Friday, June 3, 2011

Film Friday: The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a top-notch fantasy action/ adventure and I absolutely and unequivocally recommend it. I own each film and have seen them many times. So if you love these films, let's stop there, mehl-on (that’s Elvish for “friend”). But if you want to see what’s wrong with these lifeless, shallow films and why they never came anywhere near their potential, then read on.

** spoiler alert **

Let me start by saying my criticism IS NOT that the films aren’t identical to the books. The Lord of the Rings trilogy are my favorite books, but I understand that books need changes to become effective films. My criticism IS that Peter Jackson made too many of the wrong kinds of changes, and thereby turned a nuanced, meaningful story with characters we care about deeply into an emotionless plot-driven film that's hard to care about.

Characters Lost: The first clue that something was going wrong with the characters occurred even before the film was released. One of the actresses gave an interview in which she repeated the marketing line that they were staying 100% faithful to the book, except where they absolutely had to make changes -- which is, of course, a lie. She then ominously said they had to change the characters because “the book doesn’t really have a lot of characterization.” This was a sign Jackson didn't understand the books and was about to strip the characters of their character to "Hollywood" them up. Consider these:
Frodo: In the book, Frodo resists leaving the shire. He’s not mentally or emotionally strong and he’s certainly not ready for an adventure, nor is he particularly mature. This makes his journey all the more impressive, as he must grow into the role thrust upon him. This is also why his decision to leave the group after Gandalf’s death is such a strong moment. He realizes he is endangering his friends and he chooses to leave them to save them. This is THE moment Frodo finally accepts his responsibilities, but we’re not sure he’s up the task.

Jackson tosses this away and turns Frodo into the modern fake-reluctant hero. While Frodo professes not to want to the responsibility, he is shown to be mature, competent and ready for the challenge, and he volunteers easily. Thus, there is no moment where Frodo grows up. There is never any doubt he would continue the journey with the ring after Rivendell. There is almost no motive for him leaving the group after Gandalf’s death, except that Boromir made him think his friends were becoming dangerous to him. Even the Nazgûl chasing him don’t seem all that dangerous because the film leads us to believe that he’s a competent adventurer ready to meet the challenge.

These are dramatic changes that rob the character of growth, the story of uncertainty, and the scenes of emotion. One of the key points in the book is that the least likely people can play vital roles in saving mankind. This is lost in the film because Frodo is set apart from the very beginning as a special character who is up to the task and only needs to be shown the direction to march. This cheapens his victories and lessens the drama of his choices.

Gimli/Legolas: Friendship Devalued: What Jackson does to Gimli is an atrocity. Book Gimli is a headstrong, excellent warrior who butts heads with the other companions. Moreover, as a Dwarf, Gimli dislikes and distrusts Elves, because of conflicts between the two races that go way back. This matters because it establishes the relationship between Gimli and Legolas, and sets up the group dynamic. Indeed, the ring companions don’t trust each other. They all have different motives and ancient grievances and this makes it hard for them to work together. But as they prove themselves to each other, they slowly earn each others’ trust and respect. Nothing shows this change more than the growing friendship between Gimli and Legolas, the most unlikely friendship in the group -- they don’t actually become friends in the book until Gimli greets Galadriel kindly, something he doesn't do in the film. Jackson throws this away and makes Gimli into pure comic relief. He also makes Gimli and Legolas into almost-instant friends.

Spot the dwarf. (click to enlarge)

This has several nasty consequences. First, it sucks out the very characterization Jackson claims is missing in the books because it denies Legolas and Gimli the chance to grow. Secondly, it eliminates an important dynamic within the group -- the need to come together. Third, it trivializes what they are doing. The world is facing its end as Sauron's rise is at hand. These people are fighting for their lives and the lives of all the other members of their various races. But Jackson’s decision to turn Gimli into comic relief turns this whole thing into a joke. Indeed, Jackson even has them engage in a counting game throughout the battle scenes, which makes their actions seem like a light-hearted videogame rather than the murderous struggle against desperate odds that it is.

Gandalf: When Gandalf dies in the book, it’s a shocking, weepy moment. In the film, not so much. Why? Because Jackson fails to connect us to his character. One reason is that his importance to the group isn’t obvious in the film because the group are already friends. Thus, nothing will change after his death. In fact, the group doesn’t even stop to mourn except that Boromir thinks the Hobbits need a break. The message: Gandalf is just an expendable member of the group. By comparison, in the book, Gandalf holds the group together and there's a real chance the group will fall apart after his death.

Also, the film never addresses what Gandalf means to the others personally. For all his skill, Aragorn is a lost soul. He literally roams the wilderness afraid to face his responsibilities, i.e. returning to Gondor and claiming the throne. Gandalf is the conscience trying to get him to face his responsibilities. Frodo has been manipulated into this quest by Gandalf with the assurance that Gandalf would always protect him. When he dies, Frodo must fend for himself and his will comes close to breaking. None of this makes it into the film. Aragorn is presented as a single-minded, determined hero, and his issue with reclaiming the throne is given short shrift in one quick scene with Liv Tyler. Frodo is the volunteer who is ready to take on the world. Because Gandalf’s importance to these people is lost, his death has little personal meaning. His death is no longer the death of a friend, a mentor, and the guiding hand that held them all together, he's just another member of the group. . . and one you don't even see that often.

Since he now means so little, his death means little to us. Since his death means so little, his resurrection means just as little. In fact, his resurrection isn’t even a resurrection in the film, it’s more of a reappearance. In the book, it’s clear Gandalf died and was reborn as Gandalf the White. In the film, he just sort of shows up again. Thus, the significance of his self-less act is cheapened, i.e. he goes from sacrificing himself for the group to just getting into a very hard fight.
CGI Stupidity: This is one of the most visually beautiful films of all time. They found incredible natural scenery in New Zealand, used fantastic costumes, and had stellar effects. Things like the city of Minas Tirith were flawless and amazing. But like children who can’t help themselves, they had to abuse the CGI:
Significance Diluted: Part of what makes the humans in LOTR The Book so heroic are the dire odds they face. The fact they stand their ground against these odds demonstrates their courage. Moreover, because of the small number of defenders, each death is tragic and costly. The film throws that away because Hollywood can’t stop itself from filling every millimeter of screen. Instead of the 2,000 defenders in Helms Deep mentioned in the book (including Jackson's gay hairdresser Elves) compared to Saruman’s 10,000 Orcs, or the 9,000 defenders at Gondor against Sauron’s 250,000 Orcs, the film creates a battle of millions on each side. Suddenly, the importance of any particular defender disappears. In other words, gone is an army of precious individuals and in its place the audience gets two giant CGI blobs slamming into each other. How can you feel any sense of loss for that? Not to mention, this makes some of the dialog pretty silly, like when King Théoden says, “so few came.” Really? There's no room for more on the field!

