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Re: Jackson vs. Tolkien (was Robert Zemeckis Beowulf)

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  • Cole Matson
    David Bratman wrote:
    Message 1 of 6 , Aug 21, 2007
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      David Bratman wrote:

      <<You're misunderstanding my reading of Jackson's intent. I don't think he
      consciously tried to erase these things, but it is a clear fact that his
      changes systematically do this. I think he felt a distaste for these
      things without realizing what it was that he disliked.>>

      Ah, gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

      <<Why? Today's audiences don't scoff at Tolkien's characters that way.
      Well, some people do. But Tolkien's book has attained and retained
      tremendous popularity. His characters must be speaking to people.>>

      You're right, not all members of today's audiences scoff at Tolkien. A
      significant minority of the population love him. I suspect that the movies
      would have been less popular if the characters had been closer to Tolkien (
      e.g. less self-doubt in Aragorn), but then again, the people who would have
      complained about unbelievable characters may have been a lot of the same
      people who were already scared away by Elves and all that weird fantasy
      stuff.

      << If a Tolkien movie were written off for one-dimensional characters, it
      would be because they were badly adapted.>>

      Or an ignorant critic or audience member.

      <<But Jackson's version didn't really flow as well as Tolkien's.>>

      Agreed.

      <<I don't even remember that, which suggests how much it's emphasized. Nor
      would it really demonstrate mercy. Time and again film, good guys spare
      bad guys (and vice versa) for no apparent reason, just so that they can
      play a further role in the plot later on. Tolkien's version actually shows
      how mercy works. See also Frodo with Gollum: it's a lot more than just
      Frodo deciding not to kill him.>>

      I remember it being one of the major events in the scene. And I think it was
      meant to show mercy. Aragorn has the line "To much blood has been spilled
      already," or something to that effect, which suggests a disinclination to
      shed more blood, which fits with his overall merciful character (or his
      reluctance to take on the role of warrior king, which requires bloodshed,
      depending on your interpretation). Again, I agree with you that Tolkien has
      more depth.

      <<That's completely irrelevant, because Tolkien managed to tell the story
      without all this ridiculous plot being added that made it tactically
      desirable for Jackson's Gandalf to do such a thing.>>

      Again, I agree that Tolkien's version is better. My point was that I didn't
      see the actions of the characters in Jackson's scene as evil, just less good
      than Tolkien's.

      <<I doubt that Jackson used those exact words. But later interviews, and the
      commentary on the later films, are full of Jackson and his writing
      colleague Boyens, and even the actors, criticizing Tolkien for bad
      storytelling (or for storytelling that may have been good enough for some
      old novel but wasn't "dramatic" or "cinematic", with no explanation of how
      they fundamentally differ), and praising themselves for doing it better. I
      quoted a couple of examples on p. 45-46 of my essay in _Tolkien on Film_.>>

      After reading the GreenCine article that you linked to in a later post, I
      can see some of the language you are referring to. For example, when Jackson
      says that they "enhanced" the story that was in the book, which implies
      improving. The claim that Tolkien "went off a little bit on a tangent," and
      failing to see that "his great love of epic storytelling and the warrior
      code" and the "huge passages dealing with that whole thing" are far from a
      tangent, but an integral part of the story and world as a whole.

      Then there are a couple of places in the article where he makes statements
      about Tolkien's beliefs that I think are somewhat off the mark. For example,
      he says that "Tolkien was very, very passionate about people's right to live
      their lives as they wanted to and their right to live as free peoples." I
      would agree with the second part, about the right to live as free peoples,
      but I would disagree with the statement that Tolkien thought people had the
      right to live their lives however they want. Nobody in Lord of the Rings
      gets to live the life they want. Frodo no longer gets to enjoy the Shire.
      Countless numbers die in defense of their homes and their people, or are
      murdered or enslaved by invading armies. The Elves see the end of their
      great civilization in Middle-Earth. Duty comes before personal desires for
      all these characters.

      Then Philippa Boyens calls Tolkien a "humanist." The Compact Oxford English
      Dictionary (2007, quoted on the Wikipedia entry for "humanism") defines
      humanism as "a rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to
      human rather than divine efforts," and the Collins Concise Dictionary (1999,
      same Wiki entry) defines it as "the rejection of religion in favour of a
      belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts." Tolkien would
      definitely not fit either one of these definitions. He believed in the value
      of human beings, sure, which is what it sounds like Ms. Boyens was getting
      at, but that's a Christian belief. Stating he was a humanist implies that he
      placed humanity in importance in and of itself, without bringing God into
      it, which would definitely not be true of a good Catholic such as he was.

