On Blasphemy, Lord of the Rings, and Generic Fantasy

This is a response, sort of, to a friend's post about my dislike of Lord of the Rings.  ...In particular, I called the films "generic".

Perhaps I mis-use the word "generic", but I don't particularly want to argue semantics, so I'll rephrase: the production of LotR didn't go out on a single limb.

Perhaps this is a feature rather than a bug to some (true to the novel! true to the genre!), but to my mind, this is a tragic failing. Not once during the entire trilogy did I think to myself "oooh, neat idea".  (I like neat ideas!)  ; )

Perhaps that's what I mean by generic: unsurprising.  LotR was like a fantastically-painted oil landscape... pretty, perhaps, but not truly creative.  (Again, depending on your definition of the term.) [image source]

Detailed?  Sure.  I'll grant it that.  But detail doesn't make a movie for me on its own. My imagination needs to be tripped in some way. I much (!) prefer more interesting interpretations. Everything is relative, of course... and when I watched LotR, I kept thinking "I'd rather be watching The Thirteenth Warrior." ...A vastly more interesting story, with a similar level of detail. [image deep-linked from IMDB, may break] I wouldn't hang a generic landscape oil, but if you make the subject more interesting... [image source]

Redundancy was not limited to the third film.  Every film was fraught with lengthy close-ups of characters making generic (!) expressions. [image cropped from IMDB.  Yes, from the first film.]

I dunno.  I didn't really like the books, so perhaps my trying to like the movies was a lost cause. There was no nostalgia to be triggered for me.  Aside from being visually stunning films with an amazing attention to detail, they hold no entertainment value for me.  I considered watching them again just to give a proper reply, but I have no desire to.  Zero.

LotR was not my induction into fantasy, as it was for many fans of the film. I'm the son of a role-player, so my introduction to fantasy was in the AD&D books... and when I read Tolkien's stuff, I kept thinking "this is just a story based on THE most boring aspects of D&D". I didn't want to be reading a book about orcs and elves.  I wanted to be reading about Berbalangs and Githyanki! [images* from TSR Hobbies, Inc.]

And, yes, I realize that's because my chronology was perverted by my father's gaming habits... but the point is the same: I was incapable of enjoying the books.  ...And, later, the films.

The ideas were not novel to me, nor was my association with the concepts therin positive enough to appreciate the work they put into expressing them.

The movies were lost on me.

Because they were generic.   ; )

* I meant to find that really cool two-page spread of the gith from the Fiend Folio, but I couldn't find a copy.  ...Also, does every image search always end up in porn?!?


r_b_bergstrom said...

Berbelangs and Githyanki porn? That's gotta be some freaky imagery!

r_b_bergstrom said...

Your response-post-to-my-response-post kicks butt. Very insightful. The truth is it's not the films that fail, it's your upbringing. :)

P.S.: I googled "Berbalang + Githyanki + Porn" and was neither rewarded nor punished for my courage. How very generic.

Jeremy Rice said...

WRT upbringing: yeah. I so desperately hoped my original blasphemy included the phrase "for me" somewhere in my lambasting of LotR, but alas, it did not. ...But you've posted about the woes of putting disclaimers on everything webby, so you know what I mean.

WRT to porn: actually, it was just a search on "Gith". But, yeah, I did't mean to say it was related porn.... just--as you say--generic porn.

Man, I hate generic porn.

Jeremy Rice said...

Oh, dear god: I hope THAT isn't because of my upbringing!

r_b_bergstrom said...

So glad there wasn't a picture of a Githyanki doing a Berbalang.

And don't worry about the disclaimers, dude, as you saw I tried real hard to disagree with your points from the other post, and still had to concede most of them. Um... I mean, HOW DARE YOU?!?! Insulting the master of all Fantasy, you must bow before the Hobbitborn.

Okay, I will say I still kinda think you're being unfair on LOTR. What's generic to you certainly isn't to the millions who rarely watch fantasy films but gave this trilogy a try since it was so famous. They certainly could have made the orcs and goblins a lot more boring and generic - and they still would have made a hundred mill per film. So, while there may not have been any Berbalangs, I'm at least pleased the orcs had culture. Feels to me like you may be setting your bar unreasonably high, but that's certainly within your rights to do.

Fun discussion, by the way.

Jeremy Rice said...


Are you implying that pulling people who weren't into fantasy into fantasy was a virtue of Lord of the Rings?

...Cause I might have issue with pulling more people into fantasy, nevermind the fact that the quality of a film shouldn't necessarily be related to its ability to appeal to wide audience.