Not to mention this kills the realism. No battle in history, not Waterloo, Verdun or anything in World War II had anywhere near the number of troops shown on the field. This is probably more people than were alive in all of Medieval Europe. Thus, by trying too hard, they not only reduce the significance of each defender, but they create a battle that just doesn’t look real.

Moreover, even beyond the numbers, the CGI is downright stupid. Why does the movie begin with a line of Elves all the way to the horizon doing what appears to be a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader linekick in perfect formation? Why is everyone wearing identical uniforms? And why are all the humans’ uniforms freshly laundered and their armor undented and shiny? Why are Orcs, an undisciplined army of thugs, standing in perfect Napoleonic squares? Why? Because everyone in Hollywood apparently suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder combined with a uniform fetish. This is stupid and it sucks the realism right out of these battle scenes. Can I overlook it? Sure, just like I could overlook a cartoon rabbit defecating in the background of each scene, but that doesn’t excuse its inclusion in the film.

Realism Denied: Finally, even in up-close battles, the CGI people still go too far. Legolas in particular is subject to this. As he’s fighting the Orc Warg (wolf) riders in Rohan, he looks more like Rubberband Man than anything solid as he slides around the wolves and jumps from one to another to kill them off. Why are the war elephants at Pelennor Field 50 feet tall? It doesn’t make any sense or add anything. . . except that it lets the CGI people have Legolas swing from elephant to elephant like digital Tarzan, which they no doubt thought would be cool -- but just looks bizarrely unrealistic. These things detract from the realism the film otherwise works so hard to achieve. It’s literally like adding Roger Rabbit to Saving Private Ryan. And why include a fake-looking, comic-y “cave troll” in Moria in the middle of one of the most serious battles in the book? Because they couldn't stop themselves.
So let me finish with this point: my complaint is not that the movie is not the book (though I am offended they kept proclaiming they followed the book). My complaint is that the characters are lifeless and the story lacks any sort of emotion because every decision Jackson made reduced our emotional investment in the characters, reduced the reality of the film, and reduced the stakes for which they were fighting.

These things may not have interfered with your enjoyment, but you’ve got to admit that if Jackson had kept with what I say, this would have been a much stronger film.


Tennessee Jed said...

I know many, many people who love the trilogy, both on film and the original books. I can only cop to seeing parts of the three movies and am more than happy to admit it may just be my loss. I have the same problem with the Harry Potter series. What appears to be a convaluted plot line, characters whose names I mix-up, and what ends up as confusion. Now I have tried to watch the film, and was impressed by the costuming, pageantry, and, up to a point, the C>G. I's.

After reading your review, I can take at least some consolation in the fact maybe it was not all my fault afterall.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, The books remain infinitely better. The film is good as a quality adventure film, though it's a bit "heavy" for that alone. But the problem is that it's mimicking a story that is so much more than just a plot-drive adventure story and it really loses the "more than" part. So what you get is a plot-driven film that doesn't live up to the original, doesn't make you care about these characters anywhere near as much as you should, and yet isn't "simple" enough to be just an adventure film.

I think it could have been a lot better if they hadn't stripped the characters of who they are and made them more generic.

Also, the worst GI elements don't really appear until the later films when the big battles begin. The early stuff (and the scenery-related CGI is impressive).

(P.S. Let me repeat, I do like the movies, just not nearly as much as I should have. It's a case of seriously lost potential.)

DUQ said...

Oh Andrew! LOL! You sure don't mind speaking your mind do you? This is going to upset some people.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I call 'em like I see 'em. Feel free to disagree if you think I'm wrong.

The sad truth, IMO, is that these could have been some of the greatest films ever if they hadn't made the mistakes above.

T-Rav said...

So tell me how you really feel, Andrew! :-)

I haven't read the books yet, except about the first two-thirds of "Fellowship" (I keep meaning to, but I never have the time), so I can't comment on some of these changes. I will say, though, that I think these character developments you mention aren't so much ignored as perhaps implied too subtly. For example, with the Gandalf dying and being reborn thing, I could tell LOTR was hinting at a Christlike resurrection, despite not knowing much about his character or background (I did know that portions of the trilogy were meant as Christian allegories). And I think other issues, such as Aragorn's reluctance to take the throne, were alluded to a few times by other characters. So maybe Jackson wasn't intending to cut these parts out altogether; he may have been assuming enough people had read the books to get it and thus didn't feel the need to dwell much on the characters' personal issues. Just a thought.

Personally, the one problem I always had with the trilogy was in "Return of the King." Well, maybe two if you count the unnecessary hobbit love-fest, but mainly why did Frodo have to leave the Shire and never come back? I get that there must have been some kind of sacrifice on his part in the past, but the movie never really explained what this was and left me confused.

Unknown said...

Andrew: You're so right about the character development in the movies (in fact, they don't develop, they just move from adventure to adventure). The development of the Fellowship was a growing theme throughout the books. In the movies, not so much. Tolkien was able to transfer to the written page the unbreakable comradeship that develops between trenchmates who in their earlier civilian lives probably would never have had anything to do with each other. He was deeply affected by the First World War. In the movies, they're more like instant FaceBook Friends.

I've voiced my opinion on the overuse and abuse of CGI in the past, so here I'll just say I agree with you 100%.

Greatest war speech in literary history (eat that, Willie Shakespeare): "A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of war, and shattered shields, when the age of man comes crashing down, but it is not this day. This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, men of the West." Unfortunately in the movie, it was spoken by Viggo Mortensen instead of Olivier or Branagh, and sounded like a shopping list. Still, it might be a good speech for the next Republican presidential candidate.

JG said...

I only recently read the books for the first time, and then we watched the movies again (extended versions...oyoyoy). I agree 100% with all of your observations. One of the things I mentioned to the hubs was the way the relationship between Frodo and Sam was different. In the book, they weren't really friends prior to the adventure, although they were friendly. There was a definite master-servant dynamic throughout the whole story. I can understand why a modern storyteller would toss that out - it just doesn't compute to modern audiences. Aren't we supposed to hate our employers, or at the least not refer to them as "Mr. Jim" in the off-hours? So, that I can understand, but I think it loses a lot of the depth of the relationship and Sam's character. After all, who wouldn't go to the pit of hell for a friend, but Sam loved his "master" so much he stayed with him through it all.

I sympathize with you. These are my feelings with most of the Potter films, particularly the 5th (Order of the Phoenix). I want David Yates' hide.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It's possible that these things are just being mentioned too subtly rather than not at all. I agree that I can see them in there, but that's also because I know they are there from the books and it requires my knowledge of the book to understand them.

