Dec 16 2007, 10:30pm
You can view their original TV reviews of FotR here. I have transcribed the conversation:
Transcript of Ebert/Roeper review, and link to video of their comments.
[clip: Gandalf – “Sauron needs only this Ring to cover all the lands in darkness.” Frodo – “What must I do?”]
Roger Ebert: A young hobbit embarks on a journey through a magical but dangerous world in The Lord of the Rings, one of six holiday movies we’ll review this week. I’m Roger Ebert.
Richard Roeper: And I’m Richard Roeper. The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, is an epic in every sense, a marvelous looking movie with jaw-dropping sets and impressive special effects, but it repeats itself too often and drones on for nearly three hours.
[assorted clips play]
The brooding Elijah Wood of The Ice Storm and the husky Sean Astin from Rudy are curious choices to play Frodo and Samwise, who must destroy the ring that is the source of all evil in a land called Middle-earth.
[clip: Frodo – “It’s some form of Elvish. I can’t read it.” Gandalf – “There are few who can. The language is that of Mordor, which I will not utter here.”]
That’s Ian McKellan as Gandalf the Grey, the good-hearted wizard who guides Frodo through his perilous quest. Viggo Mortensen is Aragorn, aka Strider.
[clip: Aragorn – “Are you frightened?” Frodo – “Yes.” Aragorn – “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”]
Frodo and his band of hobbits are relentlessly pursued by the dark ringwraiths.
[clip: Frodo’s race to Bucklebury Ferry]
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books have enchanted tens of millions of readers, but as a movie, The Fellowship of the Ring gets bogged down under the weight of all those mystical speeches and self-consciously quirky characters. You’ve got nine members of the Fellowship, dueling wizards, you’ve got an elf princess played by Liv Tyler, an elf queen played by Cate Blanchett: just too many characters for me to care about. On an on it goes, only to reach an abrupt non-ending straight out of a Saturday afternoon serial.
Ebert: So you’re giving it thumbs down?
Roeper: I’m giving it thumbs down.
Ebert: Whoa! Uhhh, well I liked it. I think it indicates a return by Hollywood to the kind of courage that led to great epics like Lawrence of Arabia, and, uh, the Star Wars trilogy—
Roeper: (unintelligible demurral)
Ebert: —a really out-there, kind of large-scale ambitious undertaking—
Ebert: —that is too long: I agree with you—
Ebert: —it’s too long, except for the people who are gonna go see it, and they won’t find it to be too long. Oddly enough—
Roeper: Well, you know what, “Frodo the hobbit” ain’t Lawrence of Arabia, first of all, OK.
Ebert: —the people, I think the people, the people, the people who have your objections to this film are not the kinds of people that will ever go to see it in the first place.
Roeper: The characters are getting tedious after a while. They go on one adventure after another, and this, and this—
Ebert: This is Lord of the Rings! I mean, you know…
Roeper: —Frodo the hobbit character, who is in this little, ho—, you know, elfin world or whatever, and he goes from one place to another, and he’s wide-eyed, and he’s wide-eyed, and you’d think after the fifteenth beast or the fourteenth elf or the little sprite that he wouldn’t be so—
[clips: Gandalf’s return to Bag-End, and the Ring in Frodo’s fire]
Ebert: Well OK, OK.
Roeper: —amazed by Middle-earth. It’s obviously this magical land—
Ebert: I would not be…
Roeper: —and they’re all going after this silly little ring that makes people go –ooh!– evil stuff. And it’s a pretty simple story.
Ebert: Yeah, OK, OK. I would not be completely honest if I didn’t say that I could understand where you’re coming from. On the other hand, if you’re going to start talking about The Lord of the Rings on the grounds that they’re going after “this silly little ring”—
Ebert: —then I think you’re kind of missing the whole point of the book. The ring is what sets the entire plot in motion—
Roeper: So we can see all these (unintelligible) “magical” characters.
Ebert: —that’s right, that’s right. I thought it was a visually powerful epic, and I enjoyed it, but I gotta say my enjoyment was tempered by a little sadness that the innocence or naiveté of the original books has kinda been lost in the middle of a high-tech special effects adventure picture. One thing that bothers me is that the hobbits are the heroes of the books, but in the movie the tall people, the men, the wizards, and the elves, take the initiative and give the orders.
