"Ringers: Lord of the Fans" Review!
Late last year, a small group of independent filmmakers put together a documentary tribute to the fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”. The project, titled “Ringers: Lord of the Fans” was picked up by Sony Pictures and distributed on DVD. I happened to rent a copy through Netflix recently and thought I would give a review for those who might be interested in seeing it.
First off, let me say that this is not a film designed to shed more light on the book or its author, although it does trace the events of its publication. This is a film about the fans, for the fans. Specifically, it focuses on the appeal of story across cultures and generations over the last fifty years. If you go into it with these expectations, then you will understand that the appeal of “Ringers” would be in direct proportion to how big a fan you are. Personally, I got a kick out of it. And while I don’t necessarily think it’s a “must-have” DVD for your collection I would encourage anyone who is remotely interested in the effect that Tolkien’s work has had on popular culture to check it out.
There are two other qualifications I need to put out there as well. This documentary is filled with geekiness. Sometimes you almost hope that Triumph, the insult comic dog from the Conan O’Brien show, would come out from behind the camera and poke fun at some of these folks. Also, the first ten to fifteen minutes or so is filled with a lot of cheesy Monty Python-esque animation. Don’t let that put you off. It’s intended to come across that way. This film is not meant to take itself too seriously.
“Ringers” is narrated by Dominic Monaghan (Merry Brandybuck) and features many of the actors and behind the scenes folks who were involved with the recent movies. There are even some other famous actors and musicians who chime in about their love of the books. Interspersed throughout are brief testimonials by various fans who share the importance of Tolkien’s work to their own lives. Some of them are pretty funny. Others, like the woman who wants to photograph Tolkien’s gravestone with a display of all her action figures, are a little creepy. One poor guy gets accosted by Andy Serkis doing his Gollum voice while he’s trying to talk to the camera.
I had known that “The Lord of the Rings” was originally panned by most of the literary intelligentsia who dismissed it as “juvenile”. But hearing some of the criticisms as well as Tolkien’s responses was quite interesting. I also wasn’t aware that pirated versions of the books were released in paperback during the 1960’s.
The story itself touched so many readers and before long fans began to seek each other out all over the world. We see its popularity reflected in the 1960’s “counter-culture”, in heavy metal music and most recently on the internet. Each of these phenomena helped introduce (or reintroduce) the books to an ever-widening global audience. The release of Peter Jackson’s movie version is the latest example. Seeing this documentary made me think about my own evolution into fandom.
Here’s the bottom line: “Ringers” is meant to be fun, and it is. Some parts might be a little slow (and odd) for the more casual fan. But all in all I’d say that, whether you’re a fan of five decades or five months, sharing the experience with fellow Tolkien aficionados is one of the things that makes “The Lord of the Rings” special. Watching “Ringers” is another way of doing that.