Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Of Hobbits and movies... (nerd alert!!)

OK well given that soon the media will be buzzing with the news that the Peter Jackson vs. New Line Cinema conflict has been basically settled and also the movie rights to the Hobbit have been put into the right hands, I feel that I should speak my piece ahead of time... we will definitely be seeing a Hobbit movie at some point in the next couple years or so (with Jackson as Executive Producer though rather than director).

My thoughts on this... I should premise this by saying I frequented one of the more noteable fan sites for Lord of the Rings ( from about 1999 until the release of Return of the King late in 2003, after which my visits to the site gradually diminished. Well now with the advent of another Tolkien film I am feeling compelled to start hanging around there again. This is primarily because there are some very like minded Tolkien geeks who also hang around there which makes for good discussion.

On to the afore mentioned thoughts... I will say that I did enjoy the movies (Lord of the Rings) on many levels, but there were also many levels on which I detested them. My main beef really comes down to what is referred to as a director's 'interpretation of the source material'. Now to me what that says is "If I [the director] wrote this best selling novel... it would have been like 'this'..." But the fact remains that you did NOT write the best selling novel and the question then remains, have you the right to change things? I imagine if you could write best selling novels, you'd be doing that rather than directing fillms. I understand of course that to make a book into a movie you are changing media... you are taking what exists in the three dimentional space of the imagination and converting it to the two dimentional space of a movie screen (although granted the sound track will travel through three dimentions... as I suppose will the light before it reaches your retinas, but you hopefully understand my point). In such conversions obvious concessions will need to be made. I have no problem with tightening up a story line to accomodate the 3 hour attention span of the modern audience, and if for example all of the changes Peter Jackson made to the 'source materials' were to accomodate said span I would have no argument. But the majority of his changes were to match what he descibed as 'his vision' of Tolkien's work. That is blatent arrogance... it is a lesser artist recreating the work of a greater artist under the delusion that the lesser will make the greater 'better'. That is my rant against movie director's who do 'adaptations'.

Now that is said and done... Jackson's movies are made and further discussion won't change the fact that he changed a great book. The current debate on such sites as is whether the hobbit film/s (yes they are talking about creating a sequal to the hobbit based on loose references from Tolkien as to what happens between "The Hobit" and "The Fellowship of the Ring"... Arggg!) should be faithful to Jackson's version of Tolkien... or Tolkien's actual material. One post in particular recently stirred a railing rebutle from my inner nerd... One individual says that "To make a hobbit movie faithful to the source material would be ludicrous because dragons and trolls DO NOT TALK!!!" He made this statement with all seriousness as if dragons and trolls in fact existed, which I hope you realize do not. His point was that in Jackson's LOTR movies the trolls don't happen to talk and seem rather stupid albeit fiecely violent. However in the LOTR books, trolls are said to be evil and cunning and in the hobbit even the 'dumb' ones can speak. Also in all of Tolkien's stories involving dragons... they are always portrayed as very intelligent, cognizant speaking creatures.

The fact is that The Hobbit was written as a children's book and the Lord of the Rings was written for adults... taking the children's story and creating a darker, slightly less fairy tale world in The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson definitely made LOTR as an adult fantasy film and in that he did well. However to create The Hobbit with the same intense dark mood as Jackson's LOTR would be to stray far beyond the source material... even further than was strayed from the LOTR source material.

Well that is how I feel... and yes I am a complete nerd when it comes to Tolkien. I am comfortable being labelled as such. Merry Christmas by the way.


The Irascible Neufonzola said...


I share your frustrations, and I've railed against Jackson's presumptive arrogance on no few occasions.

It is a pride issue, I believe; requisite changes or trimming here and there is understandable, but by the third movie, Jackson was in full "loosely based" mode, not only dumbing down dialogue but mangling plot beyond all recognition. My thought is that Jackson and the two other writers felt that they had to establish some sort of personal touch to the movies, because if one simply adapts it straight out of the book, you are a simply doing a cut-and-paste job, to oversimplify, and you don't get a lot of respect among your peers. They wanted to get creative so they could say THEY were the writers, not Tolkien.

