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Tony Grist

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Random Remarks After Watching The Fellowship Of The Ring On TV [Dec. 18th, 2016|02:19 pm]
Tony Grist
I found the Lord of the Rings movies almost unbearably tedious in the cinema but enjoy watching them on TV- where the ads break the action into bite-sized portions- and one can enjoy the spectacular set pieces without bothering too much about the story.

Ralph Bakshi, who had a go at filming the trilogy in the 70s, said of his difficulties that "epics tend to drag". That's a true word.

Tolkien isn't a particularly good writer. Fidelity to the books may have been required by the fanbase but proves artistically limiting.  An able screenwriter- given their head- could have buffed up the characterization, given the dialgue some zip, eliminated plot holes, removed absurdities. If it had been me I'd have started by knocking Merry and Pippin on the head. And I'd have shortened some of the action sequences in order to find room for Tom Bombadil, Goldberry and the barrow wights.

What does Sauron actually want from life?  To turn Middle Earth into a simulacrum of 19th century Stoke-on-Trent?  But even the grimmest 19th century industrialists didn't actually want to live in the hell holes they created. They built their factories, drew the income, retired to castles in Scotland.

And Hitler- so far as we know- never so much as visited the death camps. He built himself a place in the mountains, surrounded by lovely views.

True epic- Gilgamesh for instance or the Iliad- is pre-Christian and doesn't play at goodies and baddies. Its moral complexity makes it the fore-runner not of modern epic (eg Tolkien) but of the 19th century psychological novel.

Frodo is dull; there's no humour to him, no quirks. He just suffers a lot- like Little Nell. Merry and Pippin are that dire thing- a comedy double act which faisl to amuse.  Sam is the perfect batman as seen de haut by his amused and condescending employer. The actors who play hobbits add nothing to the characters as Tolkien wrote them- which is a missed opportunity.

McKellen has a lovely warm voice- but is one of those old time stage actors who is always visibly and audibly acting.  It's a joy to watch Christopher Lee in anything. Same goes for Sean Bean- a very good actor who should have had more opportunities. Viggo Mortensen has presence. Orlando Bloom doesn't. John Rhys-Davies is buried in false hair and prosthetics.

Elves are Victorian angels minus the wings. Solemn, abstracted, humourless. Who'd want to have to play one?

The black riders are Sauron's weapons of mass destruction but keep failing miserably: they fail to sniff out the hobbits when they're under their noses, back off from getting their robes wet at the ferry, fall for an obvious trick at The Prancing Pony and get chased away by Aragorn when it's four against one. This is Tolkien's fault, of course- as many things are *.

One of Tolkien's greatest strengths as a writer- his sense of place- doesn't translate to the screen. The New Zealand landscapes are magnificent, but generic- which Tolkien's never are.

 Orc archers- like German soldiers in almost any war film you care to mention- are lousy shots.

I love the whooshy blue world Frodo enters when he puts on the ring.

The ugly-wuglies are beautifully designed.

The ambition is awesome. And so is the achievement. The Lord of the Rings is an unfilmable book but, by golly, Peter Jackson went and filmed it. You can accuse the result of anything but insincerity. So many big, mainstream films are cynical affairs- and this absolutely isn't.  The books and the movies stand shoulder to shoulder- cultural artefacts of an equal height and density- long to reign over our imaginations...

[User Picture]From: negothick
2016-12-18 06:01 pm (UTC)
The anti-Jackson camp (many are here on LJ. I'm not one) do have a point: these images cannot be unseen. For Tolkien readers post-film (everyone who came of reading age after 2001), these actors are the way they visualize the characters, and New Zealand IS Middle-Earth.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-18 06:48 pm (UTC)
Jackson's films look wonderful but I miss the specificity of Tolkien's landscapes.

I don't belong in either camp. I have a certain affection for Tolkien but I'm not exactly a fan- and I can see that the movies are remarkable in their own right.
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[User Picture]From: butterscotch711
2016-12-18 06:24 pm (UTC)
In the (Australian) summer that the first LOTR movie came out, I spent weeks forcing myself to read/constantly procrastinating about reading The Fellowship of the Ring, because 'you have to read the book first'. After I finally finished and saw the movie (which I did like more) I felt stark grief that I'd wasted so much of my summer holiday.

I appreciate your last paragraph. I think there was something very earnest about the way early 00s audiences took on LOTR.

(Also I ended up quite liking the second and third movies. Never returned to the books though.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-18 07:03 pm (UTC)
I came to Tolkien before he was a cult. I had a schoolmaster in the early 60s who read the first two books to us in class- as a treat- on Friday afternoons. They made an impression. I read the third book for myself in my teens- and don't remember caring for it that much.

I re-read the whole trilogy as an adult and found it quite good fun but not particularly enthralling. I retain an affection for Tolkien but I'm not besotted.
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[User Picture]From: butterscotch711
2016-12-19 02:55 pm (UTC)
I read The Hobbit as a kid and loved it, so much that remembering it (without the filter of later experiences) still gives me a warm feeling. Maybe I should try the books again now that I'm not in late adolescence and secretly wishing to do lots of things with my summer holiday other than read.

The people I know who really love Tolkien seem to love detailed world-building, though, which I usually only appreciate when a story really gets its hooks into me.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-19 04:37 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure if I've read the Hobbit or not. It's one of those books that are so much part of the culture that you absorb them by osmosis.
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[User Picture]From: idahoswede
2016-12-19 07:24 am (UTC)
I had never read Tolkien before I saw the films and then I went and did so after. I can totally understand your comments. I loved the films on their own. I find that generally films made from books I like do not necessarily fill the bill and there are other films (not many) that are actually better than the books.

As an aside, one thing that really rather bothered me is why is Galadriel constantly walking around very slowly (other than scene stealing)? Perhaps it is intended to convey something very mystical, but it makes me just want to say "Oh for god's sake, stand still, woman!"
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-19 09:37 am (UTC)
I think the Elf scenes are among the least convincing in the film. Rivendell and Lothlorien look much too much like movie sets.
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From: athenais
2016-12-19 08:43 am (UTC)
I am a devoted fan of the LotR books and I also liked the movies very much (though I strenuously dislike Jackson's other movies, I'm definitely not a fan of his). I thought Frodo was ever so romantic and doomed when I was 12, exactly what one wants then, and Pippin and Merry charming, and Sam very dull. I had no idea Frodo wasn't the real hero of the novels when I first read them (1969) and being American I didn't have any idea of what the landscape should look like, so I figured it was sort of like Montana. In that respect, New Zealand seemed like a perfectly fine Middle Earth.

I am still unable to fathom how Orlando Bloom's career ever took off based on him standing around looking faintly constipated.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-12-19 09:43 am (UTC)
I like Jackson's Heavenly Creatures- the one that made a star of Kate Winslett. The only other thing of his I've seen is King Kong which I found terribly overblown. I've seen bits of the first Hobbit film- and it just seemed unnecessary- though Martin Freeman is a definitive Bilbo.

I suppose Orlando Bloom gets gigs because he's so pretty but he's almost totally lacking in presence
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