What's more important though, is that they are either not there or are so subtle that they can't be used to build on the characters to draw you in. Thus, it's hard to care about the characters on film because they remain largely shallow throughout -- which they don't in the book.

I think the best example is the Gimli-Legolas friendship. There are whole movies that thrive on this very theme of taking two people who should not be friends and getting them to grow to like each other. In fact, this formula is probably one of the most common in Hollywood. Here it's naturally within the story, yet Jackson tosses it out because he wants to use Gimli as comic relief and can't figure out a way to have Legolas (as deathly serious character in the films) grow to like Gimli -- so he just makes them buddies from the getgo and the whole dynamic which could have added a proven element of characterization that humans love is tossed out.

The reason Frodo doesn't go back is because the shire has become to small for him, basically.

Finish the books!!! If we had a Commentarama reading list, they would be on it!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That is an excellent speech. It's the kind of speech that just fills you with the desire to get out there and do your duty! It's too bad they don't write speeches like that anymore.

I'm glad you agree about the characters. To me, the greatest joy in the book is exactly what you say -- watching people who wouldn't even talk to each other under normal circumstances form these incredibly tight bonds that they willingly die for each other. And when they do die, it's truly sad because it's like losing your best friend. But the film loses that because they are (as you perfectly say) instant Facebook freinds. They have a moment of argument at the beginning and then suddenly it's "let's go have some adventures! Weee!" And then they go from scene to scene with nowhere to grow as characters. That means, we have nothing to latch onto and we don't grow into the relationships as an audience.

That's why I believe that if Jackson had grasped that it's the characters that matter and had kept to them, then this could have been one of the greatest films of all time. Instead, it's just a technically impressive, high quality action film that is easy to forget once you leave the theater. That's kind of sad.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, "I want David Yates' hide" -- LOL! I agree with you about the Potter films, they don't even compare the books in the slightest.

I think you're absolutely right about the relationship between Sam and Frodo, and that's another example of loss of characterization. When they start, I don't get the feeling that Frodo really thinks of Sam as anything more than a servant. And Sam may or may not care for Frodo. They are nice to each other and Sam certain looks after Frodo, but he's not really a "true friend". But by the end, Sam is more like a mother/father to Frodo and when Frodo starts accusing him of being out to get him (because of the ring) those are heartbreaking scenes. In the film, it's just another plot hurdle.

Even Gollum has been changed. In the book, he seems to vacillate between genuinely wanting to become good again and still being evil. It's a definite fight with his inner demons, brought on by the influence of the ring. But in the films, he's more of a victim of split personality. Again, I think Jackson just thought it would be easier to break him into two than it would be to convey inner struggles. It's like a dumbing down of his soul.

I see similar problems in each of the relationships actually. All of the personal hurdles they overcame and the growth they experienced in the books is gone and is given to them right at the beginning. That robs the viewer of the chance to fall for these characters.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Let me add, you put your finger on it with the reference to World War I. The book is full of Tolkien's observations of WWI -- people who are naive about "adventuring", people who don't understand why it's important to fight, leaders who don't worry about their troops, and then the good people trying to protect everyone else. You even get things like moments of shell shock and religious epiphanies like you might experience on a battlefield.

All of that is lost because the characters literally are presented as they eventually end up in the book, without the chance for the audience to see them grow from their own naivety or to overcome their own fears. And that's too bad, because that's some powerful stuff to build characters around and to use to pull in the audience.

CrispyRice said...

Very well written, Andrew. You've put your finger on several of the points that bug the heck out of me, but I've never quite been able to frame.

Tam said...

I totally agree. LOTR is essential reading, second only to scripture. My dad bases real life character judgements on whether people have read the books, and if so, whether they liked them. If you haven't read them, you might get a pass, but if you didn't like them, all your words and actions are suspect. I was still able to enjoy the movies because (Viggo Mortenson) my brain and heart already have the stories inside and fill in all the blanks. However, over the top CGI is a killer every time.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Crispy! :-)

It's funny because I couldn't quite put my finger on it at first either. I kept thinking, why do these films feel so flat? They've got so much going for them and they largely mirror the plot. So what's the problem. Then I started to realize that I just had a hard time caring about the characters themselves and it slowly came into focus.

And as I've said before, this is really too bad because these could have been incredible movies.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, I'm glad you agree! :-)

That's great! And frankly, your dad's test is an excellent test! These books really encapsulate all of the better parts of human nature and if someone doesn't like the books, then they should indeed be suspect! (I actually don't know anyone personally who doesn't like the books.)

I am able to enjoy the films too for the same reason. As I've said, I think these are good films. They just aren't anywhere near what they could have or should have been. And like you, I fill in a lot of the parts with my knowledge from the books.

The CGI just kills me every time. It has an incredible power to ruin scenes for me, and it does affect several scenes in these films for me. Grrr. If I ever get around to learning to edit DVDs, I'm going to take some of those moments out to hopefully improve my enjoyment of the film.

George Lucas said...

What do you mean, take the CGI out?!?!?! That's the best part of the films, dude! Look at how much better I made the original trilogy by going back and adding stuff in to create the "revised edition"! Not to mention the cinematic wonder that was the prequels...

AndrewPrice said...

Oh George, LOL! Where did it all go wrong my friend? I'll make you a bet George. Let me re-write the prequels and then we shoot them on my terms and we'll see if they make more money than your versions!

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I guess that's a fair point. If you haven't read the books (why ISN'T there a Commentarama reading list, by the way?), then you could definitely get lost. I was able to follow it for the most part, so I guess it wasn't a problem for me personally.

Still don't get the whole "leaving the shire" thing, though. That doesn't sound like a very good reason to go away and never come back. Oh well, maybe it's one of those you'll-understand-when-you're-older deals.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, As I mention above, I can (and do) still enjoy the films. It's just that they could have been SO MUCH better than they were. Could you imagine with these technical values if you also really, truly cared about the characters? This film could be epic. Instead, it's just a very good novelty.

I think to understand him leaving, you have to get that the Shire is a metaphor for the English.

At the start of "The Hobbit," Bilbo is very much a normal Hobbit. He doesn't know about anything beyond the Shire and he doesn't want to know. This is his whole world and he is happy they are isolated. That's how they all feel.

In the Hobbit, he learns that there are great benefits to seeing the world and being part of it, rather than just limiting himself to the Shire. This changed him and he fits in kind of poorly thereafter.

In LOTR, Frodo (who has been infected with Bilbo's stories) realizes that the Shire really isn't isolated. They are in the middle of a larger, more dangerous world that does not respect their desire to remain isolated. So when he says he's leaving, this is a symbolic moment where Tolkien is saying that some people need to go defend the Shire even as others want to put their heads in the sand. The fact he doesn't plan to come back tells us that Tolkien gets that you can never go home again to the simple life once you grasp the nature of the larger world, i.e. Frodo knows he can never be happy in the Shire again because he knows it's living in a false-reality.