The shield/skateboard/stairs gag was awful, trying to paint Legolas as the cool teen action hero type that the kids will love. Quite at odds with Tolkien's much more austere, ageless character. Pair him with Gimli the Comic Relief Dwarf and you water these two characters down into really poor, shallow, 1 dimensional characters. Don't get me started on the dialogue, which culminates at its worst with "Legolas, what do your Elf Eyes see?". They replaced a rich true English with some sort of quasi-international vanilla English, without any complicated words that are not names or places.

And I wonder what dufus it was that said the following..."well, we have Gandalf falling down a chasm in the first movie, and Gollum falling down a chasm in the last movie, but The Two Towers doesn't have a chasm sequence! I know! We could have Aragorn fall down a chasm! Phew! That saved us from a huge continuity issue!"

Aragorn is quite miscast in my view. He's too GQ, too soft-spoken and looks like he belongs on the set of Zoolander as a male model. You really needed a craggier, more worn looking character with a harsher aspect, rougher voice, etc. He could evolve to look more kingly as the movies progressed, but I never really thought much of Viggo in that role. Someone more Clint-y, with a harsh eye and raspy voice.

I actually liked Sean Bean in the movie...poor sod will forever be doing bad guys, especially since his memorable role in Patriot Games. A lot of the other actors were well cast, I would say. I quite liked the Rohan sequence, Theoden in particular was good. He came across as kingly and strong, Viggo came across slightly foppish.

There was something very Pirates of the Carribean about the Paths of the Dead sequence. At that point in the movie I was resigned to relative lameness.

The Imperial Walker scene with the oliphaunts was entirely unnecessary.

Lastly the final scene was what, 40 minutes long, and they STILL didn't do the Scouring of the Shire? I'll tell you why, its because Jackson loves people calling other peoples names in slow motion. SAAAAAAAAM! FROOOOODOOOO! GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN



Percussivity said...

I didn't know you were such a kindred spirit when it came to Tolkien. One of my biggest irritations is the way Jackson eliminated the nobility of Numenor and the Eldar. Aragorn and Faramir were to represent the true spirit of Numenor... real men who could actually stand up against evil and temptation and who actually did the right thing almost every time.

Instead they give Aragorn 'issues'... Tolkien's Aragorn knew who he was and he kicked ass in that knowledge. He knew who he loved and was never tempted by Eowyn. Faramir was never once tempted to deliver Frodo and the Ring to his father... he was Numenorian. He had inflexible values... but Jackson had to 'humanize' him. Galadriel likewise was not in that moment (depicted in the movie) tempted to take the ring. She merely was making a point to Frodo, but we have to watch her little photoshopped freak out in the movie.

And you are right, some of the very best Tolkien dialog was watered down or just completely butchered by Philipa Boyens and Fran Walsh.

The thing that Jackson DID do well was to hire Weta as his effects house. Visually they DID recreate Middle Earth on almost every level. It's just too bad they left the characters remaining inside the cover of the book.

Ben said...

I am happy for Tolkien fans everywhere...especially the ones I know personally...which there are a few. I never read the books. I went to the first film in 2001 and unfortunately...fell asleep. I got excited to see the second and third and rather enjoyed the second and some of the third.

While I'm not a Rings nerd...I can rejoice for fantasy/sci fi nerdom and geekdom everywhere because another good story will be made into a good movie in the Hobbit. Anyone other than Jackson might have hurt the franchise.

Hope you Ring Nerds enjoy the time leading up to the films!

Anonymous said...

Now I will have to read the books even though fantasy novels are not my favorites. I abhored the movies. Sure the cinematography was pretty good, but it was a little plot smashed between fight scenes. I can watch Full Metal Jacket for that, and I know Tolkien is a great writer. I've read excerpts, but never the entire trilogy. And, yes, you two are nerds. I'd be that way about poets, so I understand.