17 December 2003

First I'm Just Amused…

Back in the 1980s, my then-wife and I had simple rules about going to movies (remember, we were in Oklahoma, so the local reviews were inept, politicized, and worthless): If Gene thought the movie was great and Roger was lukewarm, it was probably a very good movie; the converse was not worth the effort. I'm afraid that Roger has again proved that we were right, independently of the worth of The Return of the King, because his review in today's Sun-Times demonstrates some real ignorance about literature and storytelling that is inexcusable in a "reviewer."

It is a melancholy fact that while the visionaries of a generation ago, like Coppola with Apocalypse Now, tried frankly to make films of great consequence, an equally ambitious director like Peter Jackson is aiming more for popular success. The epic fantasy has displaced real contemporary concerns, and audiences are much more interested in Middle Earth than in the world they inhabit.

Roger, I know that you know perfectly well that the "visionaries of a generation ago" had a lot more freedom from financial-management oversight than do those today; Coppola's then-recent successes with The Godfather (which I think is decent, but very much overrated by movie buffs who know little of literature) would have allowed him to make a big-budget epic of his daughter's high school graduation. Conversely, Peter Jackson's films have "only" critical acclaim behind them (the otherwordly Heavenly Creatures, for example), necessarily forcing more-conscious appeal to audience dollars. It's the last sentence that really reveals Roger's ignorance, though. Epic fantasy is merely another way to talk about contemporary concerns, as demonstrated by Cervantes, Voltaire, and even Rabelais, not to mention more-recent practitioners like Cabell. Conversely, anyone who claims that such "contemporary concern-oriented" trash as that printed in The New Yorker under Tina Brown, or tiresome series of novels by Updike, are inherently superior to anything in "epic fantasy" (which, by the way, is a redundancy—but then, Roger, you've already demonstrated that you know little of literary theory) is merely clinging to form over substance.

Then there's this gem, later in the review:

There is little enough psychological depth anywhere in the films, actually, and they exist mostly as surface, gesture, archetype and spectacle. They do that magnificently well, but one feels at the end that nothing actual and human has been at stake; cartoon characters in a fantasy world have been brought along about as far as it is possible for them to come, and while we applaud the achievement, the trilogy is more a work for adolescents (of all ages) than for those hungering for truthful emotion thoughtfully paid for.

(emphasis added) I had to read this three times to make sure that it really means what it appears to say. Given that the whole point of all of the journeys in The Lord of the Rings is to define what is at stake when one chooses the hard road over ease and immediate emotional gratification, I can only conclude that Roger doesn't know what he's talking about. Gene would have smacked him down; just compare their reactions to Apocalypse Now at the time it was first released. Then, Roger has a great fondness for Star Wars as great film, so…