Why did LOTR drop off the critical radar at decade's end? Methinks it's due to that perennial, fundamental disrespect of the fantasy and science fiction genre, the same reason "sci-fi" literature was/is ghettoized and consigned to the bring-your-own-blacklight section of your local bookstore. See Ellison, Harlan, or King, Stephen. Or better, Dick, Philip, K. (while he was alive). "Fantasy" is just not as critic- or award-friendly as, say, our annual dose of Clint Eastwood directed melodramatic "relevant" Oscar fodder.
[. . .]
There are a lot of "fantasy" films that fully deserve critical scorn, and audience disdain. As the great fantasist Theodore Sturgeon opined, "90% of everything is crap."
But that 10 percent that isn't should be allowed to keep winning the race against "Seabiscuit." (Erik Nelson, “Fantasy still can’t get no respect,” Salon, 6 Jan. 2010)
What if Philip K. Dick had directed Lord of the Rings?
Harlan Ellison? Theodore Sturgeon? Philip K. Dick? If we mixed all these authors into a brew, are we sure we wouldn't be more likely to end up serving out some Synecdoche New York than Jackson's LOTR? How are hobbitans supposed to get respect, when their defenders seem near as much to have escaped the shire for the civitas as any urbane who complains of their smelly feet and rank stupidity?
Closer to Jackson's LOTR is David Eddings and Piers Anthony. It is the friendliness, the family, in LOTR, that matters, not its passed-over erudition, its overlooked sophistication.
(Care to say anything nice about these two authors, about those who like these authors, Eric? You won't look as cool to film "snobs" who can appreciate a return to the warmth of the ring, with their cool Blade Runner guard well up, or with some reference to the likes of Fredric Jameson and commercial culture -- as Matt Zoller Seitz made sure to do, to adjudicate / circumscribe his applause of Michael Bay. You'd very quickly find yourself outside the "fantasist" section, the imaginative and cerebral -- and near Marquez, and well redeemable -- and back munching bags of chippies with all the dorks in fantasy / sci fi. How prepared are you to jump up and down on couches, and scream out the love of your life?)