June 19, 2001

Casting Woes?
Stacy B.

I just tuned into the apparently running debate over the casting. I've been avoiding the Liv Tyler debate due to a little allergy that I have (I'm allergic to flaming rants), but it looks like Mortensen's not immune to (in my opinion) ill-based criticism either. I have to say, and with all due respect to those who disagree, I thought Mortensen was superb based solely on his voice acting skills. To me, anyone stuck with Aragorn's role deserves a lot of credit: how do you reconcile the man who has spent fifty-odd years wandering the wild and serving in foreign armies—with his interesting and homey (if cryptic and thus maddening) version of "Shire talk"— with the lost prince whose nobility and formidable sense of justice make him "incalculably remote"? How do you bind together someone who's hit the prime of his life at age eighty and yet looks so much younger?

The age thing is complicated, I'll admit: Mortensen may not look like he's eighty years old, but then again, neither did Aragorn, who had to tell the hobbits that he was "older than I look." Tolkien's portrait of Aragorn is a bit on the skimpy side when it comes to judging the physical details that he gives us: we know he's "tall", "dark" (but the hair's "grey-flecked" so think "mature" but not necessarily "old") with a "grim and weathered face". Ok, but does that "grim and weathered" actually equal "not pretty"? (Actually, yes, it does, because "pretty" is a stupid word to apply in this case. "Pretty" belongs to the realm of dolls and Disney.) Does it make him "not handsome" or "unattractive"? Not necessarily. "Striking" is probably the best judgment I can come up with given that amalgam of characteristics, but given the iconology of Tolkien, if the character is good, then his physical appearance is at least pleasant enough to look at (once the grime is washed off), if not beautiful. (BTW, what was that co

Now, admittedly, all I've seen is the 2 minute trailer, so that's really not much to go on. But I'm already beginning to get a picture of what Mortensen's Aragorn will be like just based on how he delivered his lines. Forget the looks (though I think Mortensen will do just fine in that department), just listen to his voice. It's a much harder, more mercilessly dedicated, and in a sense "weaker" version of Aragorn than I usually am able to imagine, but I think it's a very reasonable interpretation. It may actually be for the best since the changes that Aragorn goes through are very difficult to quantify: he does grow, but despite my love of these books, the inscrutability factor makes it hard to really visualize the changes that Aragorn in particular experiences. Starting out with a more grim, sharp, and overtly worried Aragorn will help make those changes apparent and more desireable.

As for the rest of the cast, it's hard for me to tell how well they fit their parts. Ian McKellan seems to have done a wonderful job (again, based on his delivery, not necessarily his looks), and the same goes for Elijah Wood and Sean Bean.

But really, how much can you squeeze out of a two minute trailer? I laughed when I saw the poll--"Which actor do you think best portrayed his character?" How can anyone really make that judgment when only three of the characters say more than two words? Heck, I counted, and Aragorn has exactly 3 lines: "You cannot wield it! None of us can!", "Are you frightened?", and "Not nearly frightened enough!" And he's got the third highest tally in the trailer! Over half of the cast doesn't speak at all and is shown in dimly lit group shots. Although I think I'm getting a bead on Aragorn and Gandalf, and just a bit of Frodo and Boromir, I want to stress how very preliminary and cautious those judgments are. Maybe Mortensen will end up destroying the role (which would be incredibly tragic, since I love Aragorn's character); maybe McKellan will drop the ball, and maybe Tyler will actually prove an inspired choice. Who knows?

If we must judge the film by the trailer, then I have this to say: it's not patently bad. That much I think everyone ought to grant in all honesty. It's definitely tantalizing. That's all I'm willing to commit to at this stage, but it's enough to get me into the theater in the first place, which is a big deal for she-who-normally-is-unimpressed-by-trailers-and-hence-sees-few-films. I'll be seeing you all in December, I trust.