Stephen Pollard: Why 'The Lord of the Rings' is truly terrifying

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The Independent Online

The highlight of my Christmas will, I'm sure, be the sight of my nephew's face when I take him to see The Lion King. I only booked the tickets recently. Having read that it's booked up for months ahead, I thought I'd have to turn to the touts. Christmas matinées would surely be the busiest period of all for a Disney musical with talking animals.

Well, no. Matinées, it turns out, are the one possibility for getting tickets. It's only the evening performances that are sold out. I guess Alex, who is five, will be a rarity at The Lion King. Overwhelmingly, it seems, the audience for The Lion King is unaccompanied adults.

Why was I surprised? The winter blockbuster competition this year is a straight fight between Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, an adaptation of a children's book, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, an adaptation of a children's book. They have, of course, been sensibly released now to capture the children's holiday market, and, according to reports, children are indeed blown away by them. Wonderful. They seem to be well-acted, well-directed, well-crafted films that deserve to do well.

But Harry Potter did not break box-office records because of children – and nor will Lord of the Rings. Just as with The Lion King, their audiences are overwhelmingly adult. The studios that spent hundreds of millions of dollars making them have not been surprised by their adult appeal: they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on them precisely because of their adult appeal.

The studios know the truth: there is no longer such a thing as a "kids' film". Adults, it would seem, have become so infantilised that the more child-like a film's story, the better – and the more likely it is to become an adult success.

A few days ago I went to see The Believer, a thoughtful, considered, insightful film about a Jewish anti-Semite. It had rave reviews, and won first prize at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival. The film is on at only two London cinemas and is unlikely to be released elsewhere. Who can blame the distributor? I doubt if there were more than 20 people in the audience.

Don't get me wrong. I love good Hollywood rubbish as much as anyone. The last thing I want is to see only "improving" films. But the Hollywood I like – comedies, action films, whatever – is meant to be for adults, not kids' stories about wizards and elves.

A few weeks ago I met a friend for lunch – one of the most intelligent and high-minded people in the country. He was reading as he waited for me. As I got closer I saw what he was reading: Harry Potter. "I wanted to see what the fuss was all about," he said. "But do you know what – they are engrossing. I want to know what happens in them. The stories are terrific!"

I despair. I have as much interest in finding out what happens to Harry Potter as I have in digging out my childhood books and finding out again what happens to the Mr Men. When I was 10 I would no doubt have loved Harry Potter. But I am 36. Why would I want to read ripping yarns about wizards and public schoolboys now?

Still, I console myself by thinking that most of the adult Harry Potter fans are presumably parents who have been hooked through their kids. But where does The Lord of the Rings fit into that? The film has created the craze not, as with Harry Potter, vice versa. When did you last see a child reading The Lord of the Rings?

No, the awful truth is that we have become a nation of kidults: adults who think, and behave, like children. We spit in the street. We cry when our team loses. We stuff our mouths with burgers. I'm waiting for the first politician to cry after being sacked from the Cabinet.

The Lord of the Rings is not just a fantasy film. It is a terrifying commentary on the mindset of millions.

Stephenipollard@cs.com

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