This is the same way that returning soldiers from the two worlds moved to the cities and travelled the world because they could no longer be content just living on the farm and hoping their countries stayed neutral.

That's my take on it. Maybe someone else has a different view?

JG said...

Re: leaving the Shire. That was my interpretation, too. However, Tolkien also gives us the contrast of Sam settling down and being happy in the Shire. Because Sam has roots there, his old family and his new wife and children, it's still home for him. Frodo didn't have those roots there, so the Shire had no more hold on him than any other part of the world.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, Excellent point. In fact, now that you mention it, of all the characters, Sam is the least affected by the whole story. He's thrilled to see the elephants and the Elves, but this is just a day trip as far as he is concerned.... his nature never changes, i.e. he remains the same old ultra-practical-and-reliable Sam, and he never once waivers from the desire to return to his life in Shire. Maybe there's a point here about the value of having familial roots to grounding us in the world? That would very much be consistent with the religious overtones of the story?

Anonymous said...

I never read the books - this genre never really did it for me anyway.

[dodges thrown objects and Tam's father's eagle eye!]

Having said that, I enjoyed the films though I haven't watched them in years and I still haven't seen the extended versions, despite owning them all this time (and I plan on buying the Blu-Ray set, too).

You do hit on something I see a lot in comic book movies (which is partly why I'm content to wait for Netflix nowadays): the workmanlike (perfunctory?) nature of the plot. It simply goes from A to B to C. "Oh, it's been fifteen minutes. We need a battle scene now," etc. What's ironic is that all the successful movies follow a similar formula but you're not supposed to be aware of it as you watch!

"...adding Roger Rabbit to Saving Private Ryan"

Man, now I wish they had done that Roger Rabbit sequel they'd been talking about: Toon Platoon. But that's another story.

Has your phone clicked yet? ;-)

(We've been added to Threedonia's blogroll.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, shakes head

This is one of those you should read as a classic, not as a genre book because this is the one that invented the genre and it's much richer than anything else you will find in the genre. These books really are one of the all-time greatest classics and everyone should read them.

And as I've said above, I enjoy the films too, but not nearly as much as I should have.

I think that "perfunctory and workmanlike" feeling is the result of Hollywood taking the character out of the characters. It's not easy to develop characters, especially when you only have 98 minutes to do it -- and really especially when you're trying to make your film to reach many different cultures, i.e. the US, China, India, Europe, etc. Since the chance of failure increases as you try more complex things, Hollywood has decided that it's better to be safe than sorry. So they make the characters cardboard with only hints of fake characterization. That's why these films feel flat -- because they are. They are a series of events interspersed only the minimal amount of time needed to give the appearance of building characters. Essentially, it's like watching a highlight reel with some wasted moments between the highlights. And until that changes, Hollywood won't turn out another film that you care about.

You should call Speilberg and suggest Toon Platoon! LOL!

No, the phone hasn't rung yet, but it will. ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, On the reading list, let me think about it. That might not be a bad idea. We could even open CommentaramaBooks.... then I would go insane because of the workload! 8-)

I guess the question is, should be books you should have read to get Commentarama or books we recommend?

JG said...

Re: Sam - I also think one of the reasons he was the least to change was that he was the one most anxious to return to the Shire (if I remember correctly). Frodo wanted the mission to be completed, but Sam wanted to go *home*.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I think there's no doubt they came at this from different perspectives. Frodo saw this as a battle between good and evil that he had to fight because it was the morally right thing to do. For him, it was a matter of "I'm the guy who got stuck with it and so I have to do it."

Sam, on the other hand, saw this as his duty to the people he loved. Which is also probably why Sam never fell for the rings influence even as it was able to influence everyone else around him -- because he had a solid, unbreakable motivation that had already overpowered him and couldn't be replaced and he had no further plans beyond that. By comparison, Frodo's motivation was more abstract and thus could be tricked with ideas like "using and evil ring to do good." Sam never bought into that because his goals were clearer to him.

T-Rav said...

Heresy, Scott! I say HERESY!!!

Okay, Andrew and JG, I guess that answers my question. I didn't know that Bilbo was at one time not filled with wanderlust, so that makes it a little clearer.

I did know, though, that the books were partly a statement about old, rural England--the hobbits equal the set-in-his-ways Englishman, the Shire is self-explanatory, etc. And there's a lot of speculation that the Elvish language is taken from an Old English dialect (Mercian, I think).

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, If you haven't read "The Hobbit," I highly recommend it. It's a quick read and it's a really nice book. Also, the Bilbo you see in that one is much more like the Shire-folk.

The LOTR is one of those books that you kind of have to read in light of the historical times of the author to understand what all is going on. Like with Orwell, you don't have to understand the author to enjoy the book, but it helps you get the full picture of what they are saying. In fact, I think it's the social commentary aspect of these books that gives the characters their depth because they do represent the kinds of attitudes you find all around you in the real world -- rather than just being cardboard cut outs of generic heroes or generic sidekicks.

I thought Elvish was based on Fortran? ;-)

T-Rav said...

Don't mock me, Andrew--it's a real dialect! Sheesh, learn your early medieval England, will ya?

Like I said, I'm trying to find the time to read all these. From having read "Fellowship" (and actually the end of "Return of the King," now that I think about it), I was aware of the historical context of it all. Also, as an aside, I honestly liked reading up on the supposed roots and genealogies of the hobbits and such, unlike a lot of people. Oh well, I'm weird like that.

If there were to be a book list/site, I'd say it should be mostly recommended reading. Some philosophical, some light fiction...stuff like that.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, medieval England? Never heard of it. I think you're making that up. ;-)

You're on vacation now, right? Well, chop chop... start reading. Just kidding. I would recommend reading "The Hobbit" first, by the way. If you really like genealogy, then you might want to try reading "The Silmarillion." I thought it was a pretty horrible experience, but it's crawling with genealogy. It's kind of like Tolkien's re-write of the Bible and it gives the history of the Elves and the Orcs before the Lord of the Rings.

I'll see what I can do about a reading list.

Ed said...

Andrew, Excellent review and great discussion. I don't know what I would add except to emphasize the problems with the CGI, which drives me nuts.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed. I'm in the same boat, as I've said repeatedly. Bad CGI is like tossing a cartoon rabbit into a serious movie -- it just ruins everything. But they keep on insisting.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Oustanding review, Andrew!

I can forgive leaving Tom Bombadil out of the movie and a few other things IF there's good characterization goin' on.

In fact, that's my favorite part of movies and books.

It's the one thing that'll keep me hooked even if the cgi or special effects are bad or the plot is weak.
I can think of a lot of movies that nail the characters but didn't do so well in other areas and yet I'll watch movies like that over and over because I care about the characters.

