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April 30, 2002

Mock Trial of Rings Director a Successful Spoof
Staff Reporter

YPSILANTI, Mich. - It was, arguably, the movie of the year based on the literary work of the century. Last night Ave Maria College used the first of the Peter Jackson films based on Tokien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy to stage an engaging mock trail that sought to prosecute the New Zealand director for "the desecration of The Lord of the Rings."

At debate for Tolkien fans at the college was whether the film turned the fantasy epic by the late Catholic author into a Hollywood adventure flick. "Like most fans of Tolkien, when I heard there were films being produced on the trilogy, my first reaction was fear," said Joseph Pearce, the author of Tolkien: Man and Myth, and most recently, Tolkien a Celebration: Collected Writing on a Literary Legacy, who defended the Jackson movie at the mock trail.

"But it was a great relief as the film unfolded that Peter Jackson has made a real effort to be true to the text and even to bring in the spiritual dimension that was so central to Tolkien's understanding of myth," Pearce added.

Acting as prosecutor, AMC professor of literature Henry Russell, Ph.D. recited the film's failures-an elaborate list that mocked "Arwen Schwartzeneggar" and criticized "a Galadriel who must have stuck her finger in a light socket." After the attorneys and the audience argued both sides of the case, the jury of 12 AMC students sided with Pearce and found the New Zealand director "not guilty."

"It disturbs me greatly that, after these charges were brought against him, Peter Jackson saw fit to flee to Australia," complained Al Kresta as he opened the mock trail spoofing a prosecutorial judge. Kresta is a Catholic radio talk show host who hosts "Kresta in the Afternoon" on Ave Maria Radio. Almost disappearing underneath a huge white wig, Kresta never let his crusty demeanor crack, expressing disappointment, after the verdict, that he wouldn't be able to sentence anyone.

Prosecuting attorney Dr. Henry Russell presented his case that the Jackson film adaptation departed significantly from and cheapened Tolkien's intent in the classic Rings trilogy. He complained "My case is not about whether the movie was enjoyed by Tolkien fans who read into the tale what they brought with them, or about the beauty of the lavish scenes that were created with the 300 million spent, or that the film is exciting to our senses kept agitated for three hours in a manner reminiscent of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Mummy II," declared Russell, "but my case is based on the contention that the film fails to convey the (literary) work almost totally."

Russell targeted the casting and acting of Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler and Viggo Mortensen, who played the key characters of Frodo, Arwen and Aragorn. Wood played an "immature, unformed" character who he said was not credible as the hero "called to cruelly sacrifice everything for a cosmic drama he does not fully understand."

He also criticized Mortensen's Aragorn. "This great hero who is called to lead the world and wage war against evil is shown dithering about whether or not he can be king," he argued.

Pearce countered that Russell's standard was too high, and that no concession was granted for essential differences between literature and film. "The book is brilliant, it is a work of art considered to be the greatest of the century. Anyone trying to produce a film from it would need a great deal of courage," he said.

As for Russell's criticism of the attempts by Hollywood actors to portray the trilogy's heros and heroines, Pearce said his colleague's standards were also too high.

"When we are compared, in a court higher and more esteemed than this one, to the saints of God I am afraid we may find that, by comparison, we are more like these creations of Peter Jackson."

For more information, contact Kate Ernsting at Ave Maria College, (734) 337-4651 or by e-mail at

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