The LOTR Movie Site
April 6, 2000

It Has Become a Nasty Fan
Iian Neill

I am writing to protest against what I perceive to be a very ignorant and narrow-minded letter that was recently posted onto your site. I am referring to, of course, the article "It Could Become a Nasty Hobbit", written by the anonymous Standard Reporter.

Having read "The Lord of the Rings" a number of times, and being myself an inveterate fan of the fantasy genre, and of any literature that is on a grand scale, and which uses such noble and eloquent language, I share all of the concerns that any fan of the trilogy can be expected to. I have no more wish to see "TLoTR" turned into a commercially-motivated Hollywood polystyrene epic crafted by a cabal of vulgar chairmen who can see no further than their bank balances. But I have been following the development of this film carefully ever since rumors of it appeared on the internet, and I have gone to the trouble to investigate Peter Jackson's oeuvre, as well as to read his statements of his intentions, as well as to look at all of the production art that has been posted on to the internet ... and all of this can be condensed into one statement, uttered, I believe, with justifiable confidence: "The Lord of the Rings movies are in good hands."

Certainly, this isn't the view held by some. The author of the article you posted believes that, with little evidence, this movie trilogy will be "excruciatingly bad". He throws his arms up in horror that the director of this trilogy should actually wish to expand the roles of principal female characters. Now, I certainly wouldn't want the film to become another mainstream piece of schmaltz, but I am willing to give Peter Jackson the benefit of the doubt. None of us has read his final script. None of us knows precisely the extent of the involvement of Arwen, Galadriel or Eowyn in the films. No one but those involved in the production actually know what it is that the female characters are supposed to say or do. But some fans of the books have seen it fitting to assume a haughty mien and deliver a definite thumbs down to any innovation ... and not one of these fans actually knows, for sure, what is being done to this story they are "protecting" so vehemently.

The art of transcription has always been a delicate one. It stands in the twilight between two mediums. It is not unlike the subtle process of translating the poems of one language into another. There is no one translation of a poem that is irrefutably correct and beyond dispute. There is always room for interpretation. The same applies to the transcription of a book into a trilogy of films. The decisions that a directory, script-writer, concept artist, and the actors themselves have to make are literally enormous. Out of the infinite stockpile of sounds and images that the world offers - and which the workshop can fabricate and invent if the world doesn't supply them -, the creators of this film have to somehow distil the essence which is "Lord of the Rings", and they have to do it in a way that it preserves its integrity in an entirely different medium. I think that the task is just as difficult as attempting to transcribe a symphony by Beethoven into a short-story or a prose poem. And every indication that has trickled our way through the internet press is that this film is in masterly hands.

How can I tell this, you ask. Well, let us for a moment forget about the roles of Arwen, Galadriel and Eowyn, and do something which the writer of your article somehow neglected to do - and that is, to mention all of those things about the film that are very promising.

You can't think of any? Then get off your high horse and pay attention to what's already been reported ... let's go through these items one by one.

Peter Jackson stated very early on that he did not want "The Lord of the Rings" to fall into the same pit that swallowed other fantasy films like "Legend", "Willow" and "The Labyrinth". He outlined concisely and incisively the factors which eroded the seriousness and credibility of these other attempts, which can I think can be summed up by noting that they were aimed almost exclusively at a younger audience, without giving due credit for their intelligence. In response to this, Jackson said that he pictured the movie trilogy as having a feel something not unlike "Braveheart", with its mixture of the epic characters and the gritty realism of combat, but woven together with a romantic lyrical element. Now I don't suppose for a moment that Peter Jackson has set out to merely create a Middle Earth "Braveheart". His genius is too maverick, too independent for that. Rather, he referred to a film that was at the time the best example of his aesthetic, and which he clarified later in more detail by saying that he thought of the books as "real", and that he wanted filmgoing audiences to have the feeling that you could dig up mounds in New Zealand and find in them the barrows of dead Gondorian kings; or find in the soil relics of hobbit habitations; a stray pipe here and there, perhaps.

And Peter Jackson has strengthened his commitment to this aesthetic in later days, as we have seen with the photographs of sets that have appeared on the internet. We've seen weathered stone crosses vaguely Celtic in appearance; we've seen the battlements of Helms Deep carved out of beetling rock, close-fitting blocks of stones appropriately greened with age; we've seen shots of Hobbiton that have been so often seen on book-covers and calendars that they must have by now entered into the collective consciousness. Every single image of the production that has been reported to us on the internet has but served to further strengthen the credibility of Peter Jackson's aesthetic; and he has even managed to surprise some - myself included - with the vivid cruelty and ferociousness that he has given to his Orcs, which certainly look a lot more terrifying in even these scant images than any other painting or drawing of them that I have seen elsewhere.

