The LOTR Movie Site
April 27, 2000

The Judgment Gap
Stacy B.

You know, all this chatter about "we have it right, the film writers are unqualified to change LOTR" or "Jackson's right, fans are simply rabid" is absolutely fascinating but completely pointless. Let's review the facts here. There is a basic argument that seems to come up a lot. It goes something like this:

1) For any endeavor, those who have the expertise in that endeavor are the ones with the right stuff to make good judgment calls about the endeavor.

2) Some person or persons is just such an expert.

3) Therefore, that person or persons have the right stuff to make good judgment calls about the endeavor.
Here's my reading on fan sentiment, following that nice pattern:

1) In "In response to John D's excellent Article", the author (and many many others) stated that only fans have the right stuff to make a judgment call on what constitutes "the spirit of Tolkein's books." Fans are those who read and love the books, presumably.

2) Jackson is himself a reader of Tolkein's works, and his love of the books makes him (hold your breath, oh purists) a fan. Just like you and me... except that he has 360 million American dollars to make 3 films with, whereas we are lucky if we have enough to buy groceries what with the amount of time we spend yammering online for our respective viewpoints.

3) Therefore, according to that logic, Jackson, as the primary script writer and film maker, has the right stuff to make a judgment call as to what constitutes the spirit of Tolkein's books.

Let's try this again from the side of filmmakers.

4) If you are making a film that is an adaptation of a book, you must be an expert in the area of filmmaking.

5) We are not (for the most part) filmmakers on a grand scale (I can't even use a cam corder).

6) Therefore, we do not have the right stuff to make good judgment calls about what constitutes a well-written script.

Obviously, we do know a good adaptation when we see one, so there's a fudge factor there. But that judgment call doesn't depend so much on the third argument as on the first... by which we must also acknowledge Jackson's right to make a judgment call on the so-called "spirit of Tolkein's books." He additionally has the third argument to back up that authority, however, whereas we have only the first.

Additionally, what we know about the actual script would fill a thimble.  We have Jackson's word: no Arwen in the fellowship, an honest effort to remain true to the said spirit of Tolkein. We also know that he's made judgment calls concerning the expansion of roles and elves in battle, but we don't know how he's integrated those elements, mostly because we haven't actually seen the script.

Jackson and company know have all of these details. They also can hardly be unaware of the lynch mob that will form if his adaptation is manifestly inadequate.  Jackson is, for all intents and purposes, the person at the top of the information food chain, which, by common wisdom, makes him better qualified to judge what can and cannot, what must and what must not, be cut/added, etc. to a movie. He is an artist, he is not insensitive to the aesthetics and integrity of Tolkein's work. Let us first see the movie, and then we can form the lynch mob if it falls on its face.

Fans have valid concerns. Heck, we all have our fears that our favorite character will get mauled in the making. Nevertheless, it's out of our hands. Let's not start with the name-calling and the accusations of arrogance. Arrogance to me is the notion that there is one timeless interpretation of any great work, and Tolkein's is no exception.  If we all compared our mental pictures, tried to draw on paper, say the ten most crucial scenes of the trilogy, I have no doubt that each one would be stunningly different. just head over to Rolozo Tolkein to see proof positive of this. Jackson has a right to make a go at making a good film interpretation of the books.

No one is trying to say that fandom doesn't have a right to expect that the movie will be carefully, lovingly wrought in an attempt to draw out the poignancy of the Lord of the Rings. But the artists who are making this attempt have a right to not have us breathing down their necks, reaching over their shoulders and attempting to tamper with things we do not understand (filmmaking, namely).

Face it, we are the amateurs here, and that is that. If the movies are disastrous, we will still have the books, and quite frankly, I was perfectly happy with just the books. The movies are a bonus, and should be viewed as such. LOTR has survived one bad interpretation already, and still the books live on. Keep the faith, hold your horses, and I'll see you in line come Christmas 2001.