Ringers: Lord of the Fans
directed by Carlene Cordova
(Sony, 2005)

I have been sitting here for over an hour trying to come up with some way of beginning this review without mentioning Star Trek. Unfortunately, I'm coming up dry, because if you mention obsessed fans incorporating parts of their obsession into their lives, many people automatically think of Trekkies (or Trekkers, if you prefer). Even in the little town from which I hail, there was at least one person known to walk around in a Star Trek uniform when it wasn't even remotely close to Halloween. In 1999, Denise Crosby hosted the movie Trekkies, paying tribute to the Star Trek fandom.

Ringers: Lord of the Fans does much the same thing for fans of The Lord of the Rings. The focus, however, is not just on what those weird and wacky fans get up to, but on how J.R.R. Tolkien's epic has influenced popular culture.

Narrated by Dominic Monaghan, the documentary begins, therefore, with a history of the writing and publication of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, charmingly animated in a vaguely Pythonish style. C.S. Lewis and W.H. Auden, who both wrote glowing reviews of Tolkien's work, appear toward the end of the animation -- as butterflies. Needless to say, this is not a documentary that takes itself too seriously, but if you doubt that, just wait for the mariachi band.

While Peter Jackson's movie trilogy constantly looms in the background, the documentary is more concerned with following the story of Tolkien's epic through history, giving an especially long chapter to examining its effect on the counter-culture of the '60s (and watch out for the clip of Leonard Nimoy with Spock bangs singing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins"). Most of the members of the movie cast appear, as do a variety of authors and celebrities (including, oddly, David Carradine). Their comments are interspersed with those of fans sitting in the line-party for The Two Towers, fans taking a Red Carpet tour of New Zealand, and fans discussing their favorite characters, themes and moments in both the books and movies. Other film versions get their due, as well, with a discussion of the Rankin/Bass animated efforts and the lamentable Ralph Bakshi version.

Although the documentary does eventually feel like it's never going to end (the last five to eight minutes tend to drag), Ringers is very entertaining. Some of the stars of the movies say the same things they've said elsewhere -- which is really no surprise; they would tend to run out of fresh things to say after a while -- and it's the fans that really shine here, anyway. Some of them are definitely a little wacky (notably the fellow dressed as a Klingon and the young lady dressed as Capt. Jack Sparrow), some of them are quite eloquent, but they all clearly have a passion for Middle-Earth and enjoy sharing it with other fans and the world.

by Laurie Thayer
23 September 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.