Except for what I call the nihilist genre that many independents and hollywood seem to think we can't get enough of.

Some of those flicks might be even be masterpieces and brilliantly done but if I don't give a flying fig for the characters why would I watch flicks like this?

I mean, could watch any number of hoarder reality shows or something similar if I wanna see depressed and extremely selfish people but at least they are slightly more interesting than nihilists (still hard to care about them though. I do feel bad for the kids if there are kids involved but I have no desire to watch it).

Of course "reality" shows don't compare to movies. I only brought them up to make the character point.

Getting back to LOTR after that convoluted detour...shallow characterization is the reason I seldom watch it. Perhaps once every or four years and only because I read the books several times and can do the fill in the large empty places like everyone else has mentioned that read the books.

BTW, the Silmarillion does have a few stories in it, as well as poetry, songs, history of middle earth and what you mentioned (if one can trudge through it does answer some questions one might wonder about and a few you might not have considered).
Or one can search for the answers on the net I suppose.

You are right on about the unecessary cgi as well, and it is irritating and distracting.
I'd much rather watch a movie with poor effects and no cgi if the characters and story is decent that a brazillion orcs, humans, elves, mummies (oops, that's The Mummy 3, sorry!) fight.
Especially since the numbers are way off in LOTR.

Like the Chronicles of Narnia (written by Tolkien's good friend C.S. Lewis) there is indeed a Christian allegory in the LOTR although not as obvious as the Narnia books.

Incidently, you also said what I was gonna say about Frodo not being able to settle in the Shire, particularly since he didn't have roots like Sam did.

I reckon most vets (at least in my experience) never quite feel at home anywhere if they don't have family.

Kosh said...

I agree about the movies: awesome but a little flat and silly at times. The book was good but sort of redundant. I am sure I missed a deeper meaning but drafting the ghosts to defeat the orcs always felt like a cheat to me. I think the book could have been tightened up a lot. I actually enjoyed The Hobbit much better.

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, Thanks! I'm glad you liked it!

I agree entirely about the issue of character versus everything else. If the characters are engaging then the effects don't matter to me. Yes, I love having good effects with good characters, but the characters are the important part. If they are good, I can forgive a lot. If they aren't, then even great CGI can't save the film.

In this case, what's sad is that they did such a great job on so much of the film technically -- great costumes, great sets, great acting.... and then they make two critical mistakes that really suck out the emotion and keep these films from being what they could have been. What makes it all the more frustrating is that the things they fail to do are in the book, so it's not even like they had to think them up -- they just had to keep them in the story.

In The Mummy I can almost forgive the bad CGI more because the show is much campier. Here it really intrudes on a very dramatic movie -- like I say, it's like adding a cartoon rabbit to a war film.

That's an interesting take on Frodo, with your sailor background. I suppose that's exactly what Tolkien is talking about, that sending these people off to war when they don't have families to return to just created a whole "lost generation" that had no particular home? Whereas Sam was much more grounded and fit back in happily -- though perhaps with a little broader perspective on the world than he had before.

On The Silmarillion it probably wasn't as horrible as I made it sound, but I definitely do not want people trying to read it on my having mentioned it. It's a hard read that will not be worth it for most people. But, I can tell you that I too keep pieces of it in my head and use them as background for LOTR.

At some point I will need to review the Narnia films. But that will be a long time down the road. First, I need to re-read the books and then re-watch the films. People love them a lot more than I do and I need to give them another shot to see if I was just in a bad mood -- which is possible, I have at times completely changed my view on films upon rewatching them.

I agree entirely on modern nihilism. That seems to be what Hollywood does best these days and it's unfortunate because it tends to foreclose a lot of much more interesting stories. For example, when your characters don't care about anything, it's hard to get them into any situation that is too tense.

AndrewPrice said...


By the way, I think it's interesting that everyone seems to agree on this point about the characters being shallow.

I was genuinely expecting a good deal of "oh no, you're wrong... these are great." When the films first came out, anyone who suggested they weren't great was usually taken out back and shot. But I guess over time, people have started to realize that these weren't as strong as the "experience" made them seem. I wonder how they will hold up in the future? I'll bet you this means they could be replaced by a new version at some point and will be forgotten.

AndrewPrice said...

Kosh, I think there are parts that could have been trimmed, but not as many as I see in so many other books. So while I agree that it could be trimmed a bit, I think it is mostly very well written -- especially compared to so much else that's out there these days.

I actually don't like the ghosts either. I kind of get the significance of it, but just in terms of the story itself it feels like an easy out. I'm not a fan of last minute surprises that solve a problem the characters can't solve on their own.

In terms of enjoyment, I can't really compare them. "The Hobbit" is such a great little story that I absolutely love it. But then the LOTR is such an epic story that I just can't put it down. So I really can't pick a favorite between the two. If I had to pick a favorite, it would come down to whichever one I read last.

It will be interesting to see how they do turning "The Hobbit" into a film. I think that one may translate easier. But we'll see.

El Gordo said...

What makes me angry is that the movies could have been true masterpieces - not equal to the book but worthy adaptations - if Jackson only was a better storyteller and less self-indulgent with the action and effects. But he never knows when to stop. Take the extended scenes on the DVD of "Return of the King". Instead of deepening the story by, for example, giving us more on Denethor and his Palanthir, he gives us an avalanche of skulls. And comic relief. And a pointless cameo.

Orson Welles was a wiser man at 26. But then one was doing Shakespeare and the other splatter movies.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, I absolutely agree.

"What makes me angry is that the movies could have been true masterpieces" -- is exactly how I feel about these films.

They are good films and I enjoy them, but they are needlessly flat. And it's very frustrating to see them and to know that if Jackson had paid more attention to the characters, he could have created films that are truly unforgettable and which you want to revisit over and over. But he didn't do that and now there's no emotional attachment to the story at all because the characters don't mean anything to us. It's truly a shame, and it's frustrating that a production that was so careful in other ways was so negligent in this one critical detail.

Teresa said...

After seeing the first movie I started to read the series. For the most part the movie kept true to the book without delving deep into the relationships between the characters except ever so subtly. They did tell of Aragorn's struggle in the wilderness and showed his inner struggle to go after the throne until Return of the King.

Til this day I love both the books and the trilogy.

Kosh said...

Jeez Andrew don't you ever sleep? I don't want to leave an impression that I didn't enjoy reading LOTR, I just don't have the desire to reread it, although that may just be a reflection of my personality. I rarely reread a book; too many good ones I haven't read yet. I think there are people who love the genera so much they limit themselves to certain books. But I don't have that desire. Over the last few years I like to occasionally challenge myself and tackle a difficult book. Lately, I have been fighting my way through Absolom, Absolom! Faulkner is very difficult to follow but with help from experts who have written on the book I have been able to get into it. It is a very different style of writing and forces you to change how you think.

