Sarumann writes: Tonight, I was granted a special privilege and saw Ringers. Carlene asked if I’d post my reactions, so here’s my review.
Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Men and Wizards unite! The exponentially growing fan community of The Lord of the Rings finally get their moment to shine in the new documentary: Ringers: Lord of the Fans.
First, let’s get the obligatory comparisons with that other genre fan documentary, Trekkies, out of the way. This is NOT Trekkies at all! Where Trekkies looks at fandom with a rather bemused detachment, Ringers gets in there with the fans. The filmmakers are not afraid to sit with Ringers in a lineparty or galavant with fans across New Zealand on a Red Carpet tour. Most importantly, while Trekkies singled out the jewels of freaky fans and paraded them about in a terribly embarrassing way, Ringers never ceases to empathize, understand, and geek out with the best of us. The Ringers depicted in this film are not mad pseudo Orli/Lij/Viggo/etc. stalkers, but intelligent, eloquent, and very mature people. So, there’s your comparison: Trekkies is a freak parade while Ringers is a celebration of a common love. In truth, there really is no comparison.
Ringers takes us through the evolution of Tolkien fandom over the past 50 years; from the small Tolkien Societies of the 60s all the way through the bustling internet fan groups of today. We are treated with a wonderfully witty Terry Gilliam-esque animation sequence depicting the first years of the publication of LOTR and the polarized criticism that came with it. We are given gilmpses at the many failed attempts to bring LOTR to the big screen starting with Forrest Ackerman in the 50s and going all the way to John Lennon’s attempt decades later. We are also shown Tolkien’s influence music; from Led Zeppelin’s classic “Ramble On” to Leonard Nimoy’s truly absurd “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” and on into today with World Without Sundays’ incredible cover of “Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way”. It shows us a history of fandom the likes of which the world has never known.
There are so many aspects of Ringer fandom that the film is only granted a few precious minutes to focus on any one before having to move on to the next. But these snippets of fandom are not short changed, as the filmmakers do their best to make sure every unique part of Ringerdom gets its moment to shine. Some of the best moments include a trip to the serene and simple Hobbitton, USA; a hilarious dramatization of Cassie Claire’s “Very Secret Diaries” using action figures and disturbingly accurate impressions of various actors’ voices; and a manic montage of the merchandising blitz from the movies done to an original mariachi song.
The documentary is tied together with superb narration by Dominic Monaghan, who projects the perfect balance of intellectual and fan. His narration is as engaging as any visual stimulus on the screen. The interviews of fans, cast, crew, and scholars are also equally engaging. Every single interview shows a true understanding of Tolkien and LOTR. There is a passion in everybody’s voice that is unmistakeable.
If the movie is lacking in any way, it is in the fact that it’s only 96 minutes long and doesn’t delve as deeply into Ringerdom as it possibly could. There were many times, especially toward the end, that I found myself asking “Could you just show me a little bit more of that?” The truth of the matter is that the evolution of Ringerdom is as epic as LOTR itself, and it would take a massive documentary to truly explore it fully. Having said that, Ringers does use those 96 minutes to its fullest advantage.
This is a documentary that is made with a love of Tolkien, LOTR, and most importantly, the fans of it. Intelligent, witty, engaging, and a all around good time. I have a feeling that those who are not a part of the Ringer community will watch this and realize what they have been missing. I doubt many Ringers will shed a tear watching it, but I’m sure many will walk away with the satisfied smile of a hobbit resting at the Green Dragon.