Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings raises the bar on pop-cult hype’s global ubiquity and behemothic scale—New Line and Tolkien mavens wouldn’t have it any other way. That the 26-minute mega-trailer shown at Cannes generated as many journalistic shrugs as hosannas is in no way indicative of a buzz slowdown. The real event is already happening, between fans online, on the page, on the air, and interpersonally—a living-breathing eruption of Tolkienism that has been spewing for at least a year and will gush on until the triple blockbuster gets its presumably encyclopedic DVD release some four years hence. (Jackson’s plan to release the three installments—at least seven hours of densely digitized film—in three consecutive years insures that the zeitgeist keeps blowing.) Even New Zealand, now affiliated forever with Middle Earth merely because that’s where native Kiwi Jackson likes to shoot his movies, is anticipating a phenomenal surge in attention—tourist, press, and otherwise.
Hype easily self-assassinates, but LOTR may be immune to excess. After all, Tolkien’s paperback mythopoeikon burns as a half-forgotten cave torch in the psyches of a zillion Earthlings. Jackson’s profile as a grungy gore-comedy master grown up is beside the point—one tireless auteur cannot overshadow the will of the trilogy, its cultural saga, and its attendant flock. There has always been the sense that a definitive, suitably gigantic movie version had to be made, and Jackson can only hope to be regarded as the films’ Virgil, facilitating the deathless juggernaut’s next evolutionary step into the light of visual experience.
In the end, can the movies be so different from Tolkien carpetbaggings Krull, Willow, Star Wars, The Dark Crystal, Dungeons & Dragons, ad infinitum? Or even from Ralph Bakshi’s woeful, unfinished 1978 animation? Because of its extra-cinematic life, it can’t escape being a monument to its own built-in cult, which is roughly the size of humanity.
Related Tolkien story in this issue:
Lord of the Geeks by Julian Dibbell
J.R.R. Tolkien Still Feeds the Nerd Nation’s Imagination