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RE: [mythsoc] Jackson Films

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  • Doug Kane
    ... evenly ... talk ... My experience interacting with renowned and learned living Tolkien scholars has largely been limited to the short time that I have
    Message 1 of 108 , Aug 29, 2007
      David Bratman wrote:

      > As for people who have studied Tolkien in depth, I think opinions do not
      > break anywhere near the way John says. If John found two Mythsoc groups
      > most of whose members liked the films as adaptations, I've found two
      > others which were far more critical than that, and overall were at least
      > split. John knows as well as I do that the opinion among real Tolkien
      > scholars is strongly anti-Jackson. Of the six people I would consider
      > the most renowned and learned living Tolkien scholars, no fewer than five
      > have such vehement feelings against Jackson that they mostly refuse to
      > about it. For this reason I won't name them, though it shouldn't be
      > difficult to guess who they are. And the sixth, Tom Shippey, expressed
      > rather lukewarm feelings in his essay on the subject, hoping mostly that
      > the films will lead readers to the book.

      My experience interacting with "renowned and learned living Tolkien
      scholars" has largely been limited to the short time that I have been on
      this list (but I would certainly include YOU in that category, David) so I
      can't really comment on their reaction to the films. However, among what
      might be categorized as the next level below - people who are generally
      fairly knowledgeable about Tolkien - I would say that opinions break down as
      follows: a small group enthusiastically approving of the films, another
      small (but somewhat larger) group strongly condemning the films, and much
      larger group in between, with mixed feelings about the films. I certainly
      fall in the latter category, with reactions to the films that range from awe
      to disgust. I am however, perhaps more cynical than some, but my
      expectations of what the films could have been were so low that overall I
      was pleased that those expectations were exceeded.

      I tend to very much agree with most of Shippey's assessments of the films,
      which I have to say were not quite as lukewarm as David expresses (at least
      in the articles that I have seen, which may be different from the essay he
      is referring to). In his review of the first film in the Times Literary
      Supplement, Shippey wrote:

      "Consider, for instance, the longest chapter in the volume, Book Two,
      Chapter Two, "The Council of Elrond". As it stands in the text, this is
      15,000 words long, contains more than twenty different speakers (often being
      quoted by other speakers), and is in effect the record of a rather badly
      chaired and all but inconclusive committee meeting. It is a testimony to
      Tolkien's art that it manages to hold the attention while being read, but
      there could never have been any question of filming it; no actors in the
      world could do it. Yet it contains absolutely vital information for the
      whole plot. Jackson deals with this, very skilfully, by taking much of the
      information out -the story of Sauron's loss of the Ring, and its passing to
      Isildur, to Gollum, to Bilbo -and presenting it as a string of visual scenes
      at the start, before the credits, with a gentle voice-over. Showing, not
      telling, the way films are supposed to do. These scenes themselves are often
      stunning in their impact, especially the crowd scenes of the Battle of
      Dagorlad where Sauron falls, but they do create a major change of
      understanding. In Tolkien, both characters and readers are simultaneously
      moving forward into the future and finding out what happened in the past.
      Their shared ignorance creates a bafflement, a "bewilderment" as Tolkien
      called it, which imitates events as actually experienced in the real world.
      With Jackson, we know from the start what is going on. It's much more like a
      managed story. .

      What one has to give full credit for, though, is the severe concentration on
      and fidelity to the story's main theme of the corruption of power. We keep
      on seeing the Ring, in close-up. It is made perfectly clear that this is not
      a token or talisman, of the kind that wins a video game, but a deadly threat
      to the personality. In scenes which owe a debt to horror tradition, but are
      quite in keeping with the author's intentions, both Ian Holm as Bilbo and
      Cate Blanchett as Galadriel turn momentarily into snarling and monstrous
      caricatures of themselves, as the temptation of the Ring falls on them. With
      the kind of visual paralleling which cannot be done verbally, we are made to
      see also that this is what has happened to the Ringwraiths; the wraith-world
      which appears every time Frodo puts on the Ring is the world Galadriel
      enters as she feels temptation. The fear and lust of the Ring are made
      apparent in the way characters handle it, or don't handle it. Sean Bean does
      this particularly well as Boromir, playing towards his closing death scene
      from the start. And if Elijah Wood as Frodo does the wide-eyed waif-like
      stare at the screen maybe once too often, this does have one serious
      pay-off, which shows yet again Jackson's careful reading of his base-text.

