Lord Of The Rings

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring * Peter Jackson * 2001
Lord Of The Rings: The Two Tower * Peter Jackson * 2002
Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The Ring * Peter Jackson * 2003

The bigger the hype, the less I want to see a film. There are other reasons why I didn’t watch these films earlier: I don’t read novels, so I never read the book and I particulary don’t like the fantasy genre. Still, now that the hype made room for new hypes and because I was curious about the (possible) Nordic mythology influences in the book / films ànd because the complete trilogy can now be bought on DVD for merely E 15,-, I decided to buy the box and watch the films afterall.
First, I don’t particularly like the story. As you all know, the “ring of power” has been discovered and in order to prevent evil to prevail, nine persons are appointed to destroy the ring, which adventure forms the core of the films. In the first film the ring is discovered and from the different inhabitents of “Middle Earth” (“Hobbits”, “Elves”, “Dwarves”, “Men”, etc.) representatives are chosen for the quest. In the second film, evil starts a campaign to take over Middle Earth and in the last film the last part of the quest is shown. Each film takes about three hours. The films are lauded for the brilliant effects. Indeed, sometimes they look nice, but sometimes they don’t! Also good for the big audience are the (to me) superfluous lengthy battle scenes which are not particularly impressive (maybe on the big screen they were).
So far for the films. The story is somewhat of a true epic myth with typical elements such as pride, endurance, adventure and (here very obvious) the battle between good and evil: a nice setting. As for the mythological influences, there are a few Northern elements, of course the name “Middle Earth” (from “Midgard”, the “middle garden or the realm of mankind) for the earth, only one time you get to see runes (I believe in the book the language of the elves is written in runes), here and there you get to see a glimpse of Northern ethics, such as in the scene where a hobbit has to tell a king his son is dead and offers his service instead. Then you have vague references to Northern gods, such as a description of a man with a long cloak and a big head (Odin), or the castle of Minas Ithil which could be a reference to Odin’s throne. There is also a scene in which the sword that had cut off the finger with the ring of power is reforged, which could remind of the story of Sigurd. “Isengard” reminds of “Niflheim”, the world of ice and a few other names could refer to myths of the North. On the other side, there is probably as much Greek and other mythology to be found, like the Argonauts, the statues of the ancestors in LOTR. Overall, I didn’t find too much Nordic myths in the film (at first sight at least).
Overal. I don’t know if the films where worth the hype. The books are probably better, the films are just a nice (but long) watch. Maybe the mythological style appeals to the minds of the masses, I don’t know, but I rather read them myself instead of reading them vaguely used in fantasy writing. Oh well, the films are an amusing watch, but don’t expect too much of it if you haven’t seen the films yet.

De Legende Van De Bokkerijders * Karst van der Meulen * 1994

When I got these TV-series on DVD, I thought that it was one of these old Dutch series now available on DVD. This Dutch/Flemish series even look old, but they seem to be of 1994, Van de Meulen’s last work even. The series give an over-romantisized vision on the famous “Bokkerijders” (in nowadays spelling this would be “Bokkenrijders” btw.) gang. “Bokkerijders” literary means “goat riders”. Like in the famous song “Goat-riders in the sky”, this devilish gang would fly through the nightly sky on their goats. Myths were spun around the theme, giving the goat-riders many elements of the “wild hunt” in which Odin/Wodan leads his army of the dead through the sky in certain times of the year. In fact the “Bokkerijders” were a violent criminal gang (or gangs) that ravaged the Dutch province of Limburg (and Noord-Brabant and a part of Flanders according to some) in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The trials are quite well recorded and the criminal acts documented (usually violent robs of churches and farms). The “Bokkerijders” supposedly swore on “the dead hand” and they had a pact with the devil, they appeared out of nothing and disappeared into thin air. That is why ‘the devil thing’ I suppose. The “Bokkerijders” already got romantisized elements during the Romantic period and more so in more recent times. To speak with the Dutch scholar of folklore Gerard Rooijakkers, the bad elements in our folklore that we cannot get rid off, are romantisized and re-used to make them harmless. The violent gang of the “Bokkerijders”, became fighters for the weak and poor and against suppression of the Austrian leaders and the Church. This is the version that you will get in these series. Amusing, not boring, another well- produced Dutch series about the Middle Ages and in this case, adding to the mystifying or a dark element of our past.

