What’s all this excitement about `Rings’?

By Patrick T. Reardon
Tribune staff reporter

Here’s my problem: Everyone in the universe, particularly every movie reviewer from the loftiest to the most humble, seems to think the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I just don’t get it.

Critics have praised its storytelling, its landscapes, its imagery. In fact, they’ve had little criticism to say about either the first or second movie. But I sit watching dumbfounded, or perhaps just dumb.

How much don’t I get it? Well, I came away from the first movie in such bad humor that I couldn’t believe it was as bad as I remembered (especially after hearing at every turn how great the film was). So, when “The Fellowship of the Ring” came out on video, I rented it, and, halfway through the tape, I discovered part of my problem.

Smack dab in the middle of watching the movie the first time, I’d fallen asleep. There were battles and characters and plot turns that I’d never seen before.

Familiar story line

Not that the extra hour added anything to my cinematic enjoyment. For me, the movie was still dreadfully dull. All I could get of the plot was that the Elijah Wood character had a ring that he needed to take somewhere or the world as we know it would end. Basically, the story line of umpteen hundred other movies.

The dialogue often consisted of a lot of dirty, unshaven, disheveled soldier-types huffing and puffing about something. (I could never quite figure out anyone’s name or even whether Sauron, for instance, was a person or a place.) Or it involved one or another pretty lady (Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett) talking airily about I don’t know what. Or there were a bunch of short people and tall people pledging to take some action to keep bad stuff from happening.

It was basically the same story for me when I went recently to watch the second installment in the series, “The Two Towers.”

This time, I did pick up the name of one of the major characters, Aragon, like the place in Spain. (It was only later, while reading a story in the Tribune, that I realized the name is spelled Aragorn.)

But this film, like the earlier one, seemed to be oppressively dark or (in the Tyler flashbacks or flash-forwards or whatever they were) oppressively sweet. Wood’s character was still a mystery to me. He comes across as this big zero around which all the action happens. (And I like Wood as an actor.) The range of emotion he’s permitted runs from breathing heavily to express great unrest or breathing very heavily.

The Gollum character is cool, I acknowledge. For me, he was the saving grace that made the second movie slightly more watchable than the first. He struck me as a first cousin to Dobby in the second installment of the Harry Potter opus. He also struck me as more human — in the sense of having a variety of emotions — than anyone else in the movie.

And, I have to admit, midway through the second movie, I started to doze off. I never dropped off completely into sleep. That was progress. But my eyes grew heavy and my attention wandered.

The fault I’m sure is in me. I didn’t read the books, for one thing. So it’s as if I’m walking into the middle of someone’s party.

It’s not prejudice

But I’ve never read the Brian Aldiss short story that was the basis for Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.” Nor have I read Winston Groom’s novel “Forrest Gump,” the basis of the Robert Zemeckis film. Yet, I enjoyed both of those movies.

And it’s not that I have a prejudice against the-battle-of-good-versus-evil sorts of films. I thoroughly enjoyed John Boorman’s nitty-gritty take on the King Arthur legend, “Excalibur,” and was delighted with George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode I — the Phantom Menace,” particularly with the way the movie used special effects to create other worlds.

I don’t have a prejudice either against Peter Jackson and his “Lord of the Rings” films because he’s from Down Under and filmed in New Zealand. One of my favorite movies is “Moulin Rouge” by Australian Baz Luhrmann.

My point is: I’m confused. I like movies. I like epics. I like films that challenge the viewer. But I fall asleep during “Lord of the Rings.”

Everyone, it seems, believes these films to be cinematic masterpieces. But, for me — I don’t know. I can’t see it.

Maybe this is a medical condition. Or a psychological syndrome. It can’t be that the movies actually are turgid, overblown, overhyped Gargantuas — cultural curiosities that will look silly 10, 20 years down the road and lead future generations to ask, “What were they thinking?”

No, it couldn’t be that.

Maybe for the third one, I’ll bring along No-Doz