      Probably my favorite misreading of the Tolkien in the article, however, was
      the following, said by Jackson:

      "He also had a great pessimism, or rather, a melancholy about him and a lack
      of confidence in mankind. Which is really part of what he was venting about.
      He was aware of and frustrated with how flawed we are. He created the Elvish
      race as his perfect ideal beings. They were wise, they were artistic, they
      were noble, they were *sensible*, basically. They were full of common sense,
      if you want to describe the Elves in the other direction. [laughs] They
      embody basic common sense. The world was ok as long as the Elves were in
      charge, but of course, *The Lord of the Rings* is about the time when the
      Elves were departing.

      "And who's going to inherit this thing? Well, it's going to be men, and men,
      well, they squabble, they kill each other, they're territorial, they're
      petty, they're full of greed. The book is sort of a sad reflection on the
      fact that what was once great and pure and noble is now going to fall into
      the hands of these people called "man" or "mankind." And sure, I think
      Tolkien's right. I think everything we do today, yesterday and tomorrow is
      proving Tolkien to be completely right. The Elves should make their way back
      here. And take control again! Then the world would be a better place."
      Ack! No! Did he forget about Fëanor and the Kin-Slaying of the Teleri and
      the Flight of the Noldor? Elves are in no way Tolkien's "perfect ideal
      beings." Not even the Valar attain universal moral perfection. A moment ago
      Tolkien was a humanist, now he has no confidence in mankind. It seems to me
      he acknowledged man's sinful nature, but also his strength, and his capacity
      for great good as well as great evil. It's all about the moral choices we
      make as to whether we're noble, not whether we're the First or Second
      Children of Ilúvatar. To take away Man's capacity for right moral action and
      heroic fulfilling of duty by saying that Man is doomed to be "petty,"
      "territorial," and "full of greed" is to take away Man's freedom of choice,
      which Jackson had been lauding earlier.

      <<A good enough reason. If you hadn't hated it, you wouldn't have stopped.
      Jackson obviously didn't hate film-making, or the possibility of fame and
      renown.>>

      Yes, but you can make films and win fame and renown in other, more pleasant
      ways than by adapting the work of a popular author with a loyal fan base
      when you intend not to respect that author. My question was, if he really
      didn't care, why choose him? There has to be a reason. Fame and fortune can
      be good enough reasons to make a movie, but as I said earlier, there are
      other, easier ways to achieve the desired result. Pick something you do care
      about. The most convincing answer as to "Why Tolkien?" I can think of,
      besides the desire to honor a beloved book and author (which would certainly
      be the best reason), is the desire to win fame and fortune by re-making a
      favorite story according to one's own vision. In either case, there has to
      be some affection for the source material, otherwise doing all that work is
      going to be just miserable. From best I can tell, it was probably a mix of
      the two motives. Possibly mainly the second.

      <<Again, you're misunderstanding my reading of Jackson's intent. He cared
      about the Tolkien fans, all right. He wanted them on his side. Neither
      he, nor they, had any idea what a mess he'd make of it.>>

      Again, thank you for helping me understand your position better.

      <<Again, no. He _thought_ he was getting everything right. But it is a
      characteristic of certain types of incompetence that it obsesses over
      details and misses the big picture. Actually, Jackson mucked up details
      too; see Carl's comments.>>

      Thanks again.

      <<No. His gross irresponsibility was in thinking that he had the capacity
      and aesthetic judgment to respect Tolkien. He tried, but failed not
      because the task was impossible, but because he had no capacity to fulfill
      it.>>

      Once more, I think I understand what you're saying better now. (And if I
      didn't understand before, it was through no fault of yours.)

      Cole


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    • Cole Matson
      Wow, I m really going to have to start consolidating my responses. Grace Walker Monk wrote:
      Message 2 of 6 , Aug 22, 2007
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        Wow, I'm really going to have to start consolidating my responses.