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen * Stephen Norrington * 2003

Contrary to what I thought, this film has nothing to do with the famous BBC series “The League Of Gentlemen” (which I never saw…). As a matter of fact, the film is supposedly based on a comic, so in this regard it set a trend. The film is some kind of Indiana Jones struggle of good against evil with characters from English literature. The stages often come too obviously out of a computer, is this done on purpose or wasn’t there enough money to make things look better? Oh well, the story is thin and predicatable, the action and special effects poor. Not boring, but nothing special either.

Kunpan * Tanit Jitnokul * 2002

According to the back of the box this is the Tai reaction to “Gladiator” and the film has “massive battle scenes”, but that was not the reason for me picking it out. Also I doubt that people who like “Gladiator” will automatically like this film. It is far too strange! The film is about a young man whose father was executed after failing to bring an order of the king to a proper end. The boy gets an aduction and follows his father as a leader in the army. He is ordered to knock down a rebelion, succeeds and gets all the glory. Before, he had married a beautiful girl, but a rival marries her in the time that he is away. Coming back, the frustrated Kaew (who has received the name “Kunpan” for his deeds) looses his mind over this fact and turns to black magic. This eventually helps him to become a good man again.

The film is largely a drama where two lovers can’t reach eachother, later do, but loose eachother again. Then jalousy and revenge arise. Here and there there are indeed battle-scenes showing the great leadership of Kaew and his father and at the end Kaew’s son, but don’t hire this film for these few short scenes alone! Then there are very strange and sometimes dark scenes about rituals and magical actions and you get to see how magic was used in battles.

A strange mix of different genres, not totally convincing, but surely not disapointing. Spoken in Tai by the way.

The 13th Warrior * John McTiernan * 1999

This is indeed a very old film and -like myself- you have probably seen it a few times already, but just in case you don’t or you want a litle bit of background information…
The director of the “Die Hard” films has made a film about Vikings. This is interesting in a way, especially now that this whole Germanic history has had my interest for a while. On the other hand, when you know ‘too much’ about the subject, the story of this film has a few definate flaws.
The film is about a Muslim pain-in-the-ass who is send to the Northern parts of Europe to be ambassador. Early in his trip he runs into a group of “Norsemen” who apparently sailed the rivers of the Baltic area scaring the local peoples. This IS possible, because the Vikings came as far as the Black Sea. Somehow the ship of Vikings hear that a small tribe somewhere in Scandinavia needs their help. A weird woman (probably meant to be a wise woman or “Völva”) says that 13 warriors have to go to help the tribe in need and the 13th warrior cannot be a Norseman. So the Arab travels with the Vikings. During the trip the Arab speaks English and the Norsemen Swedish (I think), but by listening “Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan Ibn Al Abbas Ibn Rashid Ibn Hamad” learns Swedish and from then everybody speaks English (to the viewer of course). The small community is terrorised a ghost-like warriors which they call “Wendol”. I don’t know where these “eaters of the dead” are supposed to go back to, but they are fashioned after the famous “Berzerkrs” of the Nothern mythology. The Wendol are black, inhuman (ghostly) and dress in boar skins. Their ‘symbol’/goddess is a head- and limbless statue of a fat woman, much like the Kostienko or Willendorf statues, but without a head. The two statues that I name are some 23000 years old and were found in Russia and Austria and they probably represent mother earth or at least fertility. The Wendol worship their goddess in a cave and with the aid of a priestess. The heads of the people they killed are offered to the goddess. This headhunting is (as far as I know) more something of the far East. You can see, the film is a bit of a mishmash of elements. Better are the Viking honour elements. Ahmed is surprised to hear how his Viking friends think about life/fate (everything is predisposed), death (death in battle a crown to life), honour, comradship and the like. These parts give a nice view on the Viking way of life and make the film worth to watch. It is handy to know what is ‘no-so-Viking’, so here you have a few of my thoughts.

The Prestige * Christopher Nolan * 2006

“From the creators of Memento”. I have to admit, I fell for the tagline. “The Prestige” doesn’t have much in common with the masterpiece of six years ago though. “The Prestige” is about two students of an illusionist who become bitter rivals trying to ruin each others careers. When one invents a top trick, the other wants to learn the secret. In the proces the story moves a bit towards the Serbian scientist of electricity, Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). The film is rather standard, it plays in the present and is shown in flash-backs. The story doesn’t really raise questions, but towards the end a puzzle is given when is it solved (!). “The Prestige” has a nice atmosphere of 19th century London though, great stages and good acting (I especially liked Christian Bale as one of the illusionists). Considering all, “The Prestige” is really just another Hollywood production, nothing special.