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review of Tolkien on Film

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  • saraciborski
    The recent post about a review of Tolkien on Film prompts me to share the review that I wrote that was published in the fall 2005 issue of a small magazine
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 26, 2005
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      The recent post about a review of Tolkien on Film prompts me to share the review that I wrote that was published in the fall 2005 issue of a small magazine "Lilipoh: The Spirit in Life." It is a family/holistic health-type of magazine with a very small circulation, 12,000 I think, so my review will probably not much affect book sales! What I say in the review does not differ much from my contributions to a discussion that took place on this list some 6 months ago (though I do refrain from lambasting that horrible first essay in the book on imperialism).

      Anyway, for what it's worth and for those who might be interested, here is the review. I have to paste it in because "Lilipoh" is not available online.
      Tolkien on Film:>>Essays on Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings">>Edited by Janet Brennan Croft>>Reviewed by Sara Ciborski>>> >Devoted fans of J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings anticipated the release of Peter Jackson's blockbuster films (one per year from 2001 through 2003) with misgivings, at best. With the last of the extended-version DVDs appearing in December 2004, the verdict seems to be: we love them or loathe them. > >As one of the latter, I appreciate the recent publication of Tolkien on Film, a balanced collection of critical, intelligent and entertaining essays that help explain this mixed verdict. The 14 contributors are seasoned Tolkien commentators, among them eight English professors and two university librarians. Critical reflection is especially welcome given the widespread public perception (created by marketing publicity, uncritical reviews and Jackson's own public statements) that the films are a worthy rendition of the book, and that, despite inevitable filmic deviations, they are true to the spirit of Tolkien.> >Not so, argues Tolkien specialist David Bratman in what I think the best essay in the book. He has high praise for lace>Jacksonlace>'s stunning scenery and sets (with one exception). But the script is full of "mushy banality," and in atmosphere, tone, and style the films are a complete travesty of Tolkien's masterpiece. lace>Jacksonlace> has reduced the story, says Bratman, to a "sword and sorcery" adventure replete with monsters, gory spectacle, and interminable battles.> >Tolkien's characters have "steadfast morality, refreshingly different from drab contemporary situational ethics," which is why people love the book. lace>Jacksonlace> makes all the characters shallower and more modern—they are constantly losing their nerve and being false to themselves—thereby destroying the moral structure of the tale. Bratman argues persuasively that lace>Jacksonlace>'s long invented (not in the book) sequences are not cinematically justified. He concedes, however, that in a few superb scenes, especially the final one, lace>Jacksonlace> is true to the text, and the pacing and atmosphere come close to perfection. > >Character changes wrought by the films are the subject of several other excellent essays. Editor Janet Croft notes that the film Aragorn's "self-doubt and angst…are out of place in the world Tolkien created." Another essay analyzes how lace>Jacksonlace>'s treatment of Frodo undermines the character of the hobbit hero. Tolkien's Frodo is dignified and reflective, growing in insight and fortitude as his journey proceeds; lace>Jacksonlace>'s is constantly overwhelmed by terror, imperceptive and dispirited. lace>Jacksonlace> omits Frodo's best moments (his bravery at the Ford, his forgiveness toward Saruman) and abbreviates his best speeches. > >Lovers of the films will find sympathetic viewpoints in Tolkien on Film as well. Four essays discuss gender roles, especially the changes in the character of Arwen. Two describe the (not always admirable) phenomenon of Tolkien internet fan fiction. > >Why bother to critique the films? Why be bothered by changes from the book? As my daughter says, They're just movies! The main reason, as Bratman laments, is that Tolkien's magnificent creation is already being eclipsed by lace>Jacksonlace>'s interpretation in public discourse. And the indelible film images will inevitably efface new (and old) readers' imaginative pictures—try not picturing Legolas as Orlando Bloom, the next time you read the book. 323 pages, The Mythopoeic Press, 2004> >




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