Don't tell the boys, but Peter Jackson's epic trilogy is really one hell of a great chick flick.
Kings and quests! Big-ass battles! A spider the size of a Hummer! Fanboys fluent in Elvish! You'd think The Lord of the Rings would be about as much of a babe magnet as an army of Orcs. And yet — contrary to Caryn James' recent crabby, baseless New York Times article (argument: "I didn't like it, ergo Women don't like it") — the ladies love The Lord, and not just because it's about the power of jewelry.
How come? What's in it for us, besides horses?
Well, hotties. We are talking Mr. Middle Earth Pageant, "swordplay" competition. Among the gals I surveyed, "Viggo, Viggo, Viggo!" is the going squeal. (Me, I swing Orlando. Pretty is normally not my type, but come on; the elf's got game. That said, Legolas is the one you date, but Sam, obviously, is the one you marry. Rudy!)
(Oh, and about Page 6's sighting of Elijah Wood and Billy Boyd in a Gotham strip club? LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING.)
To be sure, these guys are not just hotties — they're heroes. True heroes, kickin' it old-school, the way the word used to be used, back when it meant more than, say, Employee of the Month. "We want to believe that there are honorable men out there," says my friend Hillery, "and the old fashioned hero shows us that in a big fancy way."
Yep, especially now. Says Marjorie Ingall, who writes the "East Village Mamele" column for The Forward, "In a world dominated by men and a president who goes to war and causes huge loss of life for the wrong reasons, the notion that there are men putting their lives at risk for the right ones is hugely appealing."
For similar reasons, women — who, at least stereotypically, abjure gratuitous violence (I won't even play Whack-a-Mole) — thrill to LOTR's epic battle scenes. Why? Well, jeez, there's more at stake here than in 2Fast2Furious. Given the circumstances, the carnage in LOTR is required, unless you honestly feel that the giant eyeball should be in charge. And it sure ain't pretty. "The battles are exciting but not gory and not glorifying war — rather, showing how hellish it is," says Marjorie Ingall. Further, the whup-ass is way more palatable when the enemy are soulless mutants with no one waiting up at home, not people who don't look like us.
Also, fashion. "If you're a wannabe bohemian stuck in a pencil-skirt office, LOTR can give you a serious vicarious fashion thrill," says Jenifer Braun, 31. It's a little Ren Faire for my taste, but I do so want jewels in my hair like Liv's! (I also want a face on my head like Liv's, but anyway.)
And, of course, there are the strong female characters. Say, Shelob the spider. "She's overweight, she can't get through the tunnel the way she used to. Men flee from her. She's got hairy legs," Philippa Boyens, the female third of LOTR's screenwriting team, recently told the Village Voice. "She really is the focus of this abject male gaze — this hairy creature that lives in the tunnel. The way Gollum says 'tunnel' makes it sound like the rudest thing ever!"
As for LOTR's female bipeds, well no, they're not around so much, but that's all right. That's what makes it indubitable that that the guys are doing what they're doing to save the world, not to get laid. The sistahs are not just there to motivate the men; they are their own agents. I have no idea what Cate Blanchett is supposed to be doing, but clearly it is very important. In Part 3, Liv mostly lies there, limp and liminal, but again, see above. And how about when — eensy spoiler alert — Miranda Otto gets all "I am no man!" on the Biggest-Bad's ass?! Absolutely jump-up-and-cheer thrilling, not to mention an excellent political point: Look what happens when you leave the girls out of the laws.
Sure, some matters of taste and at least passing interest are gender-predictable; for example, I am generally more excited than my husband is about Hello, Kitty. Likewise, it's not hard to spot in LOTR all the stuff that women, "enlightened" or not, are supposed to like — Macho and sensitive! Pretty and strong! Sensible politics! Beads! — which are just the kind of assumptions that motivates Wesley Clark to put on an argyle sweater .
But I'd argue that those obvious — and certainly valid — factors are not just women's side entrances into an otherwise Boy story. Loyalty, friendship, sacrifice, endurance, principle, maintaining one's dignity in a world of mutants: We can all agree that that's what the Story is about.
And frankly, what could be girlier?
"Lord of the Rings is fully a chick flick in the best sense of the term," says teen fiction author Amy Kaye. "I love it, I love it, with the sort of deep obsession that led me to draw unicorns on my 7th grade notebook, listen to Led Zeppelin in 9th grade, pine over every single Chronicle of Narnia, swoon over Gladiator. Good friends banding together through adversity; lives changed by events you didn't realize you could survive; personalities evolving, coming to terms with a world that is not as perfect and green as the Shire of your childhood. Hello. GIRLY. This movie couldn't be more perfect for women if it came with a pair of Blahniks and a box of tampons."
She goes on. "The lessons of LOTR are just what we're always trying to impart to boyfriends: Be loyal. Stick with something even when it gets hard. Be unbearably hot."
Truism: Women value friends even over boyfriends/husbands — and sure enough, the friendships in LOTR go way beyond "dude, got yer back" buddy-movie bonding. "How about when Frodo says, 'Frodo couldn't have done it if it wasn't for his good friend,' and turns around and gives Sam that look? And Sam's look is like, 'Urr? I was just doing what any good friend would do!' If you don't at least sniffle, your heart is made of stone," says Kaye. "Or, you sob until your nephew says, 'Mom, Aunt Amy's crying!' and then you sob some more, but try to do it quietly so you don't miss the part where Gandalf calls his white horse out of the mist."
See, there's still this stubborn notion that guy stories, "serious" ones anyway, are epic, while girl ones are specific. You know: He fights injustice, she fights addiction. He changes the world, she learns a little something about ... herself. (She can change the world too, sure, but usually only when the whole shocking point is that girls can be whale riders too.) So it's important to note that women rally to the very same Grand Ideas in LOTR that the guys do, just maybe with their own girl gloss.
Of course, many of those big ideas are totally universal to begin with. Who, male or female, doesn't dig watching the last one picked — male or female — kick butt, save the world, and hang out with the cool people? Who, male or female, isn't down with, oh, Courage? As Marjorie Ingall puts it: "A world in which friendship and nobility and doing the right thing despite great personal cost really matter" — we can all get on that bus, yes?
All of that said, things don't have to be Important and archetypal and shot in New Zealand in order to transcend gender. Quality is not a matter of scale (or, sweaters). Look, my friends Christopher and Colin weren't addicted to Buffy because it had an "admirable female protagonist," or even [just] because it had a "hot female protagonist." They loved it because it was excellent. So. Who or whatever you are, you want to "appeal to women"? Be totally hot if you must, but bottom line, be totally good.