The global following of "Lord of the Rings" -- the J.R.R. Tolkien books, the Peter Jackson movies, the, for lack of a better word, Middle-Earth lifestyle -- is almost akin to a religious sect. In the words of one of the more intense fans (known as "ringers") interviewed for "Ringers: Lord of the Fans," a serious, at times goofy, yet always affectionate exploration of the history and cultural impact of "Rings" out on DVD (PG-13, Sony, $24.96), the phenomenon goes "beyond regular movies or fandom or geekdom."
Just ask Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in the three hugely successful "Rings" films and who narrates the new documentary with a tone of good-natured bemusement, whether the fan frenzy has died down any since he moved on to other projects.
"No," the actor says flatly and somewhat incredulously, during a phone call from Hawaii, where we caught him driving to work -- and in and out of cell phone reception -- on the hit television series "Lost." "It continues to get worse. I say 'worse,' but I mean more consistent. Just more. If I'm in L.A., there's people hanging around when I come out of a restaurant, or people who follow me around to the beach, or when I go to Amoeba Records." The experience of what Monaghan calls his "Beatles moment" -- when he regularly stepped into "this insane maelstrom of kids waiting to see the hobbits" whenever his plane touched down during a publicity tour -- may be a thing of the past, but the memory is still fresh.
Not that he resents it.
As intrusive as the attention can get, Monaghan doesn't begrudge ringers still seeing him as Merry, an association that the 28-year-old actor may carry to his grave. "If I were to meet Harrison Ford, I would probably think, 'Oh, it's Han Solo.' As Peter Jackson always said, the movies couldn't have been made without the fans." Working on "Ringers," he says, is his way of saying thank you to them.
Although there are some, er, rather eccentric fans shown in "Ringers" -- especially on the DVD's bonus material -- people whose exuberance might seem to the uninitiated to be a mite unhealthy, Monaghan is quick to point out that neither he nor "Ringers" writer-director Carlene Cordova and co-writer Cliff Broadway ever intended to make fun of anyone, as other documentaries about fandom have occasionally done. "I don't think they set out to do what they did with 'Trekkies,' to show the lunacy," he says, referring to Roger Nygard's very funny, but slightly more smirky, 1997 documentary about "Star Trek" groupies. "This is respectful." After all, Monaghan notes, "Carlene and Cliff started TheOneRing.net," a comprehensive Tolkien fan Web site that has been, as the home page notes, "serving Middle-Earth since the First Age."
"They themselves are fans," says Monaghan, who also counts himself as one. "This was a way for me of tributing the fans for the amount of work they've done, the attention to detail."
While Monaghan's fellow hobbit, actor Billy Boyd, is expected to make a guest appearance at the upcoming One Ring Celebration, a convention for, by and about ringers in Pasadena in January, Monaghan, alas, will not be attending. He did have a blast at the last one, though, where he appeared with former co-stars and now close friends Boyd and Elijah Wood (both of whom are interviewed for "Ringers"). And he'd do it again.
"It's just fun to say hello to people," says Monaghan, who admits that he'd "love" to work on a "Rings" prequel based on Tolkien's "The Hobbit." That is, when Jackson finishes "King Kong" and his next project, an adaptation of "The Lovely Bones," and if the filmmaker can get the rights. "Maybe five or six years from now," Monaghan speculates.
In the meantime, he says, "It's just fun to see the people who love the trilogy so much. As the years pass, to find that people have so much invested in it. Plus, it gets me in the same room as Billy and Elijah, and that's worth the price of the ticket alone."