Winter Film

For a superpower, America always loves the underdog. Even as we're mopping up Al Qaeda and rubbing Russia's face in its post-Cold War irrelevance, the nation now turns its hopeful eyes to a 3-foot-high, furry-footed paladin on a desperately overmatched quest. If you think there's something infantile about adults reading new Harry Potter volumes on the bus, just wait until you see grown-up Tolkien freaks waiting in full LOTR regalia to buy their movie tickets.

Childhood dies hard in this country, and we cling to the notion of childish innocence. What is Frodo if not a slightly misshapen Everychild, a half-pint scaredy-cat whose usual response to danger is to hide with quavering lip and misty eyes? Yet some 100 million readers adore the little guy; his fears, doubts, and vulnerability hearken back to preteen defenselessness and bewilderment at the adult world.

A de facto orphan (with Gandalf as his father figure), Frodo assembles a makeshift family with his fellowship—and that, too, is a favorite theme of American culture. Kinship and the need to belong also inform several other holiday movies (notably The Royal Tenenbaums, The Majestic, and Joe Somebody), but none aspires to LOTR's epic sweep. If, as Gianni Truzzi suggests, Tolkien's trilogy is all about growing up, then our nation's immaturity complex may have no better emblem than the enduringly, endearingly childlike hobbit. Brian Miller

The empire strikes back

Original fantasy force finally claims cinematic crown. by Brian Miller

The quest

Tolkien's Fellowship begins a work of transition—our own. by Gianni Truzzi

Geek spotting

How to deal with the Tolkien-obsessed. by Paul Hughes and Brian Miller

New York stories

Patriarch wonders, "Can't someone be a shit their entire life, then repair the damage?" by Brian Miller

Proof

Again, Crowe refuses to be stumped by formulas. by Brian Miller

Star Child

Preteen whiz kid thwarts alien scheme. by Andrew Bonazelli

Ghost world

Refuge walls only defend against outside horror. by Bethany Jean Clement

In the trenches

Absurdist martial satire finds plenty of blame to go around. by Andrew Bonazelli

Kiss kiss bang bang

Love and death with the hot hombres of Argentina. by Steve Wiecking

Mr. Appleton goes to Lawson

Big-city screenwriter learns small-town lessons. by Brian Miller

Coming attractions

What other movies to expect in early '02. by Brian Miller

 
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