If there is a genera I really like it is the short story and short novel. Epic stories can be great, but it takes excellent writing to keep a full story short. The ultimate short story is the sonnet, which admittedly I have only just come to appreciate.

AndrewPrice said...

Teresa, I love the books and I like the films, but I don't feel much of an emotional connection to the films -- and certainly not as much as the books.

To me, the biggest divergence from the first book was the Liv Tyler character. I think there was no reason for them to try to build a romance there as one occurs later in the books. But that doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of the films.

AndrewPrice said...

Kosh, I will re-read books, but only ones that I really, really enjoyed, and there are only a handful of those. Like you, I prefer to read something new because there is so much I haven't read yet. But sometimes I just feel like re-reading something.

In terms of genres, when I was in engineering school, I quickly discovered that I was losing my ability to read because you just don't read literature in engineering school. So I dug up a list of classics and I started reading through it. That got me reading things I never would have considered under normal circumstances. Some of it was excellent, some of it was garbage -- there were only a couple I didn't finish because they were that bad. But I'm glad I read the things I read, even the garbage, because I feel it was all worth the time.

Sadly, as a lawyer my reading has dropped off because I spend my whole day reading, so it's kind of hard to get myself to read in my spare time too. And now with the blog, I find that I spend most of my "reading" time reading about politics.

But I'm getting a kindle, which I think will help increase my pleasure reading again.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Kosh, sleep... yeah... there's the catch. :-(

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew, on Narnia: It has been quite awhile since I read the books but as I recall, the Christian theology in Narnia is much less subtle than in LOTR.

No surprise there since Lewis wrote several books about Christianity (some very helpful in answering many hard questions, IMO) as well as apologetics for it.

However, I didn't enjoy the Narnia books as much as The Hobbit/LOTR books.
There's several reasons for this, but the first and foremost reason is difficulty (for me) relating to the heroes.

Children can certainly relate better to children heroes than I can. Narnia books are also easier for smaller children to grasp than LOTR.

Well, so is the Hobbit for that matter but the LOTR is not written for young children (although Mom and/or Dad could certainly read it to young children with some parental editing...but expect lots more questions than you might normally get from other books, lol).

I don't think one can really compare these two great works of art head-to-head without keeping in mind who the intended audience was.

Anyways, the Narnia movies weren't entirely faithful to the books from what I recall (haven't seen the latest one yet) but they were fairly good and inspirational (and one doesn't need to be a Christian to be inspired by them).

I would definitely be more comfortable with smaller children watching the first two Narnia films than LOTR and the films were entertaining enough to keep my interest and they are more family friendly (if your family happens to have young children or grandchildren).

However, the films are more subtle than the books as far as Christian theology is concerned and I'm okay with that since the films (at least thus far) still capture many Judeo/Christian principles and most of the essence or substance that Lewis weaved into the Narnia tales...just in a slightly different style and without as much reference to the world wars (again, as far as I recall).

IRT the first two Narnia flicks, the characterization ain't bad (better in the first one than the second, I think).
They could've gone deeper, IMO, and it would've only helped the films be more successful.

Still, much better than the LOTR as far as characterization goes and you can see the characters grow.
But the LOTR was better in every other aspect.
I could definitely tell that at least the first two Narnia films had a much smaller budget than LOTR.

I think it is better charaterization in Narnia that have kept these films successful enough to make a profit and keep going despite having problems in other areas (hopefully they addressed some of the bigger problems in the latest one).

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Thanks!

My issue with reviewing the Narnia films is that I haven't read the book since 6th grade and I'm not even sure I read them all. So I'd like to re-read them before I open my mouth.

Plus, I didn't enjoy the films enough when I saw them that I paid enough attention to really give an opinion. I think, like you, I have a hard time relating to children as the main characters -- with the exception of Harry Potter. Plus, the stories just seemed very slow to me. So before I say anything about them, I want to re-watch them and make sure that I wasn't just in a bad mood or whatever.

In fact, with the exception of Inception, I've always watched these films multiple times before I reviewed them -- even the bad ones.

All of that is the long way of saying, that I don't want to give an opinion without more study.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good call Andrew.
I often will rewatch (or watch for the first time) films you review.
I did that with Predators a few nights ago and enjoyed it more than the first time I watched it.
While I enjoyed it the first time I had missed some details that you mentioned that made it more enjoyable in light of them. :^)

IRT Narnia, yes, bad pacing will certainly hurt a film almost as much as a bad story and not enough emphasis on the characters.
That's one of the glaring problems I hope they solved with Dawn Treader.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Thanks! I appreciate that! Indeed, my goal is to give people something to think about so that maybe they'll see something new in films they've already seen or will watch ones they haven't. :-)

As an interesting aside, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favorite musicals. But the first time I watched it, I HATED it. I didn't like anything about it. But I gave it a second chance and found some things I liked. So I gave it a third chance and soon I was hooked. So I've learned to always test the first impression again!

Yeah, bad pacing can really hurt a film -- either too slow or too fast. My impression of Narnia (and again, this isn't confirmed yet by a repeated viewing) is that it was too slow. But who knows, maybe I'll like it better on rewatch? It's definitely got a lot of good things in it, and I know some people who love the films. So I will definitely give it a second chance.

Mike K. said...

I first read LOTR when I was 7, and have reread it every couple of years since, enjoying it more each time. (I even like the poetry now, if you can believe it!)

I ended up, on the whole, enjoying the Jackson version. But then, I enjoyed the Bakshi version too. When the source material is so strong, it's hard to go too far wrong.

Anyway, I agree with just about everything you've said here, and I'd go even further: not only were the characters flattened, but in some cases they were flat-out betrayed.

It started at the end of the first film, which I'd enjoyed immensely up until the fracturing of the Fellowship. In the film, Aragorn chooses not to follow Frodo because he fears the temptation of the Ring. The real Aragorn agonizes over this decision, which he makes based on a number of factors--but not temptation. As he said in Bree, if he wanted the Ring, he could have it, NOW.

So the first movie left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I still saw it a second time in the theater, because it was so beautifully shot.

In the second film, it was Faramir's turn to get the Aragorn treatment. Turning the noble and heroic son of Denethor into a carbon copy of Boromir was pointless. Leave his character out of the film if you don't understand him, but don't do this. This pissed me off, and I only saw this one once in the theater.

In the third film, very early on we have Frodo turning on Sam and preferring Gollum's company. I walked out of the theater, and asked for my money back. (I didn't get it--does that ever work? It's the only time I ever tried.)

Since then, I watched the 3rd film on DVD and it gets better after that part.

Either Peter Jackson doesn't understand noble characters, or he doesn't think audiences will find nobility believable. It's a shame.