        Grace Walker Monk wrote:

        << And speaking of Faramir, in your defense of Jackson I notice that you
        haven't mentioned what Jackson did to that amazing character. That example
        alone
        shows his complete ignorance of the good Tolkien shows through him. Or
        perhaps
        I should say rather that Jackson, for all his energy and his love for CGI
        and
        interesting camera shots, has too small an imagination to do Tolkien
        justice. He cannot imagine someone who is truly good, so he cannot translate
        that
        image on to film in any way that reflects the spirit of Tolkien's work.>>

        I didn't mention Jackson's version of Faramir because it wasn't relevant to
        what I was saying at the moment. But I agree, Jackson's Faramir was
        disappointing. I think he was one of the most disappointing. He's better in
        the third movie, but in the second he's one of the bad guys. I wonder if he
        thought that a "truly good" character would not translate well to film?
        That's a message I heard over and over at drama school: "Pure good
        characters don't work. There's no conflict. They're boring." And I would
        agree with you that that's not true, and Jackson's Faramir is a shadow of
        Tolkien's.

        David Bratman wrote:

        <<n this interview, Jackson says: "At one point, Faramir says, "Look, I
        wouldn't even touch the ring if I saw it lying on the side of the road."
        For us, as filmmakers, that sort of thing creates a bit of a problem
        because we've spent a lot of time in the last film and in this one to
        establish this ring as incredibly powerful. Then to suddenly come to a
        character that says, "Oh, I'm not interested in that," to suddenly go
        against everything that we've established ourselves is sort of going
        against our own rules.">>

        This quote reminds me of the actor who says to the playwright, "Oh no, my
        character wouldn't do that." Well, he *did* do that. It's in the script.
        Change your interpretation to fit the script, don't change the script to fit
        your interpretation.

        Grace Walker Monk wrote:

        << Like a dear friend of mine who loves the movies (and he somewhat admits
        to
        this), you are seeing what you *wish* to see rather than what's there. It's
        a
        horrible scene out of which nothing good can be conjectured, no matter how
        hard one may try. I'm sorry, but you wrong on this point.>>

        Well, I did conjecture something somewhat good. So it can be done. My
        conjecture could be wrong, like any conjecture, but it can be
        conjectured.;-)

        I admit, I do love the movies. (Please don't everybody shun me at my first
        Mythcon!) To me, they're thrilling, beautiful, and heroic. They're not
        nearly on the same level as Tolkien, but they do have value.

        So, I acknowledge that I put the best possible interpretation on the movies.
        But I don't think I'm making stuff up out of thin air. You don't see how it
        can possibly be good. I don't see how it can be all bad. We can disagree.
        But I don't think either one of us can claim 100% cool objectivity (though I
        acknowledge you have the greater expertise).

        Cart F. Hostetter wrote:

        <<Yes, Jackson
        went to considerable length to include Elvish in the movie: but he
        did so mostly by _discarding_ Tolkien's _own_ Elvish exemplars --
        which, please note, are almost entirely in the form of songs, poems,
        spells, and exclamations made in crisis or _de profundis_ that are
        used sparingly so as to punctuate the story and to not cheapen the
        effect of the Elvish -- and instead substituting for them long
        passages of made-up "Elvish" (however skillfully) constituting
        (mostly banal) _dialogue_ of the sort entirely _missing_ from
        Tolkien's own application of Elvish in his story (or anywhere else).>>

        You're absolutely right. That's something I hadn't thought of before.

        Cole


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      • Walkermonk@aol.com
        In a message dated 8/22/2007 12:10:03 PM Central Daylight Time, ccematson@gmail.com writes: Well, I did conjecture something somewhat good. So it can be done.
        Message 3 of 6 , Aug 22, 2007
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          In a message dated 8/22/2007 12:10:03 PM Central Daylight Time,
          ccematson@... writes:

          Well, I did conjecture something somewhat good. So it can be done. My
          conjecture could be wrong, like any conjecture, but it can be
          conjectured.;-)

          -----------------------

          A hit, a hit! (But which one of us is Hamlet?) :-) You are correct, sir.

