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Ringers: Lord of the Fans

An entertaining new documentary celebrating the subculture of Lord of the Rings fans By Frank Moldstad

Ringers are everywhere, next to you on the freeway and walking the halls where you work. You may even be one yourself. Theyre people whose interest in The Lord of the Rings has become an obsession, bordering on a lifestyle. Theyve slept in line for the premieres of the epic movies by Peter Jackson, they know the Elvish alphabet and their pilgrimages to the movie locations have spiked New Zealands tourist trade.

As chronicled in a new documentary called Ringers: Lord of the Fans, Peter Jacksons cinematic trilogy touched people in a way few movies ever have. Ringers director Carlene Cordova offers an affectionate overview of the Ringers phenomenon from the present day to the 1950s, when J.R.R. Tolkiens books were first published. The documentary examines a host of fascinating details along the way (who knew The Beatles had optioned "The Lord of the Rings" in the 60s?), finding a good balance between tribute and historical detail. A lighthearted tone makes good entertainment even for non-Ringer types (you know who you are).

But hardcore Ringers also will appreciate this documentarys celebration of their subculture. It avoids the somewhat mocking tone of Trekkies, a 1997 documentary examining the "Star Trek" fan base. ?Ive always been interested in the whole fandom phenomenon, Cordova said during a press junket and screening of the film arranged by Sony Pictures Home Entertaiment, which is releasing the film on DVD Nov. 22 (SLP $24.94). ?I love it when people are really into something," Cordova added. "Its something Ive always been fascinated with.


With Ringers, however, Cordova (director/writer/producer) and Cliff Broadway (writer/producer/interviewer) had an extra incentive. They came from the inside, so to speak. The documentary was hatched while they were working as contributors to a web site called TheOneRing.net , a thriving community founded by Chris Pirrotta where Ringers could meet, chat and get production updates. As the films were in production, the site became such a nexus that even the crew began logging in to see what was happening, and Peter Jackson gave TheOneRing.net his unofficial sanction.

?It became much bigger than we could ever imagine, said Broadway. ?And Carlene and I decided theres something amazing happening around us right now, something thats never been seen before. It was just remarkable.

Through the web site, they became involved with Ringers events in the Los Angeles area a picnic for Frodos birthday, a book signing with Ian McKellen and witnessed firsthand how The Lord of the Rings was enveloping peoples lives. ?I think this is the first movie ever where fans met online, said executive producer Tom DeSanto (X-Men), who became involved with the production because he knew Broadway from a web site devoted to Ian McKellen. ?And because of that, the genesis of this film [Ringers] happened.

Director Carlene Cordova
Ringers is an ambitious work that somehow moves through five decades of "Lord of the Rings" without bogging down or becoming pedantic. Areas where it could have dragged down are saved by innovative devices, such as an animated Terry Gilliam-style opening segment that tells the publishing history of "The Lord of the Rings" in less than three minutes. ?You have to condense, you dont want it to be too long of a movie, Cordova said. ?So I said, lets do it in two-and-a-half minutes, and what better way than animation. Broadway got the assignment of condensing all the history, and Kevin Gralewski, fresh out of CalArts, was given the job of creating the animated sequences. ?We said, ?We sort of want cut-out Monty Python, and he just went with it and it turned out just fantastic, said Cordova.

The entire film was shot on video at locations around the world, and edited in Final Cut Pro. The filmmakers ended up with 150 hours of material that had to be cut down to a manageable 97 minutes, including segments with fan-created art, historical overviews and still images from the Rankin/Bass "Lord of the Rings" cartoons from the 80s. That's all in addition to the footage that was actually shot for Ringers so it was important to compress where possible, while still being entertaining. Long informational sequences, for instance, not only might have bored audiences, but every extra second they consumed would come at the expense of something else.

But Cordova found several more interesting ways to present the informational sequences, such as the warped but hilarious inspiration to have a Mariachi band sing about all the merchandised products spawned by The Lord of the Rings. The movies creative team wrote the song, which features subtitles with a bouncing ring and close-up shots of everything from plastic figurines to a Lord of the Rings navel ring. A Mariachi band was hired to perform the song, complete with violins, guitars and a vocalist.

?Im Latina, Mexican-American, and it was just this brainstorm one day, said Cordova. ?How can we talk about all the merchandising, some of it in very poor taste, thats been done for the Lord of the Rings movie? Like the belly ring you know, stuff that Tolkien would just freak out over if he were alive today. And I thought, ?Oh, well put it in song, well make it sing-a-long. and use Mariachi! So we wrote a song. It was lots of fun.

Added Broadway, ?We sat in production meetings for who-knows-how-many weeks saying, ?What are you talking about? Carlene was with all of us on the creative team, saying it could work just like this. We were scratching our heads, saying ?What is she talking about? And then, we decided to actually do the parody song, based on a really traditional Mariachi. We started to figure it out and it made sense eventually.

 

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Related Keywords:Ringers, Lord of the Fans, Lord of the Rings, documentary, DVD, Carlene Cordova, Cliff Broadway, TheOneRing.net

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