Hi, all; and thanks, David, for inviting me,
Since you asked, I'll be glad to wax personal on The Lord of the Rings. Back in his critic days, Truffaut wrote something to the effect that when a movie achieves a certain success, it becomes a "sociological event" and the question of quality is secondary. That's how I feel about the Rings trilogy, which is surely the greatest thing of its kind since Titanic (and certain to win Jackson an Oscar). It's not that I don't understand the movie's appeal. I discovered the trilogy when I was 11 and became a total Tolkien nerd—I saved up and ordered the books from England (this was a few years before the unauthorized Ace paperback) and have them still, although, as I discovered when I attempted reading them aloud to my kids, the thrill was gone.
So, too, the movie(s), which I didn't find boring, exactly, but which I knew too well to really take seriously. (Was it Oscar Wilde who said that nothing is more ridiculous than the actions of a person one has ceased to love?) I would have liked them better if the effects and art direction had been more restrained—closer to black-and-white epics like Andrei Rublev or Marketa Lazarova or even The Seventh Seal than some William Morris notion of Medieval Times. My taste is still nerdy but it has evolved! Favorite movies released last year in New York include Peter Watkin's five-hour evocation of the Paris Commune, David Cronenberg's very creepy Spider, Bill Morrison's ode to composition Decasia, and two movies by the brilliant young Chinese director Jia Zhangke (Platform and Unknown Pleasures). You can find my list here. The highest-ranking commercial movie is probably The Fog of War which, to my mind, is a more historical version of the Lord of the Rings starring Robert McNamara as Gollum.
So, to come back to Truffaut, I guess that I'm more interested in why The Lord of the Rings should be interesting now than I am interested in the movie itself. 9/11 clearly helped create a climate for The Fellowship of the Ring (as it did Black Hawk Down)—and that's even without the title Two Towers. When I reviewed The Fellowship of the Ring I went off on a riff about the book as an old acid-head hippie text and speculated on how it might have played as a late-'60s period piece in which the Fellowship has to make their way from a rural Vermont commune through the coffeehouses of Cambridge down to some fetid Mount Doom on the Lower East Side. Readers hated this. The movie's queer subtext (which I am hardly the only person or even the first to note) may be in the original or at least inherent to the material—the trilogy is blatantly homosocial although not particularly erotic.
I do know women who love Tolkien, but it still seems like more of a guy thing—the way Titanic was, in some ways, a chick flick. In any case, I'm told that Ian McKellan, a most uncloseted performer, was calling himself Gandalf the Gay on the set and trying to get the hobbits, Pippin and Mary—sorry, I mean Merry—to kiss goodbye. The queer stuff is actually more resonant in X2 (an underrated if overlong movie) in which McKellan is far campier. I had just seen the HBO Angels in America, hence my hyperbolic comparison between Tolkien's epic and Tony Kushner's—Angels was a far more engrossing fantasy quest (even though it really is marred by an unnecessarily "positive" ending). And there were some really ripe performances.