A Fully Scientific Review of The Lord of the Rings Films, by a Fantasy Writer Who Somehow Missed The Lord of the Rings Until Now

Yeah, I know. I do remember watching the films about 15 years ago and clearly retained nothing, because watching them recently was a completely novel experience. I knew the basic beats of the story – ring, quest, defeat evil – but never really got round to properly watching or reading them. It took me long enough to get through The Hobbit – can’t remember much of those films either – that I keep meaning to go straight to the audio book of The Fellowship of the Ring. (If you’re new here and were enticed by the title: hi, I’m Francesca and I write stories about magic. My last book included a quest, a dragon and a wizard in a tower so it’s safe to say Tolkien’s influenced my work without me noticing.)

Grab popcorn for this, guys, it’s very scholarly:

The Fellowship of the Ring

  • I don’t think I’d realised Sean Bean was in it
  • But we all knew what would happen to him
  • Excellent creepy costume and atmosphere work with the ringwraiths, 10/10 for nightmare potential had I been paying attention 15 years ago
  • I imagine there was far more of a point to Cate Blanchett’s Extra Ethereal Elf in the novels; on screen I thought that although she’s definitely a good guy, she could have become a bad guy in the right (well, wrong) circumstances. Given the running time we might as well have had 10 more minutes of exploring her character
  • Not sure why none of these men tie their hair back to go into battle. Sweaty necks are hard enough when you’re out for a walk, let alone when you’re wearing a helmet or Defending the Hobbits
  • I mean, come on, Legolas, there’s no way those plaits would have survived all that running
  • Did anyone else really worry what happened to Bill the horse?
  • Kind of felt like Gandalf and Saruman were a bit too stock character wizard-y until I remembered they are the original wizards and therefore VERY COOL
  • I always liked the idea of going to New Zealand but now it is on the list in a serious way, not a ‘one day’ way
  • I was so excited to see Liv Tyler’s elf! I mean she was just there to save Frodo but she seemed to be on such a good character arc, building her mortal life with Not a Worthy King until-

The Two Towers

  • Okay I spoke too soon, I think she’s just lying on a couch a lot?
  • Did not realise the two towers were two separate towers. Not a full on tower-y building that would need to be stormed. Took half an hour to catch up. Fortunately, I still had four years of film left to enjoy the plot!
  • Don’t you love when you have more experience with a meme than with the original work?
gif of Legolas exclaiming, 'They're taking the hobbits to Isengard!'
from Giphy
  • As I write this I’ve remembered that I do have an abiding Lord of the Rings memory! When I was little and the films were being released – Google says I would have been six to eight – I understood that hobbits and dwarfs = small; humans and wizards = tall. I also understood that dwarfism is a thing in real life, so I thought that the people they cast to play hobbits and dwarfs were actors with dwarfism. I was really disappointed to see a news segment or suchlike proving that they cast regular sized people for every role and then CGI-d it! Couldn’t figure out why they didn’t save themselves a job. May have been a very young diversity campaigner
  • Speaking of diversity, are we really meant to believe that in a world where multiple species co-exist, there are absolutely no brown people except for maybe those mercenaries on monster elephants? Dudes.
  • (I am aware that although the films were only made 20 years ago, things are done differently now.)
  • (We’re not going to mention the Bechdel test.)
  • Not sure what the point of the blonde princess was except to provide a handy love triangle for our now-swooning elf and Not a Worthy King

The Return of the King

  • You know what I love? A good battle scene. The noise! The gravitas! It probably helps that now I am old enough to know all the horses were acting
  • Blonde Princess got her (redeeming, cool) stabby battlefield moment!
  • Liv Tyler’s elf did not
  • My brother and I disagreed on whether or not she even needed to exist, but I guess 3 central female parts are the prime amount for a saga with an extended edition running length of 11.5 hours
  • Not sure what was up with the Steward of Gondor and his fiery demise, except as a reminder that yes, the king needed to return sharpish
  • Poor Sméagol 
  • My brother pointed out that although the Eye of Sauron sees all, it can only look in one direction at once. Bit of a design flaw there, your evil lordship, but I feel like it would make a good metaphor for the narrow mindedness of an existence bent on world domination
  • Bowing to the hobbits awwww
  • Speaking of hobbits, I am vagually aware of decades of readers nudging each other and saying ‘are we sure they’re all just friends?’
  • I am with you
  • Clarity, please, Tolkien estate
  • Just kidding, if there’s anything worse than a lack of a character trait in canon text, it’s the author telling us about it years after publication (you know who I’m talking about). I also love stories that are more focused on friendship than romance, so if the ghost of Mr Tolkien is reading, thank you (and fantastic work on the world building, even if I recall The Hobbit being a bit… wordy). I get where all the fan fiction is coming from, that’s all
  • I liked that after the quest ended, the story got a second ending that we can all take home to digest. ‘New chapters’ don’t have to mean no adventure, just different adventure.

I’ve done (minimal) web surfing and although I am not the first person to question the 3:746464748 female:male character ratio, it looks as though the novels are a bit more fleshed out. Maybe I need another watch (and a crack at the books) to absorb the nuances of Éowyn and Arwen’s character arcs and personalities. Sort of wish I’d done this at the start of lockdown because now we’re creeping back into life, I probably have better other things to do. But then, judging by the number of people I encountered this morning who were acting like coronavirus is a thing of the past, we might be back to full lockdown in about two weeks’ time. Is it offensive to say that some people are marginally less bright than orcs? JUST WEAR A MASK AND STAND SEVERAL FEET AWAY FROM ONE ANOTHER.

Only in 2020 could you go from musing about diversity in a decades-old story to comparing the general public to malevolent ogre-creatures for the transgression of standing around.

I’m off to finish writing my next patrons’ story (no dragons, maybe magic). If you enjoyed this Hot Take on a classic, let me know! If I’ve ruined your favourite story, don’t let me know!

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