January 10, 2002
Reinterpretation Makes Tolkien's Myth Come Alive
I have loved the book and the movie both; for me the movie improves on the book in some ways. The LOTR was my favourite book when I first read it at the age of 8, and since I rediscovered it five years ago I have read it so many times that I know every scene and have an alarming ability to recite whole passages. So my liking the movie has nothing to do with not liking the book! And certainly, the first time I saw the movie I couldn't stop analyzing all the little departures from the book; it wasn't until the third time I saw it that I could relax and just enjoy it on its own terms all the way through.
But the funny thing is, many of my favourite scenes from the movie are from Peter Jackson's modifications to the original story:
1) Arwen galloping furiously to the Ford of Brunien and her face-off with the Black Riders. This is my favourite scene in the whole movie, partly just for it inherent drama, partly because of your knowledge of the relationship between Arwen and Aragorn, partly because it's a woman doing something heroic in a movie, not with improbable martial arts powers, but with courage, determination, and skill.
2) Boromir's speech to Aragorn in Lothlorien. This gives Boromir a psychological depth that makes it possible to feel sorry for him for being overcome by desire for the Ring.
3) Gandalf, trapped on the roof of Orthanc, catching the moth and whispering instructions to it. Gandalf the Grey is shown as weak and vulnerable, but also tenacious and resourceful in a tight place.
4) Boromir, riddled with arrows, watching helplessly as the hobbits are taken by the Orcs. (This is implied but not shown in the books.)
All of these scenes give the characters a recognizable psychology and makes it possible to relate to their situations: we feel concern and admiration for Arwen just as we'd feel concern and admiration if that was our lover doing this dangerous thing; we feel sympathy for Boromir because we also know about the desire to live up to someone's expectations; Gandalf's heroism is a product of his determination and cleverness, not just of his magical powers as a Wizard.
Tolkien chose to give many of his characters a kind of psychological 'flatness' of the sort found in epic poems like the Iliad, Beowulf, or the Niebelungen. This works on its own terms and gives the story its 'heroic seriousness', and he can get away with it because the Hobbits are always there as characters with a more modern psychology for us to relate to. But Jackson's reinterpretation adds a new dimension to the story.
The classic myths were formed by the re-telling of the same story by many different storytellers over successive generations. I think that by reinterpreting Tolkien's story, Jackson has done something similar. Certainly, for me he has given the story a new life.