New Zealand. 2004.
Directors – Stan Alley, Hannah Clarke & Nick Booth, Photography – Stan Alley. Production Company – Midnight Films/Jumping Dog.
In the last few years, with the success of the film trilogy, Lord of the Rings fandom is one of the few interest groups that have threatened to give Star Trek and Star Wars fans a run for their mutual moneys. Frodo is Great … Who is That!!? is a documentary about Lord of the Rings fandom – or more to the point it sets out to chart a peculiar subset of the Lord of the Rings fan universe known as Figwit fandom.
Who or what is Figwit, you might ask? There is no such character in the J.R.R. Tolkien books and no such character credited in any of the films. This however is part of the amusement of Figwit fandom. In fact, Figwit is the name that has been given to an elvish extra that appears only in a single scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and is on screen for about three seconds. You can spot him in the Council of Elrond sequence – a pouty but extremely good-looking dark haired elf that sits as part of the group. Israeli fan Iris Hadad was taken by the elf’s good looks. She called the extra Figwit, the acronym so named after the exclamation that one supposedly gives when the camera pans away from Elijah Wood to notice the gorgeous, unnamed elf extra – “Frodo is great … who is that?” Hadad used the name and a still-frame capture as a handle on Lord of the Rings message boards and interest was soon enough that in 2002 she and British fan Sherry de Andres created a website devoted to Figwit (www.figwitlives.net). As Lord of the Rings producer Barrie M. Osborne notes in the film, this is the first time that a fan movement has popped up centred around a single extra.
Figwit fandom has spread enormously since then – as the documentary shows, Google now lists some 10,000 references to Figwit and Yahoo lists more fan sites for Figwit than a major Lord of the Rings character like Gandalf. However, Figwit fandom appears to be taking the girlish adulation that surrounds Orlando Bloom and planting its tongue ever so slightly in its cheek. A flip through figwitlives.net shows a fanpage with a considerable sense of humour. There are a host of other Figwit fansites, including the now defunct Figwit is Evil, which depicts Figwit alongside Osama bin Laden and peeping out of frames of the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination.
The extra playing Figwit was eventually tracked down as then unknown Wellington, New Zealand based actor Bret McKenzie. McKenzie also performs in a stand-up comedy duo The Flight of the Conchords, which later gained fame with their own tv series in the hilariously deadpan The Flight of the Conchords (2007-9). The documentary was made by three friends of McKenzie after they learned that the Flight of the Conchords was travelling to the Edinburgh Festival in August 2002 and that Iris Hadid, Sherry de Andres and several other Figwit fans had decided to travel to Edinburgh to view the concert and meet Bret McKenzie in the flesh.
The documentary charts the trip to Edinburgh, shows footage of Flight of the Conchords in performance and the meeting between Bret McKenzie and various fans. The film interviews a number of people, including many of the principal Lord of the Rings cast – Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom, producer Osborne and Peter Jackson himself – as well as a number of people around the sides of the cult, including McKenzie’s Conchords compatriots and several other elvish extras. Surprisingly, the one person who is not interviewed is the very subject of the documentary himself, Bret McKenzie.
The documentary is amusing. Unlike the similar Trekkies (1997), which charted Star Trek fandom, Frodo is Great … Who Is That? never turns the portrait of the fans into a freakshow but has shows an endearing liking for all involved and the clear sense of humour with which everyone involved approaches the phenomenon. What is even more amusing is the way in which the people making the films have responded to the cult. Peter Jackson is shown throughout several times and gets into the tongue-in-cheek nature of the exercise by speculating about Figwit’s lineage and motivations.
This had its culmination during the reshoots for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) when Jackson and co decided to respond to the fans by bringing Bret McKenzie back and this time giving him two speaking lines. He appears in the scene where Liv Tyler turns back on her horse, saying “Lady Arwen, we cannot delay” and “My lady.” The Topps collecting cards series subsequently issued a card with McKenzie as the elf Aegnor. (McKenzie was also brought back in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and given even more speaking lines as a different elf Lindir). Everyone interviewed throughout the film, including fans, Jackson and Lord of the Rings actors alike, is shown giving a Figwit pout as the end credits roll.