August 12, 2001
J.R.R. Tolkien's masterful Lord of the Rings trilogy
has been hailed as the past century's greatest and most popular English-language work of
fiction. It has been a great challenge to translate its elegant style, unique personality,
and multi-layered story into a movie screenplay.
Film industry rookie Philippa Boyens is part of the talent brought on by director Peter
Jackson to translate Tolkien's vision to the silver screen. Speaking as a panel member at
the recent Mythcon convention in Los Angeles, Boyens outlined some of the challenges and
issues that arose while writing and revising the Lord of the Rings screenplay. [TheOneRing.net
has a full transcript of the interview, and where necessary, we've edited its poor grammar
Because the project involved the simultaneous, non-linear shooting of three movies, the
production found it difficult to arrange proper table readings of the script. Moreover,
the screenplay itself was in a constant state of change as shooting progressed and
modifications were made. As a result, the writers had to work closely with the actors on a
"We did a lot of work with the actors. [Co-writer Fran
Walsh] and I were involved because it was understood that the nature of what [director
Peter Jackson] was intending to do which was to shoot three films out of sequence
would be a continual, creative process. One of the things is, we knew we wouldn't
have the entire cast. We had 22 main characters in the movie, I believe. We never really
had the entire cast in one place. We were shooting all over the north island and south
island of New Zealand, so what we tended to do was to work on scenes and work with the
actors that way."
There is a lot of flexibility in the movie-making process on
how to interpret and arrange a complex story like LOTR. Part of the writers' jobs was to
make these decisions, and it sometimes meant adding scenes to the story that were not
explicitly in the book. On the other hand, every effort was made not to re-invent or
modify the story in any way.
"...the process of inventing within somebody else's work
is...to me it doesn't feel that good doing it. We are trying somehow to stay true to the
characters. There are opportunites within the stories, as everyone here understands, where
things are told in reportage; and one of the great, wonderful opportunities you get to do
with film, and what I hope that fans of the book are going to embrace and love, as much as
I did seeing it, is things such as the meeting between Gandalf and Saruman. Because that
is a moment that you can bring alive on film."
The interviewer at one point noted to Boyens that some of the
dialogue in the trailers had been paraphrased modified from Tolkien's original,
eloquent prose. Would the majority of the films' dialogue remain true to the novel?
"I think Tolkien's language is brilliant, it's
wonderful. And we were so lucky to have actors such as Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Ian Holm
you know wonderful, wonderful actors who could take an approach and lift off
the page all of that language. In terms of archaic constructions, sometimes it's very
potent and powerful to leave it as it is. Sometimes you do it to be clearer. Sometimes
it's just something to do with length. I think one of the things you need to do in film is
to make it immediate. Peter wanted from that from the very early stages, and one of the
things that drove him when he talked to everybody involved in the creative process was to
make it real. And that was from the design perspective, from the performance perspective,
from the writing perspective. And in making it real you need to make it immediate, and in
doing that you are going to have to relook at some of those constructions."
One poignant issue that has arisen in discussions of the
films is that of Arwen the daughter of Elven king Elrond, who seems to have
garnered a larger role in the movies than was accorded her in Tolkien's books.
"It's so interesting, the feedback that you read about
the character of Arwen, because most of it's incorrect. Ultimately, we drew on the
appendix. People say her role has been expanded... there is one sequence which was done
for very practical reasons, and I absolutely stand behind it. I think you wouldn't be
serving the film, you wouldn't be serving the audience, you certainly wouldn't be serving
the book if you ignored her character. What stands out for me in the first film and
I have to say that Liv Tyler has a quality about her that is just extraordinary
what stands out to me is that Arwen is a voice in this film who does not give in to
despair. Not that other characters necessarily will or do. But in the midst of all this is
someone who knows and understands how they feel and is holding onto it and is holding true
to their feelings. And that requires enormous openness and understanding and wisdom, and
Liv just gives that. And her Elvish is great!"
Questions were also raised as to how and where the story
would be broken up between movies, that is. Tolkien's novel was published in three
volumes as well, and the ending of the first one is something of a cliffhanger. Would the
first film end the same way?
"I think we've pretty much stayed true to the structure
of the novels. In terms of shaping ends, one of the biggest things we had to do, and one
of the most difficult things to do, was at the end of the first film, to leave the viewers
with a sense of fulfillment. It can't be just a cliffhanger. You have to feel that you've
been on this journey, that something has happened that something enormous has
happened and it does, [just] as you feel in the book. A change has occurred, a
change that's going to drive the second story forward, but also actually has
brought...your main character to a point and he has achieved something. So we've worked
very, very hard. What was interesting was working an action-based climax into an emotional
climax. And I feel personally...the emotional climax of this great sequence at Parth
Galen, and on the slopes of Amon Hen. [It] is very driven and it's this amazing sequence
with Boromir, and it's everything you can in fact, I truly believe it's more
than you can imagine. But what stands out is the emotional climax which...it's wonderful,
an incredible performance by Elijah Woods."
One notable change in the movie's sequence, which has been
discussed a fair amount on the Internet, is that The Fellowship of the Ring will no longer
begin with a prologue about the Ring as previously planned by Peter Jackson. At least,
that is the story as it is commonly told.
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