The LOTR Movie Site
November 26, 2000

Response to Max B.
Robert van de W.

Unfortunately, I won't have the time to continue this enjoyable discussion with Max B. beyond today, but I thought I would make a few brief comments on his latest note.

Mr. B has made two basic points in his latest note: 1) That the changes he proposes to make are small changes that would only effect the movie as a pebble and its ripples effect a mighty river and that such minor changes would not adversely effect box office receipts. 2) That we are not expecting too much when we ask Gimli to overcome sexual prejudices in addition to racial ones.

In order to address the first point, I am going to use a method that Mr. B. may belittle as "conjectural". Unfortunately, I think the subject matter requires such an approach and I can do no better. (Perhaps if I had a greater knowledge of the history of film, I could use actual box office failures in this analysis, but, unfortunately, my knowledge in this area is somewhat limited.)

Let us hypothesize that Arnold Shwarzenegger (pardon me if I have spelled his name incorrectly) was unavailable for the first "Terminator" movie. In his place, James Cameron cast the venerable screen legend, Don Knotts. Now such a change is, from a certain perspective, a small one. All the scenes would remain essentially unaltered, the dialog would be the same, the story would be the same. Some might argue that the plausibility of the story would go down, but I would argue the exact opposite. Why would a supra-intelligent machine in a post-apocalyptic world choose to mask its agents as Mr. Universe look alikes? If everyone is supposed to be eating rats (as per one scene in the movie), wouldn't the physique of a well-fed T100 give it away? Much more plausible that such units should be disguised as small and frail individuals who appear relatively harmless.

Plausible from the intellectual level, perhaps, but not from the visceral, emotional, "gut" level which movies need to manipulate in order to be successful. Have you never walked out of a movie saying to yourself, "something about that movie was not quite right"? My most recent experience of this was The Phantom Menace. Something about this movie (besides the obvious) really bothered me and it took me a while to pin it down. I finally realized that the "size" of the Star Wars universe had taken a huge subconscious hit. From a universe that was so big that it required protocol droids fluent in "6,000,000 forms of communication" to a tiny little backwater where the representatives of the inter-galactic Trade Federation spoke English with cheesy Japanese accents. The effect was subconscious but I was relieved to find that others shared it when I explained it to them. In this same way, the LOTR movies must appeal to an audience's "gut". Are the proposed changes small? Perhaps, but their cumulative effect could be to cause an audience to refuse to suspend its disbelief and this would be fatal to the movie.

Let us take Arwen replacing Legolas as an example. I, for one, always felt that it bordered on stupid for Elrond and Gandalf to choose the nine so as to include four hobbits. Though the party was intended to avoid fighting, fighting was sure to come and choosing four hobbits who would be unable to defend themselves and require protection because any of them falling into the hands of the Enemy would be a disaster seemed absolutely foolhardy. What makes it believable to me is the fact that Elrond expresses grave misgivings and only agrees reluctantly. To add Arwen as a non-combatant would stretch credulity.

Additionally, how do Arwen and Aragorn handle being in the fellowship together? Is Aragorn always protecting Arwen during dangerous periods or does he act as if she is not there? If he is protective, then the audience will see that bringing her along was a mistake because it hampers his effectiveness. If he is not, then this will make it hard to believe that he really loves her. A "half-way" approach where he is worried for her but says she can, "take care of herself" is implausible because Aragorn several times expresses concern for Gandalf, the most powerful member of the nine. (Warns him against going to Moria and is worried about him when he doesn't show up to meet Frodo.)

As for the second point about Gimli being able to overcome racial and sexual prejudices, I disagree. Whatever Mr. B may think, racism and sexism have been with humanity for many thousands of years and they have their roots in economic competition. Just because we live in the most prosperous society the world has ever known does not mean we can look down our noses at people who became racists because of extreme economic privation. Having Gimli overcome race AND sexual barriers would seem to me to be a trivialization of complex and important problems and would make the movie trite and sappy in the extreme.