The LOTR Movie Site
April 9, 2000

What Do We Mean With "Unacceptable Changes?"
Jonathan Davis

I think that much confusion would be cleared up if we defined a few terms and ideas that seem to be tossed around frequently in writing to either criticize PJ for changing the film, or to defend it.

First we’ll look at ‘interpretive difficulties,’ otherwise known as ‘the difficulty in translating a book to the screen.’  This means that it is possible to work much background and feeling and outside information into a book that it would be nearly impossible to stick in a movie. You can create an atmosphere in a lengthy novel that just might not translate very well to a screen. Case in point: Bombadil. We know how old he is, how ancient he is, how much his history is intertwined with that of Middle-Earth. Viewers of the movie may not, and will most likely yawn with boredom at seeing some silly little guy hop around singing odd rhymes. He would be a distraction. Best to remove him.

However, that is not an ‘interpretive difficulty’. It is an active decision to cut a scene that would not be very good otherwise. Due to time constraints, it is necessary to cut some, and that seems like a very good one to kill. The Barrow-wight scenes and the old-forest scenes may have to be axed as well, although it would be possible to save these by making Frodo more alert.

Some people have tried to excuse any harmful changes PJ might make to the film as just your normal run of the mill difficulties in converting a novel to a movie. That’s not what’s going on here. PJ didn’t look at the book and say “Gee, I’m still not sure what this means here...I’m really confused as to who met Aragorn. Glorfindel or Arwen? It could be interpreted either way, you know?”

No, he looked at it and said “I think it would be better if we changed it like this...” Now, he may or may not be right, but he knows that that’s not what Tolkien wrote or intended. PJ thinks, rightly or wrongly, that the movie will be better if he goes against Tolkien in this area.

Which brings us to the question of what we mean when we say the words “good movie.” First, we need to realize that in and of itself, this movie will be a very, very, very good movie. Better than Star Wars, IMHO. Just looking at the newly released teaser convinced me of that. Sure, the characters don’t all look the way I imagined them, and Arwen is galloping about on a horse, but it will be a very good movie: wonderful plot, stunning scenery, terrific acting....it has it all.

However, it is questionable whether it will be a good translation of LOTR. This is what most of us are interested in so much...LOTR has just been crying out to be made faithfully into a stunning movie, and it looked as though the right man for the job had finally come along. But, then we hear him changing things....things that don’t need changing and fly in the face of what Tolkien wrote. They might make for a better move, but they will make for a poorer representation of LOTR on screen.

So, I think we need to realize that this movie will have its shortcomings, and will never be a substitute for the book, but a supplement instead. We need to take things a little more calmly. We still have, and always will have, the book and our imaginations. If PJ messes up this one (as in it’s not a very faithful representation of Tolkien) we can still go the movie and enjoy it simply as a movie, and wait for someone else to do a job that sticks closer to Tolkien.  Those who get mad at tolkien ‘purists’ for criticizing possible major changes to Tolkien’s plot seem to be ignoring the fact that PJ is marketing this as “Lord of the Rings”, not “What I would have written had I written Lord of the Rings.”

Alternately, PJ will stick close to the book for almost the entire movie, simply making a few small changes that, while regrettable, do not totally destroy Tolkien’s plot. Having Arwen meet Aragorn instead of Glorfinddel, is one example. I can live with that. No Tolkien elf-maiden would do that, but still, it’s survivable. If Arwen joins the fellowship of the ring, however, or winds up fighting it out with orcs at helms deep: well, that’s another matter entirely. The composition and characters in the Fellowship are vital to the storyline as a whole, and changing them, or putting Arwen into a laughable hack and slash Xena role, would utterly annhilate the movie as a good representation of Tolkien. However, it might make for a better movie in and of itself, if there was no book to go by. (Although it will definitely detract from the movie of Arwen is just another Eowyn or Xena.) In that case we’ll get what we can out of the movie, enjoying the wonderful scenery, and pray that someone else does a more faithful rendition. And then there’s the question as to how much support there is for the various rumors floating around. While we have nothing definite, I would say we have more than enough to be worried about, as Tolkien purists.  Arwen seems to be dangerously close to crossing the line from Elf-maiden to Xena copy-cat. All we really have to go on is PJ’s track record...which is really good. So, there is hope.

Although it would be much more enjoyable if PJ sticks close to the book, either way, this will be a very enjoyable movie to watch.