Flickhead
DVD Review
By Ray Young

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Ringers:
Lord of the Fans

Directed by Carlene Cordova. Written by Cliff Broadway and Ms. Cordova.

Edited by Arnaud Gerardy. Photography by Josh Mandel.
Music by Robin DiMaggio. Narrated by Dominic Monaghan.
98 minutes. Released in 2005.
Available on DVD from TheOneRing.net, $17.47.

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    Ringers: Lord of the Fans is the latest addition to a subgenre of recent documentaries about aficionados in the throes of their showbiz-related passions. After the movie mad denizens of Cinemania (2002) and the Star Fleet wannabes of Trekkies (1997), the focus is now on Lord of the Rings. Thirty years after his death, Middle Earth creator J.R.R. Tolkien continues to enthrall a sizeable readership, but Peter Jackson’s screen adaptations sent those numbers into orbit…especially to a public conditioned into buying ‘director’s cuts,’ expanded editions, bonus features, and deleted scenes, those profitable gimmicks of corporate manipulation.
    The Hobbit-loving principles of Ringers—particularly director Carlene Cordova and writer, producer Cliff Broadway—haven’t fallen completely into the mire of sycophantasia. There’s a feel for objectivity here, albeit ever so slight. They brave the broad spectrum of all things Rings: literature (Tolkien and his imitators), cinema and cartoons, to the esoteric regions of websites, amateur fiction, and conventions; and a fervent clique incurably awestruck by the whole enchilada. (The author once dismissed this bunch as “my deplorable cultists.”)
    To some people, Tolkien’s is a place that’s a tad too off the wall. As a medievalist at Oxford University, he was captivated by Homer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Arthurian legend, significant and nurturing roots left unmentioned by the cross section of Cordova’s interviewees. Nor does the film question the pokey sales of The Iliad, The Odyssey or Sir Gawain (which Tolkien himself edited for a ‘60s edition), an indication of the market’s indifference toward influence, inspiration and classicism.
    His own writing became a sincere endeavor to revitalize and simplify legend and mythology for minds distracted by the rapid changes of the industrial age. But the involved aspects of The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy can be rather daunting. Tolkien worked from a boundless supply of adventurous humans and elves colored by sundry quirks and detailed ethnicity, warring with dystopian societies (there were parallels with Nazism) or the easing of decaying dynasties into retirement, most of it under the gaze of starry-eyed pixies. It is, as they say, an acquired taste.
    In one of the many recurring scenes in Ringers, fans are interviewed while camping out on line for days for the premiere of one of Jackson’s pictures. Yet clearly visible overhead is an adjacent marquee announcing Harry Potter. The faux pas underlines the ease with which one marketable obsession can blend into another. What was once the ‘lunatic fringe’ is now a relatively common and free spending consumer, another link in the pipeline of costly and heavily exploited product. When a woman pontificates about the overwhelming sense of unity she gleans from Tolkien (a visionary, we are told, all of mankind can learn from), one can only wonder how much of that idealism carries over into her everyday life.
    As a money-saving device, the filmmakers avoid using scenes from Jackson’s films and earlier animated versions. (Two cartoons from the late 70s, the Rankin/Bass The Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, are for fan club members only.) Stars of the recent movies, including Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin and Ian McKellen, appear in interview sessions discussing their slant on things, while ‘precious’ Andy Serkis jumps in to surprise people at a convention. (Serkis supplied the voice for Jackson’s ingeniously animated Gollum, a troll-like caricature of Peter Lorre.)
    Ringers is at its best when profiling the fans or tracing the history of Tolkien’s popularity. The critical condemnation he drew during the ’50s is glossed over by lip service pointing out the support once offered by C.S. Lewis and W.H. Auden. Tolkien’s subsequent status as a cult icon of the late ’60s acid generation (his work was once referenced in songs by Led Zeppelin and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd) diminished his credibility among the literati even further. No matter: the ‘Ringers’ understand this terrain as a gilded plateau transcending any and all derision. When Cordova accompanies them for a visit to the quaint village of Hobbiton (a barebones theme park nestled in a California forest) or on elaborate vacation tours of Jackson’s New Zealand filming locations, the unwavering devotion is enviable. As our world grows dark in the shadows of real-life despots and elected hooligans, it would be comforting to believe in white knights and good-natured sorcerers eager to rescue us from our ever-impending apocalypse.

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