The hobbits dominate every scene in Jackson's three movies, even when they're supposed to be eclipsed by the tall folk they meet when they leave the Shire. Fellowship of the Ring sets the pattern. Fellowship recounts the hobbits' journey from the Shire into a higher, darker Dark-Ages Europe. The key character in this shift is Aragorn, a paradigmatic figure of kingly virtue.
Jackson cast, as Aragorn, one Viggo Mortenson, an actor who specializes in weak, cruel characters. Viggo's finest moment onscreen came in the Prophecy, where he plays Satan as a mean California surfer. He delivers one of the best threats in film history, telling Virginia Madsen, "I don't love you, little bitch. So either I lay you face down in your mother's feces for eternity...or we can talk." His other great moment was as the paraplegic snitch who tries to set up Pacino in Carlito's Way, then falls apart, begging to be killed, when Pacino finds the wire he's wearing. "Look atchoo Carlito, you got everything, mang. I got nuthin'. I shit in a bag, mang!"
Once again, you have to ask: was this incompetent casting or clever sabotage? If played properly, Aragorn would overshadow Jackson's beloved midgets in every scene they share. Thanks to Viggo, the opposite happens: from the moment he meets the hobbits in Bree, Aragorn is reduced to straight-man for lame Pat & Mike routines by that quasi-Celtic comic duo, Merry and Pippin.
Having neutralized Aragorn, Jackson next sabotages Arwen, daughter of Elrond, half-elf lord of Rivendell. Jackson carefully picks the worst possible Arwen: the vacuous Liv Tyler, second-generation rock'n'roll zombie. Her flat, groupie mumble instantly destroys any hope of belief in her character. All you can think is how she really inherited her screechy dad's giant lips and two-digit IQ.
Next, Jackson puts his two casting disasters together in a love scene so awful it must be premeditated: Viggo the surfer woos Arwen the groupie. Their tryst is set in a typical NZ commercial forest of trimmed, cloned, identical pines -- about as wild and scary as the Transit Lounge at Auckland Airport. It's the' steeds who steal this scene -- the horses out-act the lovers with ease. You're left to watch the hobbits because there's simply no one else around.
When we arrive at Rivendell, there's a surprise waiting: Jackson has chosen, as Elrond, the most hopelessly typecast actor in all of film: that quirky Aussie who hammed it up as Keanu's nemesis in The Matrix. Short of hiring Joe Isuzu to play Gandalf, Jackson couldn't have telegraphed his malign intent more obviously than by depicting Elrond as the Matrix villain in Spock ears, wrapped in what appears to be Dame Edna Everedge's dressing gown.
This time, the set does its share to destroy the viewer's belief. Rivendell, Elrond's fortress/home, is transformed in Jackson's film to a series of Victorian gazebos, vaguely like the bandshells of small NZ towns -- so wanton a travesty that only great malice or greater stupidity can explain it.
At the focal point of all this kitsch is the actor Jackson offers us as Frodo: an epicene waif who looks creepily like Winona Ryder in Little Women. His one schtick is looking troubled, opening his huge, empty eyes to an extent seen only in the heroines of Japanese animation. Frodo, who is a stolid, fifty-year-old squire in Tolkien's story, ends up as a sump for bathos, a dead center.
The next noble character to be cast as farce is Saruman. In Tolkien, he's the classic sophist -- a formidable, scarily charming egomaniac. And Jackson gives us...Christopher Lee, the oldest working vampire in the film business. He's Christopher Lee. He can never be anyone but Christopher Lee, an old man with the face of a petulant horse.
Farce is piled on farce; Jackson stages the wizards' duel between Gandalf and Saruman as a Naked Gun remake: not a contest of deep and subtle minds but a new, comic martial art: geriatric magic-wand kung fu.. For a long, long time we watch wo aged, fey British thespians in lank white wigs and beards zapping each other with their hippie sticks.