A few other points:

Legolas and Gimli played the counting game at Helm's Deep in the book, too. This was the point where their friendship began to blossom, sparked by Gimli's reverence for the Lady Galadriel. It might have been played in a more silly fashion in the movie, but only having seen it once I can't recall.

I don't think Frodo left Middle Earth because of wanderlust, but because he had been too damaged by his ordeal. The burden of the Ring had been too much for him, especially after nearly becoming a wraith after the attack on Weathertop. Every ounce of his strength had been used up, as you can see in the Scouring of the Shire chapter omitted from the film, where he is very passive. His only hope of healing is in the Blessed Realm.

I also wouldn't recommend the Silmarillion to anyone, although a knowledge of that book deepens your appreciation for some of LOTR, Galadriel's refusal of the Ring, in particular. If you're in love with Middle Earth, you'll end up reading it anyway, but if the only reason you're thinking about reading it is someone's recommendation, don't bother. Either way, don't expect anything like the Hobbit or LOTR. It's more like reading Beowulf or the Iliad.

Lastly, I'd recommend the Tolkien Professor podcast to anyone who loves the books. Corey Olson (sp?) is a professor of English literature and these are really fantastic. He started off analyzing the Hobbit chapter-by-chapter, which sadly stopped around the time they entered Mirkwood, but there's also some great Q&As, and he taught a Tolkien course which was recorded and posted in podcast form.

Whew! This was my longest comment ever!

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, Long comment! ;-)

I haven't heard of the Olson/Tolkien podcast. Do you have a link?

I agree with you about the characters. Sadly, I didn't have a lot of room left to go into too much depth about all of the characters -- this was already my longest review and, as you know, this is the kind of film you could write a book about.

I think Jackson removed all of the elements of nobility, self-sacrifice, "love" (in a nonsexual way) between the companions, and all the things that transform them from a separate group of people with bug flaws to becoming a true family/brotherhood that lives up to some of the highest aspiration of human nature. I don't know if he didn't get it or if he think he couldn't sell it to modern audiences and it was just easier to give them non-complicated, cardboard characters. But whatever his reasoning, he really blew a huge opportunity here to create something truly special.

I think the fact that so many people love these books and have gone back to re-reading them over and over is evidence of their strength and that they go well beyond just the plots. But what Jackson has done really limits the films to being all about the plots.

I love that you walked out. And no, I don't think you ever get your money back! LOL!

You're right about Aragorn too, he could have had the ring at any time, so again Jackson has the motivation wrong.

They did do the counting game at Helms Deep in the book, but it was minor and was over fairly quickly -- more of a good-natured bragging. But in the film, I thought they turned the whole thing into a total videogame. Also, they continue it throughout the rest of the movie. I think Jackson saw this as a way to make the killing more palatable to modern audience by "dehumanizing" the orcs, rather than as something the two friend do to encourage each other.

Agreed on The Silmarillion.

On Frodo leaving, that is a good point and certainly is consistent with the ending. But I think that he sells Bag End early on and says he's not planning to come back, which is my basis for the comments above.

The Sam/Frodo/Gollum thing bothered me a lot too. For one thing, Gollum has been designated comic relief in that group, and that's not at all what he is. He's the twisted wreckage of so many years of pure evil (another concept Jackson probably doesn't understand). He may be finally breaking out of that, but he's still twisted and warped. In the film, he's portrayed more as having multiple personalities. And while he does talk to himself in the book, he's talking to himself, he's not talking to a different self. Also, I think what makes that part of the story so interesting is the combination of the ring's influence versus Frodo's humanity, as evidenced by his desire to be nice to Gollum. That's why he acts the way he does. Sam, on the other hand, who is not under the ring's influence is much more practical. And that sets up the interesting dynamic But that's all lost in the film, so Jackson creates this fake tension by having Frodo act like Sam and Gollum are two co-equal choices, i.e. he doesn't grasp that Frodo's relationship to Sam is love and his relationship to Gollum is pity/human decency.

It really is like Jackson just didn't understand the characters or made a decision to strip them down to nothing more than people who need to carry out the plot.

Individualist said...

I guess I am forgetting the film but it did seem that they glossed over the choice Arwen made to stay with Aragorn at the end. A choice that would mean she gives up her immortality.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I'm glad you found the film site! Hopefully, we'll have a lot of cool stuff coming up here.

I think you're right. They make the point early on that that she's immortal and he isn't, while they're still in Rivendell, but after that, I think they ignore it.

Mike K. said...

Andrew, it's there if you search for "Tolkien Professor" in iTunes, or I think this link will work:

Best to start at the beginning--the last few months haven't been Tolkien-related.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Mike! I'll check that out!

Here's the link:


kishke said...

The counting game is not Jackson's invention. It was much mentioned in the books at the battle of Helm's Deep.

I was disappointed for many reasons, beginning with the body-slamming battle of Saruman and Gandalf. But my greatest disappointment in terms of character was Aragorn. The Strider I know from the books was not a handsome man; witness the description of him at the events in Bree. So who do we get? Pretty Viggo Mortensen.

I wasn't too pleased either with that dorky Elrond and his weird harido. We're waiting for the man of deep wisdom, the calm pool, the last great one of a great age, and instead I get this? Nah.

I could go on and on, but what's the point? I'll keep the nobler images and faces I imagined during the many times I read the book. They are far truer to what Tolkein intended.

kishke said...

I just read some previous comments and saw that my point re. the counting game had already been made. Sorry for the repeat. I saw also a comment re. Faramir that called to mind the way Jackson totally missed the boat on Denethor. Tolkein's Denethor is an ascetic; a man who battles and suffers constantly for Gondor. He has been led astray by Sauron, but his devotion to Gondor is never in question. Jackson's Denethor is a glutton, who gorges himself uncaringly while his men die at Orcish hands. I hated - yes, hated - the scene that intercuts shots of Denethor stuffing his face and the doomed charge against the Orcs.

Re. the Silmarillon: It was a disappointment when I read it only b/c I was expecting another LOTR. But for anyone who really wants to understand Tolkein's world, it's a must. And I would recommend as well some of the posthumous stuff: The Book of the Lost Tales and the like. All kinds of good stuff there. Beren, Luthine, Hurin, Turin, and so on. You've got to be the type who likes getting in to detail, but if you are, it's enjoyable stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

kiske, Excellent points!

On the counting game, I could have said that better -- my point wasn't that Jackson invented it, but he turned it into this running game that made their struggle trivial. I read Tolkien as using it more as good-natured ribbing between the two new friends.