          What I was trying to address, and was obviously not clear, was your initial
          indignation about the possible (one continues to hope until one has seen it
          though) problems with the newest "Beowulf" film, specifically the change in the
          character of King Hrothgar (probably misspelling it, but I'm eating lunch at
          work and in a hurry - sorry!). What I was connecting is your understandable
          anger at this sort of frigging around, and how it relates to how I feel about
          Jackson doing the same. Is there nothing good in Jackson's films? Well, honestly,
          I can only think of two things/scenes, but it has been years since I've seen
          them and I don't think I'll be revisiting them anytime soon. Do I think the bad
          outweighs the good, including the good of getting some people to read or
          reread the books? Honestly, I'm not sure and cannot truly judge. I only know two
          people who were inspired to read the books after seeing the movies who have
          gone on to be true Tolkien lovers and involved in the books on a more intense,
          personal level (and one of them came to MythCon this year!). I would hate to
          have not had my friendship with Marcie, so I can be grateful to the movies for
          her. What I really wish is that it hadn't been such an either/or proposition.
          That perhaps galls me the worst. Because of my love for Tolkien, I really really
          wanted the movies to be truly wonderful. It breaks my literary heart that we
          have to work so hard to glean the good, when in the books it is inexhaustible
          wealth sitting right there for me to have and share.

          Don't worry about us "shunning" you at MythCon. We won't and don't and would
          rather sit talking face to face, mostly calmly, about such subjects,
          especially if there is either chocolate or beer or both nearby. Some of us could talk
          like this for, oh, days and days . . . So please come on to MythCon and if your
          spirit in person is like it is in your posts, you'll do fine and more than
          fine! (And I've no expertise -- but David B. and Carl H. definitely do!)

          Grace





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        • Lynn Maudlin
          ... first ... movies. ... how it ... disagree. ... (though I ... Well, nobody has 100% cool objectivity-- (although much of what is being discussed are
          Message 4 of 6 , Aug 27, 2007
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            --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Cole Matson" <ccematson@...> wrote:
            >
            > I admit, I do love the movies. (Please don't everybody shun me at my
            first
            > Mythcon!) To me, they're thrilling, beautiful, and heroic. They're not
            > nearly on the same level as Tolkien, but they do have value.
            >
            > So, I acknowledge that I put the best possible interpretation on the
            movies.
            > But I don't think I'm making stuff up out of thin air. You don't see
            how it
            > can possibly be good. I don't see how it can be all bad. We can
            disagree.
            > But I don't think either one of us can claim 100% cool objectivity
            (though I
            > acknowledge you have the greater expertise).

            Well, nobody has 100% cool objectivity-- (although much of what is
            being discussed are objectively verifiable issues) but I would suggest
            you are indeed bringing your own enthusiasm and love to the films.

            Kind of like when my 10 year old son saw "Xanadu" and thought it was
            the most wonderful movie in the world... <evil laughter> - I wonder if
            he's ever seen it again?!

            But don't misunderstand me; it's not a *bad* thing to bring your own
            enthusiasm and optimistic reading to the movies; it's just what you
            do, it's your choice. Some of us don't choose that and some of us
            couldn't manage it in any case. YMMV.

            -- Lynn --
          • Cole Matson
            To Grace: Thank you very much for your very kind post last Wed. (I am just now getting back to my e-mail, after preparing for and working the first weekend of
            Message 5 of 6 , Aug 27, 2007
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              To Grace:

              Thank you very much for your very kind post last Wed. (I am just now getting
              back to my e-mail, after preparing for and working the first weekend of the
              Maryland Renaissance Festival. 112 degree heat index on Saturday. 13-hour
              days entirely outside each day helping with the four joust shows each day -
              I'm a squire. I am BEAT.)

              I completely understand your indignation at the changing of the characters',
              well, characters. And if I had gotten the same impression you obviously did,
              I would definitely be much more indignant. I think it's a matter of how we
              each perceived what we saw, and I wonder why we perceived many things so
              differently. I had the happy accident to be able to try an experiment last
              night. When I got home after Faire, I saw that RETURN OF THE KING was on. It
              was right at the beginning of Pelennor Fields. I realized the brenning of
              Denethor was coming up, so I watched it specifically trying to see what you
              saw. So first, Gandalf knocks Denethor out of the fire with the halberd (or
              whatever it was) he grabbed from a guard. Pippin jumps off Shadowfax's back
              and pulls Faramir out of the fire. Pippin tries to rouse Faramir. Denethor
              rushes to stop him, and it's at that point Gandalf gets in the way.
              Shadowfax rears, and his hooves knock Denethor directly into the pyre. And I
              saw all the open space on the floor next to the pyre, at the bottom left of
              the screen, and thought, "Why couldn't Gandalf have aimed Shadowfax to knock
              Denethor onto the ground, not into the fire? As capable and compassionate as
              he is, he certainly could have done that?" So when you look at it carefully,
              yes, Gandalf (through Shadowfax) does knock Denethor into the pyre. When I
              first saw it, I perceived it as Gandalf protecting Faramir, and the pyre was
              the only place for Denethor to land - therefore, it was an accident. I
              didn't see all that bare space on the floor like I did this time. So, while
              I doubt Jackson meant for Gandalf to purposely kill Denethor - it wouldn't
              fit with the character as he is portrayed in the rest of the film - it
              certainly appears as a possibility - a possibility which definitely does not
              jibe with the Gandalf who "in grief and horror turned his face away" from a
              Denethor who purposely "leaped upon the table," even when he knew Faramir
              was still alive.

