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January 15, 2003

PJ's Roman Circus
Steve L

There is a famous quote by a Roman writer about how an emperor only needs to provide people with "bread and circuses" to keep them happy. It's like what's said in "Gladiator" by one Senator: "The beating heart of Rome is not the marvel of the Senate, but the sands of the Coliseum." There isn't much characterization, plot, or meaning in a gladiator fight.

What PJ has done to LOTR is no more than make a circus out of it to entertain the masses. By far the majority of changes made to the story sacrifice meaningful dialogue, characterization and events for the sake of black & white simplicity or a little SPECTACLE. Often the changes result in scenes that are visually impressive but illogical or unrealistic. Is simplicity and spectacle all that most viewers really care about? Consider the few examples below.

1. Saruman's own desire for power has been replaced by complete loyalty to Sauron. But how could someone corrupt NOT be tempted by the Ring's power though even good characters are? Believable? Or oversimplistic?

2. Theoden's despair and grief for his son are turned into 'demonic possession' by Saruman; and Gandalf's power to inspire hope and courage becomes an exorcism. We now have the spectacle of a little magic, but realistic characterization and human relevance are lost! Is this change worthwhile?

3. Instead of Faramir having enough wisdom and insight to see the danger of the Ring, he wants to use it like Boromir to increase Gondor's power. PJ says this change was needed to increase "tension" (by keeping the hobbits prisoners longer) and because it would've been unrealistic if Faramir weren't tempted by the Ring after it had been presented as "incredibly powerful." But isn't it more believable for Faramir to escape temptation than Saruman?! And When he later decides to let the hobbits go, the decision is no longer in character and there's no apparent reason for it! Was realistic characaterization sacrificed for a little dramatic "tension"?

4. Maybe Faramir was also changed to add a bit more spectacle: the made-up scene when Frodo is almost caught by a winged Nazgul. But is this scene realistic, and does it fit with the logic of the story? Should a Nazgul be so easily turned aside when it is so close to the Ring? Much worse, if Sauron now knows through a Nazgul that the Ring is in Osgiliath, won't he concentrate all his power on finding it there and make the quest hopeless?! The success of Frodo's quest depended entirely upon its secrecy.

5. In the battle of Helm's Deep, Aragorn and Gimli go out a side door and jump over a chasm to fight on a bridge in front of the gates. Why? Is it cleverer than staying on the walls and shooting arrows? They then turn around in the midst of battle and climb up a rope onto the wall again without being killed. More spectacle at the expense of realism?

6. In Tolkien, Orcs are finally defeated at Helm's Deep by 3 armies: Riders from the fortress; infantry led by Erkenbrand and Gandalf; and a mysterious dark forest of Huorns sent by the Ents. Maybe for simplicity, PJ changed the forces of the heroes to a mere handful of Riders from the fortress plus the cavalry of Eomer. He then makes the cavalry charge into the pikes of a still much larger army of Orcs-- reminiscent of the Scots who defeated the English at Sterling (anyone remember "Braveheart"?). It's a somewhat impressive-looking spectacle, but is it realistic? And were these changes really necessary despite the loss of realism?

I wonder what the contributors to this forum think about all this. Are people generally happy with the "spectacle" despite the oversimplifyihg, the lack of realism, and the sacrifice of meaningful characterization? What we're seeing here is a very, very LOW level of storytelling.

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