I totally agree about Denthor. He is a troubling character in the book because you know he's not right anymore and yet no one can do anything about it because you don't just overthrow a ruler because you suspect his judgment isn't right anymore. But his motivation is always to save his people, even as he sinks further and further into a sort of insanity, he's still doing what he thinks will save his people. By comparison, the film version is a glutton who appears power mad and nasty for no apparent reason. In fact, it almost seems that he's just upset that Gandalf is bringing back the rightful king. I thought this was horrible as well.

Yeah, Elrond was not at all who I expected. I like Hugo Weaving a lot in The Matrix, but he's far too angry to play the wise and calm Elrond.

I definitely agree about the body slamming. That was more like WWF wrestling than a battle between wizards. In fact, the whole sequence seemed too much like a cartoon fight scene rather than the cerebral struggle/betrayal it should have been.

On Viggo, I think the problem is that Hollywood has decided that "pretty-boys" are the thing. They rarely use "rugged" looking actors anymore except as character actors. And Strider is very rugged, having lived his whole life in the woods. I also think Viggo lost Strider's edge. Strider was a very likable guy, but there was no doubt he could lay the law down when he wanted to. Viggo's Strider is too sensitive. I literally can't see him giving orders -- just begging everyone to follow him.

On "The Silmarillon," it's very hard for me to recommend it because it's such a difficult read. But I am glad I read it and like you and some of the others, it fills in a big part of the picture of Middle Earth and I think it has given me an even better understanding of the "LOTR" and "The Hobbit."

kishke said...

Strider was a scary guy. In Bree they thought of him as a highwayman. When the hobbits first met him, they thought he was one of the enemy. Is Mortensen a scary guy? Maybe in A History of Violence, and even then only when he's half out of his mind with rage, but not here. Tolkein described Aragorn as gold that does not glitter, the idea being that there's great nobility, but it's deeply hidden. Mortensen is all glittery and shiny, a handsome kingling from the start.

AndrewPrice said...

kishke, True. If I remember correctly, everyone in Bree was scared him, including the hobbits. They did think he was a highwayman. And the hobbits didn't trust him for a while. In fact, reading the story the first time, I was pretty sure they had just fallen into enemy hands.

In the film, everyone seems to like him instantly. And you're right that Mortensen just doesn't carry off the level of menace that the character requires. But then, Hollywood won't cast someone more menacing because modern Hollywood is so obsessed with good=beautiful that they would never cast anyone who isn't "pretty" to be a good guy.

kishke said...

Here's another thing that ticked me off (You've got me thinking about this stuff again.); namely, the army of Elves that came to help out at Helm's Deep. Aside from the fact that no such army appeared in the story, for anyone who knows anything at all about LOTR, the idea is absurd. The High Elves had departed Middle Earth long before, after the war with Sauron. Only a very few remained, and they were confined to their strongholds at Lothlorien, Rivendell and with Cirdan. Where did Jackson's Elvish army come from? And why were they needed? Who asked him to invent them? I found it incredibly annoying.

AndrewPrice said...

kishke, I'm glad I got you thinking! That's why I like writing these as compared to just regular reviews, because I like thinking about films and I enjoy talking to other people who think about films.

On your point, let me first say that I have tried to avoid criticizing the movies for making changes to the book. On the one hand, I recognize that books do need to be adapted to make films and also Jackson has the right to make the film however he wants (though I am offended that he claimed to stay true to the book). So I've tried to stick to flaws within the film itself and I've only used a comparison to the book to show how it was done right.

That said, the changes Jackson made go WAY beyond what is called for to convert a book into a film. For example, there was no reason to make Arwen into a woman and create a romance just because Jackson didn't think readers could wait until the romance from the later books. Grrrr.

And I agree totally about the Elves showing up at Helms Deep. For one thing, there were no elves to show up. Secondly, these elves clearly are coming from Galadriel (because the commander is in both places) so why doesn't she show up as well? Also, this many elves should have had no problem taking out the orcs -- the elves are supposed to be special fighters (as even demonstrated in the film by Legolas). Also, why do the elves show up and then they aren't ever seen sharing command? Not to mention, this cheapens the human victory again. Thus, to me, the whole thing was wrong.

There was no point to this except that Jackson thought it would be cool to have these elves show up in their shiny uniforms and it lets him kill a named character to create drama since he couldn't kill any of the others.

It's frustrating that he chose to make these changes rather than focus on actually developing the characters.

kishke said...

Not sure what you mean by "make Arwen into a woman."

AndrewPrice said...

Hmmm. I have no idea what I was thinking. I must have been typing a lot faster than my brain was working. Sorry about that. Please ignore my stupidity. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Ok, Now I remember what I was thinking. It struck me that in the book there was no real evidence of a romance until well after Moria. But in the film, it seems to be a given that they are already a couple -- at least, that's how I took it. That was my point and I meant "girlfriend" not "woman"....

I was also thinking how Elrond sent Glorfindel (not Arwen) to save the Hobbits before they got to Rivendell.

It all got jumbled in my head and I didn't proofread. Sorry about that.

kishke said...

I see what you mean. But that actually didn't bother me. If you read through the appendices in back of Book III, which are full of interesting material, you'll see that the romance between Aragorn and Arwen was in full bloom then and had been for decades. (There's actually some very touching stuff there on the death of Aragorn and the mourning of Arwen.) In that case, the movie works better for me than the book, in which the connection with Arwen comes out of the blue, when he turns down Eowyn, and even then he's not too clear about who he's carrying the torch for. I certainly didn't see that it hurt the story.

And Liv Tyler definitely works for me as Arwen. I thought she was a great casting choice.

But this all reminds me of the scene where he falls into the river and floats there unconscious and has this dream about Arwen. What's that all about? I didn't get the need for it then, and I don't now.

The book is so rich, and has so much to draw upon, that there's very little need to augment it in my view. That's probably why this stuff seems so egregious to me.

AndrewPrice said...

That's true, it just struck me that they were trying to inject a romance into the first film for fear of losing viewers who weren't prepared to wait. But I see your point.

I agree that there's no need to augment the book, but I think that's actually the problem -- Jackson didn't understand the book and he stripped out the parts that gave it character and then he substituted standard Hollywood characters to suit his film.

kishke said...

I was also thinking how Elrond sent Glorfindel (not Arwen) to save the Hobbits before they got to Rivendell.

I just noticed this point you made. I agree. This annoyed me. What, now Arwen is a warrior maiden? C'mon. We should count ourselves lucky he didn't dress her in leather straps or something, and have her kick butt like one of the guys.

I remember watching the film the first time and looking forward to meeting Glorfindel, and then who shows up but Arwen!

AndrewPrice said...

kishke, Yeah, that was what upset me about the Liv Tyler character. There was no reason to do that, except that they thought it would help attract young girls to give Tyler a more active role. But, as you say, at least they didn't turn her into some sort of super warrior -- though I'm sure they thought about it!

Post a Comment