The LOTR Movie Site
April 14, 2000

Get a Life!

I am obsessive about Tolkien. I reread the trilogy just about every year, and each time I bring something different to it. I've read Tolkien's letters and scoured rare book stores for obscure tomes about Middle-Earth. I even remember the Labor Day weekend the local NPR station held a "Hobbit Furry Feet Contest" to kick off a marathon playing of the entire BBC radio drama of the trilogy.

Having said all that, I find all the knitpicking about the film fascinating...and excessive.

It reminds me of some of the criticisms that were lodged when photography was invented. Many artists feared that it would be an end to painting, that the ability to recreate reality so perfectly would be the death-knell for interprative visual art.

In many ways, I feel that Tolkien fans are asking Jackson to do the opposite: To throw artistic intepratation out the window and provide us with a carbon copy of Tolkien's work.

There are several problems with this view. The most obvious one is that Tolkien's vision is complete only with the help of the imagination. For example, what does Bagshot Row look like? How do Ents move? And with a name like Grima Wormtongue, did the poor sot ever have a chance in life?

The next is more subtle to those who have never acted or directed. Writing a novel, in most cases, is a singular creative process. Making a movie is at least five creative processes: writing, adapting,acting, directing and editing. Try and tell any one of these people that their job is simply to photocopy a dead author and see if you don't get laughed out of town!

Any artistic enteprise needs creative vigour to flourish. And if Jackson spends his time worrying about whether he is being true to every letter of Toklien's work, the movie will be significantly robbed of energy.

An example: Laurence Olivier's 1946 version of Shakespeare's Henry V stays largely faithful to the Bard, but includes a lot of scenes that to a modern audience seem trifling and tangential. Morever, the look is rather cheesy.

But Kenneth Brannagh's lean, gritty version, which takes a few liberties, just jumps off the screen. Nowhere in Shakespeare do Henry's men sing "Nom Nobis Dominae" after the Battle of Agincourt, but after seeing Brannagh's version, you almost think he would have had he thought if it. It is unbelievably powerful.

Similarly, the Mind's Eye version of LOTR -- horribly acted and produced -- is much more faithful to Tolkien than the BBC (even including Bombadil), but no reasonable person would say Mind's Eye was better. Yes, the BBC eliminated Bombadil, cut scenes and re-arranged them, but in the end, it was deeply true to the SPIRIT of Tolkien and was immensely satisfying.

What we should ask of Jackson is that he be true to the spirit of Tolkien, be reverant to the source material and not add or subtract anything that dramatically alters the heart of the story.

Personally, I love Bombadil, but if I were Jackson, I would cut him as well, because narrratively, it does not work. It is like a substory that interrupts the main flow of the action.

I am personally agnostic on the subject of Arwen. I understand the problem the movies have in portraying a character that looms in importance, but is not seen very much. But here, I think the proof will be in how Jackson's changes work dramatically. I wonder how Arwen can be enhanced without diminishing Eowyn, who is a far more interesting and complex character. Also, if the sole reason for adding her was to lure female viewers to theaters, it's gonna fall on its face.

But I am willing to wait and see and give Jackson the benefit of the doubt. What he is doing is monumental and he should be praised for his vision and courage.

That is more than my two cents. Remember: No filmaker is going to do a better job of capturing Tolkien than the camera in your own mind.