And Jackson's credibility has been strengthened by his insistence in commission a "classical" sounding score, rather than following the advice of a small group that he use rock 'n' roll style music or heavy metal. The rumors that have been reported to us regarding the composers he wants to hire have also been promising - we know that both Wojciech Kilar and James Horner have been considered. Kilar and Horner have proved their outstanding talents on a number of occasions, perhaps most famously in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and the aforementioned "Braveheart". There has even been talk that Jackson intends to use the exquisitely lyrical music of Loreena McKennit either in the movies, or in a specially-released compact disc.

For God's sakes, people, Peter Jackson has even gone to the trouble of soliciting the aid of not one, but two Tolkien enthusiasts who can communicate fluently in the languages devised by the Professor. His team, and the voice-coach in particular, have painstakingly researched the most appropriate accents for individual characters, and have gone to the trouble of working out the right pronunciation of 'Palantir'. There has also been evidence that the scriptwriters have ransacked the Appendices on occasion, and it is clear that there will be some visual references to the events of the preceding Age, with the war with Sauron. Add to this welter of material the supporting facts that Jackson's conceptual artist, John Howe, is a member of a Medieval Recreation Society, and that his weapons will undoubtedly have an authentic feel, that they hired to coach them one of the few people in New Zealand who can shoot a long-bow, that he considered at one stage digitizing every frame of the film so that he could have increased control over every subtle element in the film's composition, as well as his publicly-delivered statement that if the movies are successful, he would re-assemble the cast and crew and film another hour or two of special edition footage. These are not the labors of a money-hungry Hollywood mogul out to swell his own coffers with the blood of an epic masterpiece. These are the works of an immensely talented, sincere, imaginative and above all respectful gentleman who wants to see Tolkien "done right" as much as anyone else, but who realizes that he can only do it WELL if he does it from the heart - and that means according to his vision. But, being blessed as he is with a sane mind, Mr. Jackson has not been so arrogant as to believe that his vision alone is enough. He has recruited from all over the world some of the foremost experts in their fields, particularly such ones as have dealt with Tolkien all of their adult lives (John Howe and Alan Lee to name but two).

I cannot help but feel stupefied at the bull-headed refusal of some of these fans to acknowledge the extensive and above-all sincere and perceptive work that has been carried out by the creators of these films. Locked up in their own little fan-boy worlds, they can dreamily contemplate of having a "multi-million" dollar bank account, the money from which they would apparently use to sponsor their own version of the "Silmarillion", which they have already noted is "largely about disembodied angels" ... surely an unpromising theme to transfer to the silver screen, and certainly one exceedingly more difficult than "Lord of the Rings" itself, and about as exciting to the general public as "The Bible : The Movie".

But that is precisely the point. These fan-boys have not the slightest conception of what the limitations and nature of the film medium is, nor of the commercial concerns that shape it. Otherwise they would be praising Peter Jackson for securing the miraculous contract which allows him to produce "Lord of the Rings" as not as one, but THREE films; that allows him to use a substantially non-American cast, and one which use chiefly English or Irish accents; that has such a large budget and well-qualified crew of computer graphics professionals; as well as a cast that is lead by such noted and respected actors as Ian Holm, Sir Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett.

The willful blindness and mean-spirited attitude of these so-called "true fans" astonishes me. It is almost as if they would rather not see this book filmed at all, and that they're venting their spleen on the internet in some impotent attempt to see that it doesn't get filmed. Or, at the very least, to violate the virgin impressions that newcomers to the books must have upon reading their malignant invectives on newsgroups and on pages like your own.

In this case the Enemy isn't a vulgar corporation seeking to reduce a beloved masterpiece into a money-making steam-train ... no, no, the Enemy is an embittered and above all ill-mannered bunch of so-called fans who, in the name of some impossible ideal of "purity", would rather spoil the experience for the rest by constantly harping on the perceived weaknesses of the transcription, rather than celebrate the numerous and wonderful strengths that we've seen so far.

To them I say:  "Bah hum-bug!"