      In the early chapter "The Shadow of the Past" (another very long
      conversation), Frodo, beginning to realize what the Ring means, says that he
      wishes all this had not happened "in my time". Gandalf replies reprovingly
      that everyone always wishes that, but it is not for them to decide. Tolkien
      began to write The Lord of the Rings at the very end of 1937, and the phrase
      "in my time" carries with it the echo of 1938, appeasement, Neville
      Chamberlain, and "peace in our time" -not, of course, an allegory, as people
      have suggested, but a statement that some things, and some temptations, are
      timeless. Jackson picks the little exchange out of its setting, emphasizes
      it, and furthermore repeats it at the end of the film, as a memory which
      stiffens Frodo's resolve. This focus on duty reluctantly shouldered, and
      rejection of comfortable illusion, comes very close to Tolkien's central
      theme. It is one which has not lost relevance for a contemporary audience.

      In brief, Jackson's scenery, like Tolkien's, is magnificent. It was a
      brilliant stroke to recreate Wilderland in New Zealand with its moors,
      mountains, forests, empty rivers. His special effects are state-of-the-art,
      aimed to outpace Star Wars. His actors put across their lines, archaic
      though they often are, with total and persuasive conviction. And he can do
      slow scenes, and silent scenes, with just as much of a grip on his audience
      as the cataclysmic ones. As the Fellowship went through Moria, you could
      have heard a pin drop in the theatre, if anyone had dropped one, but there
      was never a rustle of paper; jaws ceased to move. There are some things film
      cannot do, and no translation, of language or of medium, eclipses its
      original, but Jackson's film is both true to its own conception and
      respectful of Tolkien's. There should be room for both."

      In an article in The Daily Telegraph after the second film came out, he
      wrote the following:

      "The moral is, to quote Gandalf again -- and Jackson picked out just these
      words to repeat in the first movie, varying the pronouns cunningly -- "That
      [the future] is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do
      with the time that is given us."

      Tolkien surely did not mean these words just for Frodo. They were a major
      part of his own conviction and a part of his own cure for the defeatism, the
      appeasement, the lack of will and the weary calculation of odds that he saw
      dogging the Western democracies as he was writing The Lord of the Rings and
      still after he had finished it. Tolkien's achievement, it may be, was to
      reintroduce a heroic world view, drawn from the ancient texts he taught as a
      professor, to a world gone ironic.

      And this world view was put across not only by the obviously heroic figures
      such as Aragorn and Faramir and King Theoden, but by the hobbits -- and,
      most of all, by the very structure of the story. In this story, all the
      characters find themselves, literally as well as figuratively, bewildered:
      their bearings lost, not sure what's for the best, but slogging on
      regardless. The most important ones, moreover, the hobbits Frodo and Sam,
      think they're on their own. All the time, their friends are risking
      everything to distract the Eye of Sauron from them, but they don't know
      that. They go on anyway.

      The film version, adapted to the limited attention span of the modern
      viewer, can't handle all of this, but it handles a surprising amount.
      Tolkien himself, commenting on the first of several attempted film scripts
      back in 1957, remarked that he had no objection to people cutting things
      out, but he disliked compression, trying to jam everything into three hours.
      It loses the uncertainty, the false trails and the fog of war that link The
      Lord of the Rings and the battle of the Somme, where Tolkien fought with the
      Lancashire Fusiliers.

      Peter Jackson has inevitably built up the action scenes and straightened the
      tangled threads, but the message survives the change of medium. Courage is
      what you need after you've lost hope: Things may not be as bad as they seem.
      Tolkien learned that nearly 90 years ago, but it isn't obsolete yet."

      In another article in the Times Literary Supplement, Shippey wrote on the
      topic of Arwen:

      "An Arwen sequence has to be introduced to keep her in the action, but
      Tolkien himself might have approved of this. Not only does it draw her and
      Aragorn's story out of the Appendix to which it was consigned in the book,
      it also emphasizes Arwen's choice between her lover and immortality, and
      does so with Elrond speaking to his daughter very much in the mode of
      Hrothgar warning Beowulf.

      "Aragorn will go in the end, he says, by 'the sword or by the slow decay of
      time,' and Arwen will 'linger on in darkness and in doubt'; he urges her to
      abandon Middle-earth for the Undying Lands. Serious stuff for an action

      Serious stuff, indeed. More so than I expected.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • aveeris523@aol.com
      ... appropriate. ************************************** Check out AOL s list of 2007 s hottest products.
      Message 108 of 108 , Dec 7, 2007
        In a message dated 12/7/07 9:41:39 AM, dbratman@... writes:

        > Very much the opposite opinion here. I don't recall anything harmful being
        > done to the text, but the image was definitely a problem. Tolkien says she was
        > "beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful." The only word in this
        > that Jackson seems to have followed was "terrible" - and he seems to be using
        > it in the sense of "scary and terrifying," rather than "eliciting awe" which
        > is what Tolkien presumably meant.
        > Good point David! Beautiful and Terrible like an angel would have been more

        Check out AOL's list of 2007's hottest


        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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