[clip: Aragorn – “Boromir, give the Ring to Frodo”]
Ebert: So my thumb is up for The Lord of the Rings. It’s an impressive achievement, but I am a little melancholy that the movie is a violent action picture, and the books by Tolkien come from a kinder and gentler time, but Richard: at a time when Hollywood has such small visions, the purity, the ambition, the scope, the vastness of this film, those guards protecting the way down that river passage—
[clip: scenes at Caradhras and Argonath]
Roeper: I agree! All of that is impressive.
Ebert: —this is all well done!
Roeper: Hey, they spent a ton of money on this movie, and you can see the money on the screen. It looks great—
Roeper: —and the little people don’t look like they’re superimposed against the regular-sized people—
Roeper: —and the giants look like giants, and all that good stuff, but Roger, it goes on for ever—
Ebert: OK, well I’m gonna say…
Roeper: —and then, and I understand that movies, you know, Harry Potter is part of a series, but it ends on a satisfactory note.
Roeper: This thing, it’s like, after three hours and they kinda look at each other—
Roeper: —and they almost look at the, at the, at the viewers and go—
Ebert: OK, well I’m gonna tell ya…
Roeper: “See you next Christmas for another big commercial movie!”
Ebert: Well, of course, because it is, it’s a trilogy. It is a trilogy, so it doesn’t end after the first book. That’s what a tri—
Roeper: It’s, uh, it’s gonna be a $27 trilogy for people, though.
Ebert: —OK, OK.
Roeper: I think for nine bucks you should get some kind of closure.
Ebert: Well, I feel, I do feel, for myself, that Harry Potter is a better movie.
Roeper: Absolutely. Without question.
Ebert: Again, I do know that there are some people that are not true believers who are gonna say what you said about Fellowship of the Ring, but I believe in the quest.
Roeper: Oh, all right. Fine.
What I mostly get from reading this is how terrible the program is for serious film commentary: Taking out the "OKs" and "ums", each of them utters a little more than 400 words, or one-third of what Ebert's print review includes. And maybe 100 of those words are unprepared responses to each others' comments. That said:
I'm basing my suspicion on Ebert's statement that the movie didn't focus as much on the hobbits as he remembered.
He's right, so there's no need to suppose that he'd never read LotR.
I remember watching the television review of the movie ... I remember Ebert being petulant that the movie didn't turn out the way he remembered the books, and that his memory of the books seemed flawed.
Nothing in the transcript above suggests a flaw in his memory, though I imagine there are some. As for "petulant": my dictionary defines that as "impatient or irritable, especially over a peevish annoyance; peevish; bad-tempered", and that could apply here only to his defense of the film against Roeper's comments: his "sadness" about the aspects of the film that disappointed him is moderately expressed.
I don't think much of Ebert's opinions on movies in general
I generally agree, though he's better in print than on television. Before his illness, he simply reviewed far too many films: who could possibly write 200-300 good full-length film reviews per year? And our tastes differ, to be sure.
and his review of FOTR cemented my feelings that he thinks children's movies need to be charming. He clearly considered FOTR to be a children's movie and since it didn't fit within his expectations of a children's movie he bashed it.
Well, neither Ebert nor Roeper never mentions children's movies or books in these reviews. In Ebert's print review, he did write that hobbits "are like children grown up or grown old, and when they rise to an occasion, it takes true heroism, for they are timid by nature and would rather avoid a fight." I see nothing controversial in those remarks; we discussed the childishness of hobbits at some length in our 2005 pass through "A Conspiracy Unmasked", and many other writings on Tolkien's books say the same. For myself, I think that Tolkien's books are much more charming than Jackson's films.
Of course, Roeper was trying to be intellectually superior and ended up looking ridiculous ... Roeper just didn't get it.
It's obvious that Roeper, unlike Ebert, has not read the books. I don't know if he'd read the first Harry Potter story, whose film version he prefers to FotR. His comments sound a bit like Edmund Wilson's infamous review of LotR (discussed in the Reading Room here, here and here last year) and Vincent Canby's New York Times review of Bakshi's animated version (Canby seems to blame Tolkien's book for the film's flaws). That said, Roeper is hardly the only critic to be disappointed by Wood's performance, the film's length, or its abrubt ending. Ebert mentioned Star Wars, but missed a chance to note that The Empire Strikes Back, which is considered by most critics to be the best of the trilogy (because it is the most "adult"), has a similarly unresolved conclusion.
I certainly agree with Roeper that FotR (or the trilogy as a whole0 is a lesser film than Lawrence of Arabia.
We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!
Join us Dec. 10-16 for "Fog on the Barrow-downs".