Tolkien vs. Jackson as outsider artists
- In a message dated 8/21/2007 1:45:20 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
You're saying spending several years of your life on a single project,
location scouting all over New Zealand, casting and wrangling all those
actors, hiring and overseeing those huge numbers of designers, craftsmen,
crew, and other professionals, editing the equivalent of a 12-hour or so
movie, keeping the money guys happy at all times, managing several camera
teams, directing the actors, and doing all the other hundreds of tasks that
go into helming a huge, mega-cast, mega-special effects, mega-visuals
leviathan of a film, to be released over a period of three years - *isn't* a
Herculean effort? It's hard enough to put together a good small-cast bedroom
drama, but Lord of the Rings? What does qualify as Herculean?
What does qualify as Herculean is spending essentially your entire adult
life creating a literary world, starting in 1917. Twenty years later, you
finally publish a moderately popular children's novel that uses this world as its
background. Seventeen years after that you publish an adult novel in this
background. It takes ten years for this novel to establish a cult reputation
and finally get the major push it needs. Up to that point, in your seventies,
any proceeds from your writing about this world have been at best only minor
contributions to your income and you work another full-time job for you and
your family to live on. Indeed, you never even hope to get well paid for
your work. When your adult novel in this world was published when you were
sixty-two, the publisher said that he had few hopes of it becoming popular and
expects to lose money on it. Only in 1977, four years after your death, does
any significant part of the huge collection of legends and myths get published.
If there's anything that Tolkien's writings resembles, it's what's called
"outsider art." It's like those weird people who spend their entire lives on a
huge art project that nobody else appreciates. Have you ever been to the
American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore? It's got some of those life-long
art projects. There's a certain craziness to such projects. Some of these
people were literally crazy. After their death, most such huge art projects
get thrown out. Some get saved and some even end up in outsider art museums.
At best (other than Tolkien), some of those life-long art projects have a
certain almost-crazy brilliance to their visions that make them worth looking
at. Tolkien, though, managed to create out of this life-long project a great
story that is now the best-selling novel of all time. That's what I consider
a Herculean project. Tolkien wasn't quite as alone in his feeling for what
he was creating as most outsider artists, since he had a few friends and
relatives who also believed in his vision, but it's easy to imagine a world in
which he never got published. Suppose the manuscripts for The Hobbit and The
Lord of the Rings were sitting unpublished in the pile of Silmarillion
manuscripts after his death. What are the chances that they would get published?
In contrast, Jackson made an obviously wise business decision to take on the
direction and co-writing of The Lord of the Rings. It was already the
best-selling novel of all time. Jackson wasn't offered the chance to make a
Transformers movie or a Spider-Man movie or an Adam Sandler comedy. He was
offered the chance to make films from The Lord of the Rings, and he was lucky to
get that offer. He had only a few moderately successful films at that point.
Essentially, he had only a cult popularity. He was well paid for his work
during the filming and post-production of the movies. He didn't have to travel
around the world to do the filming, since he lived in New Zealand. He
always had the hope that they would be successful and he would be extremely well
paid for his efforts. The absolutely worst thing he might expect was that the
films might lose a lot of money. He would get to keep what he was paid
during the filming and would get to whine about how he was an unappreciated
artist and would go on to his next, smaller-budget film. He would be in no better
or worse shape than hundreds of other directors whose films didn't make as
much money as hoped. You could make a better case that the people who put up
the money for the filming of the Jackson films were heroic. They were the
ones who had to worry that they might make a lot of money or lose a lot of
Jackson was a brilliant manager in his work on The Lord of the Rings films.
So what? He spent a lot of time on them and did a good job on managing many
people. So what? We're evaluating the films as an artistic effort, not as
a managerial one. Why are Jackson fans always pointing out how much work
Jackson put into the films? Lots of directors put a lot of work into their
films. We're judging the output of that work. If you disagree with us about the
artistic value of the films, that's fine, but don't tell us that Jackson was
some kind of a martyr for even taking on the job of directing these films.
Could you give us a specific example where the book was consulted during the
filming of the movies and changes were made at that point? I don't want
just the claim that Jackson could have made such changes but specific examples
of such changes. It's easy to claim that one referred to the book, but I'd
like to see just what changes were actually made because of it. I'd then like
to evaluate whether the change that was made was actually for the better.
Merchandising is now such a standard part of any big-budget film that the
decision to do merchandising is part of what motivates the producers and other
people financing the film when they decide to invest in the film. Jackson
was almost certainly told by the people putting up the money something like,
"For films with this much investment, we have to have a lot of merchandise
sales. We have to protect our investment. Make sure that there's lots of neat
swords and jewelry and such that we can sell reproductions of afterwards. The
only way to make enough money from this film is to flood the market with
books about the making of the film and extended-edition DVD's and deals with
fast-food restaurants for publicity and lots of expensive reproductions of
artistic items. We were going to make even more money by publishing a
novelization of the film, but the Tolkien estate has some weird, cranky objection to
that." (O.K., I don't actually have any reason to think that they tried to
publish a novelization.)
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- In the cool light of day the morning after viewing this, Jo and I
discovered that, while the movie was certainly wonderfully done, it was
a bit off-putting for the reasons Pat and Carl noted below-though, as
noted before, the girl's fate was something I would much rather not have
known in advance.
As Jo said, "It's fine that good finally overcame evil, but did there
have to be so much evil?" The ending, where the girl's death amounts to
the saving of her brother and her final glimpse of a beatific heavenly
vision with a God the Father (as well as David Crosby) lookalike seems
to be an obvious Christian parallel.
In reviewing this thread, especially the business with the grapes, it
seems fitting to cite Chesterton's "The Ethics Of Elfland" and his
Doctrine of Conditional Joy, where all good and evil hang on a random
choice to do or not to do a simple deed: Eve's apple, Pandora's box.
Tolkien mentions this in "On Fairy Stories." It certainly looms in the
amplification of the power of the Ring from -The Hobbit- to -The Lord of
the Rings-, where what had been a handy little talisman for Bilbo
becomes life or death for Frodo. That's why Jackson's plot change from
Faramir refusing to take the Ring from Frodo to the muddled digression
to Osgiliath is one of the more egregious offenses in the screenplay.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf
Of Carl F. Hostetter
Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2007 8:48 AM
Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Pan's Labyrinth
On Aug 22, 2007, at 8:22 AM, Patrick H. Wynne wrote:
> watching a helpless adolescent girl (probably delusional)
> being physically and psychologically abused for two hours, then shot
> dead, is NOT my idea of a good time!
> Am I the only one who absolutely loathed this film?
No, you are not.
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