And even then, those people it pulled in that have never seen a fantasy film before... did they like it because it was a good story? Compelling characters? Intriguing plot? Or 'cause it was puuuuuuurdy?

I dunno. I maintain it wasn't a good movie, other than visually.

But, yes, it is also quite likely that I am being a tad unfair because I wanted to not like this movie, because, to me, it represented all that was generic about fantasy. : )

[ponder] ...No... no, I hold on to the idea that there are at least a half-dozen fantasy films (probably three times that if I thought about it) that I would still rather watch. Hmmmn.

r_b_bergstrom said...

That's cool, you're entitled to your opinion, and while I disagree with you, I don't think "you're wrong".

When I said "unreasonably" I made a poor choice of words. Sorry about that.

I'd love to read your list of fantasy films that you'd rather watch than LOTR - 13 Warriors (off the top of my head, anyway) is just about the only one that comes close for me.

Jeremy Rice said...

Well, keep in mind that I don't want to watch LotR at all, so that's basically any fantasy film I am willing to watch! : )

But... hmmmn. As I think about it, it depends on how honest I was being. There are lots (and lots) of films that I would watch/recommend before Lord of the Rings, but I can't honestly claim that they are better films.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. I suppose, to my mind, a good movie and a watchable movie are two different things. Not sure why that is.

It also depends on what a person was really looking for.

If someone told me they wanted to see a sword-slinging fantasy film with monsters and magic, I don't know that I could suggest a movie that was better than Lord of the Rings*. Of course, what are my options? Conan? Red Sonja? Great films for their time, but they're terribly dated, had miserable acting, and require heavy use of the imagination to get through, these days (I look forward to the upcoming remake of Red Sonja, however). Dungeons & Dragons? Dragonheart? Eragon? Bitch, please. Dragonslayer? ...Neat movie, but still sub-par, and not something I'm inclined to watch again. Still more interesting than LotR, but not better. I hated the Lion/Witch/Wardrobe--they copped out. (The sequel was better, but still not good.) Golden Compass was neat, but not up to snuff. Harry Potter? ...No. Good-ish movies (well, some of them), but, really, they're kid's stuff. Pirates of the Carribean? Not fantasy enough. The first one was great (I just watched it again a week ago, it holds up), but wrong genre.

You need an appreciation of martial arts to get into the
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero realm of thought, so I hesitate to compare these films to LotR. But if I did, they would win out.

Spirited Away (and Miyazaki's other films--they're really all the same idea in different forms, aren't they?) comes to mind, but--again--it's not quite right, since there's no fighting at all. Still, superlative.

Underworld, The Mummy Movies, Hellboy, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, etc, etc... all of these films could potentially be called "fantasy", but with a modern flair. Some of them were better movies than LotR. But it's still not giving you that D&D feel.

Princess Bride? Well, I can say I'd much rather watch this movie than Frodo's weepy mug. ...But it's comedy, not fantasy.

Stardust was not the spiritual successor to Princess Bride, and I resent being misled to believe as much going into it. It was a second-rate film with a few redeeming qualities, but not enough of them. ...errr... I say this with the utmost respect and admiration for Claire Daines. :)

I haven't seen Pan's Labyrinth.

I would recommend 300, provided you have the stomach for it. Better movie.

The 13th Warrior is, as noted, full of win.

I dunno. I guess it depends on how narrowly one cuts, but I'll admit this line of reasoning has raised my opinion of the trilogy a bit.

I still wouldn't watch 'em again. :)

* I should note: by phrasing the question in the form of "what I would recommend", I am to some degree limiting my very personal opinion. Perhaps that's the difference between "watchable" and "good" for me. Sometimes I can eek past my own ego.


r_b_bergstrom said...

You should watch Pan's Labyrinth, I think you'd like it. But I'll warn you, it's freakin' disturbing.

Also, if you haven't seen The Fountain, I think you'd probably appreciate it too.

Both could be called Fantasy, but are certainly not the same actual genre as LOTR.

r_b_bergstrom said...

the production of LotR didn't go out on a single limb.

I disagree. The wraith-vision: the creepy crazy disturbing filters Frodo gets when he puts on the ring, complete with the glowing-liche versions of the nazgul. I've read the books since the films came out, and there's nothing in there to suggest that. I think that qualifies as a single limb.

However, he undermines that bit of artistic freshness by making the ghost army look just like the ghosts from his previous "The Frightners". I'd have been happier with the army of the dead being more mysterious and less in-your-face.