The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Peter Jackson
viewed: Metreon, SF

Lord of the Rings or Fellowship of the Ring, part one of what will be a three year annual trilogy, turns out, rather unsurprisingly to be a pretty fun outing to the theater. It’s big screen entertainment that works.

That said, it’s not Citizen Kane.

I know that the AFI (American Film Institute) has marked it up as best film of the year. A lot of myopic people have called it something “mind-boggling”. It may take an Oscar, though I doubt it. Like that means fuck all.

But it is good adventure fare, digging into the literary bucket that literally invented genre upon sub-genre of fantasy books, films, games, etc. It still works. In some ways, it kind of amazes me in the way that it pushes Dungeons & Dragons gaming universes into the mainstream. It hardly seems like contemporary fare. Like, what about this film is really 21st century?

The imagining of the hobbit’s shire is like a projection through dreamy lenses of medieval England, in a pre-industrialized, pre-Rennaissance state. Yet it imagines it in a pristine, earthy form, in which peace and ease seem to be the way of life. Ugliness and evil are all personified in cartoonish forms. The bad guys are bad guys because they look scary. They are not cute like hobbits or beautiful like elves.

Of course, the threat to the hobbit’s shire is the core of the story. The eventual destruction of the Edenic world looms behind the motivation of Frodo and others of the “fellowship.” But it is a fantasy world, not one of “real”, literal world history. It’s an escapist vision of an ideal that never existed, though a concentrated yen for a time before the infiltration of technology.

How ironic then, that such fantasy now finds its most elaborate depiction via the latest special effects that all come straight out of a computer? (Actually, I think there was a lot of costume, make-up, and set design that was created by far more artisan filming means.) Some of the shots that really bugged me were the swooping cameras speeding along the heights and depths of the “evil world”. All these “fantasy shots”. Camera shots that are so clearly digital because they are absolutely impossible in the natural world, so dramatic, flying miles and miles all around a fully conceived digital landscape. It gives a new meaning to the idea of omniscient perspective.

I won’t belabor the point, because I am sure that this film and novel and world is over-analyzed as it is. And I am more of a casual passer-by. I read two of the books as a kid, but punked out in the final installment despite the impending finale. So, I look forward to the sequals, as the films seem to portray the books fairly literally, and will finally fill me in more fully.

I have liked Peter Jackson’s other films, namely, Heavenly Creatures, Dead Alive, and The Frighteners, the latter of which I thought was pretty under-rated fun, though maybe it was a little more Robert Zemeckis (who produced it) than Peter Jackson. I have never seen Bad Taste, so I am not a full-fledged inductee into his full oevre.

My final comment on this movie is that I found it a little too hectic in its pacing. I think it was trying to squeeze too much of a fairly long book into a pretty long movie. It wound up not having a great sense of “storytelling” as it tried to execute as many parts in its time-frame so to have left as little out as possible. Maybe this is an invariable trait of “adaptation”, but I felt that this was definitely a short-coming of the film.

All in all, though, I was pretty entertained. I am sure for some younger viewers, this series of films may turn out to be their “Star Wars“. Which is ironic, since Star Wars‘s latest incarnation is competing with a trilogy that both influenced and has been influenced by the first series of Lucas films.

Abre los ojos

Abre los ojos (1997) movie poster

(1997) dir. Alejandro Amenábar

After seeing The Others which I thought was excellent, I was definitely up for catching up on the prior work of the director, Alejandro Amenábar, and Abre los ojos seemed like a perfect rental. It was also playing in the theaters in its American adaptation as Vanilla Sky, which I wouldn’t be too hot to see since I care not for Mr. Tom Cruise. Anyways, it had a lot of connections.

It was pretty good, actually. Certainly, not great, but good.

It has this strange low-key surrealism that unfolds in a muddle of flashbacks. The films addresses issues of time and place and reality in a Twilight Zone meets Spanish language soap operas. The whole tone of the film gets a little lost in its centering in the melodrama of the mundane tv film-like pieces. Visually, as well, this film looks pretty soapy. It’s very light and modern and not overly cinematic.

But at the same time, the story has some interesting turns and keeps you interested. And the payoff comes as the story pieces itself back together.

I had the added surrealist experience of deja vu during this film, as having seen the trailer for Vanilla Sky, I had a pretty good synopsis of the entire storyline, including a few master shots that are copied film to film. It’s quite weird seeing a film in a totally different language with (almost) totally different actors that echoes so heavily with a film that I have never even seen.

It just goes to show how much of the story they give away in that trailer.

Also, this was my second Penelope Cruz film. I had seen her first in All About My Mother, but then all of her hype and stuff came along and then she was the ‘it’ girl of 2001 and now she is history…Go figure. Anyways, she wasn’t all that great in this film, though she didn’t have much of a part. Attractive? Yes. As an actress? Don’t know.

As for Abre los ojos, mixed feelings as well. Defintely not as strong as The Others but not bad. Better than the trailer for Vanilla Sky.

What the hell does Vanilla Sky mean anyways? At least this title made sense.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Simon West

What should one expect from a film adapted from a video game?

Maybe this question shows that my knowledge of video games is a little dated. I know that narratives in some adventure games have gotten very sophisticated, perhaps more well-realized than in a traditional theatrical film.

But this film is essentially Indiana Jones with tits and ass, maybe more fantasy elements, definitely more post-Matrix ass-kicking.

But story? Who needs story?

Well, I think this film could have used some. It was so lacking in depth, so pre-packaged, so unoriginal, that it didn’t do a thing for me.

Maybe, next time, I will play the video game first and ask questions later.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. John Cameron Mitchell

Hedwig got pretty good reviews overall and was personally recommended to me by a few people whose opinions that I respect, the latter of which I consider the best arbiter of whether I am going to like something or not.

And Hedwig is good. Writer, director, star, John Cameron Mitchell, who adapted this from his play is totally great as Hedwig, the “botched” transexual drag queen. And the music, which he also participated in creating, very authentic sounding glam rock, is highly entertaining as well.

The film had a far more serious and melancholy bent than I had anticipated, which wasn’t necesarilly bad. It just ruined the fun of it a little bit. The scenes in which the band is performing are the total highlights, as Hedwig banters and narrates the film.

A good film.