faster moving).

I'd have liked to refresh myself on the story-so-far before last night. As I expected, there were lots of things going on that I just couldn't place. E.g. at the end: where the fuck did Liv Tyler just come from? I got the impression before that she was supposed to be dying. In particular, I'd like to rewatch the opening sequence of #1, just so I get the narrative of Middle Earth's myth and remember what the rings are all about.

But after a while you stop worrying about all that because, despite all the different strands, it all boils down to the following: there's an evil force and there's a good force. Mannichean. But what's nice is that within such a black-and-white good-bad split there are all sorts of characters who waver, well-intentioned but misguided or once-enlightened but now lost and self-alienated. Parochial power and internal division gets in the way.

I kept thinking, what does it mean? If I watch a fantasy film like this one I want to get to the heart of its universe. I want to find its 'theology', if you like. OK, there's no mention of God really - although Gandalf goes off on one about the afterlife and how death is a doorway to a new beginning. But there's definitely a mysticism I can relate to in the sense you get that petty squabbles and personal interests are just so much blind illusion and that all the life-loving creatures of Middle Earth are really one. Sure, evil is a problem here, but then in what self-respecting theology isn't it?

Most of all, I seized on two similar speeches, first from Golem then from Frodo. They recognise that the ring and their attachment to it has made them forget the feel of the breeze, the touch of stone, the sound of grass. In other words, they have forgotten how to live. When we obssess so much on one goal, one object, our own fetish, our personal idol of choice, we stop living. We become alienated from Reality, the living God.

But it's more complicated than that, because at the same time Frodo says at the end: we all tell our part of the tale and then we must pass with the telling. In other words, all that matters is the task.

The worst thing about the film: a full half an hour of afterword!! Having said that, the film is so intense, so exhausting, you probably need that amount of time to recover. It's like decompression: you need it otherwise you gonna have the bends. I can just imagine if the movie ended right after the volcano explodes or Frodo and Sam are rescued. 'Right there you are, punters. They've done their job, story's over. Off you go.' We'd leave the cinema shaken zombies, not fit for human interaction, bright lights or sudden noises.

As it is, I'd like to see someone try to watch all three movies back-to-back. They'd probably drop down dead at the end.


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