              I wasn't seriously afraid of being shunned at MythCon, btw. That was just a
              lame joke with a complex hidden message: "I'm a newbie and I don't know you
              guys very well, but I like and respect you. Since I know voice tone and
              facial expressions do not come through via e-mail, I hope you guys know I'm
              not trying to pick a fight. I like you, I really do! (Oh, and I'm awed and
              intimidated by the knowledge on this list, and am feeling that my soft
              underbelly is very vulnerable, sparring as I am with superior swordsmen.
              You're the Great Knock to my Jack, if I may be so presumptuous.)" What, you
              mean you didn't get all that?:-)

              Wendell Wagner wrote:

              << As several of us have said, Jackson doubtlessly did believe he was being
              true to the spirit of the books. We just happen to think that he wasn't
              competent to handle that spirit.>>

              Thank you for making sure I understand your argument. I think where I was
              being confused was when I heard strong negative emotion in reference to the
              films (e.g. "disgusting"), or when it appeared people were saying he just
              did it for the money (statements which I almost certainly misunderstood). As
              for the strong emotions - Jackson seems to make many people angry. I was
              confused as to why people were so angry if they thought he just got things
              wrong. I think I see now that it's less strong, outright anger - as when
              someone purposely wrongs you - as it is...frustration? Annoyance?
              Disappointment? Anyway, an emotion more as one would feel when one is
              bitterly upset that something one treasures greatly has been devalued - much
              as if a modern painter had decided he could improve the Mona Lisa, and gave
              her artistic equivalents to Botox and a facelift. Although fortunately, the
              analogy doesn't completely work, because we still get to keep our Mona Lisa
              untouched.

              <<Jackson was generally right about the visual aspects of the film. It's the
              script that I object to. I also think that his
              casting was uneven, and his direction of the actors was off and on too. In
              any case, whatever his motivation to do the movies, he wasn't doing anything
              heroic. He was well paid for his effort in filming a book that he wanted to
              do
              anyway.>>

              I agree that he wasn't doing anything heroic. If you think I made that
              claim, I must have been unclear.

              Re: outsider artists: Gotcha on the "not necessarily morally purer" part.
              Another misconception that plagues the arts, as if by accepting money for
              your work you are somehow sullying your art and "selling out." Rather, the
              paychecks enable the artist to spend more time improving their art and less
              time figuring out how to eat!

              So, let's define:

              Outsider artist: Works without much recognition for an extended period AND
              is an outsider to his/her artistic field; produces at best works with
              flashes of crazy brilliance. See American Visionary Art Museum.

              Pseudo-outsider artist: Works without much recognition for an extended
              period, but NOT an outsider to his/her artistic field. See Tolkien.

              "Insider" artist: Gets a lot of recognition in his/her artistic field within
              a relatively "normal" span of time. See, say, Steven Spielberg.

              So the difference is how much attention they get after how much time, and
              NOT motivation to create. Correct?

              Cole


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            • WendellWag@aol.com
              In a message dated 8/27/2007 6:07:01 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, lynnmaudlin@yahoo.com writes: Kind of like when my 10 year old son saw Xanadu and thought
              Message 6 of 6 , Aug 28, 2007
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                In a message dated 8/27/2007 6:07:01 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
                lynnmaudlin@... writes:

                Kind of like when my 10 year old son saw "Xanadu" and thought it was
                the most wonderful movie in the world... <evil laughter> - I wonder if
                he's ever seen it again?!



                For what it's worth, Xanadu does seem to have a little bit of a cult,
                although most people who've seen it think it's terrible.

                Wendell Wagner



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