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Re: [mythsoc] Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation

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  • John Davis
    Hi, On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time, both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
    Message 1 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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      Hi,

      On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time,
      both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
      dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether that would
      have served to alleviate his concerns?

      John
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Carl F. Hostetter" <Aelfwine@...>
      To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Friday, May 23, 2008 10:08 PM
      Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation


      > There's a 1964 letter by Tolkien to a Miss Carde Ward currently being
      > auctioned on eBay, which touches briefly on the matter of adaptation
      > of _The Lord of the Rings_ for the screen:
      >
      > http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140235215675
      >
      > Money quote:
      >
      > "I am personally averse to dramatizations of my work, especially of
      > _The Lord of the Rings_, which is too long for reproduction without
      > severe cutting and editings: in my view destructive, or at best
      > severely damaging to a complicated by closely-woven story."
      >
      > Carl
      >
      >
      >
    • David Emerson
      ... I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy (as expressed in On Fairy Stories ) seemed to have been based at least in part on how
      Message 2 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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        >On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time,
        >both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
        >dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether that would
        >have served to alleviate his concerns?

        I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy (as expressed in "On Fairy Stories") seemed to have been based at least in part on how unconvincing the fantasy element would be when performed on a stage. The very believable nature of current CGI effects may well have eliminated this particular concern.

        On the other hand, I also feel that he would have detested the Peter Jackson version.



        emerdavid

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      • David Bratman
        ... Almost certainly not, as far as I can judge from his comments. True enough that Tolkien mocked unsuccessful special effects in staged fantasies ( though
        Message 3 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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          David Emerson <emerdavid@...> wrote:

          >>On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at that time,
          >>both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that the
          >>dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether that would
          >>have served to alleviate his concerns?
          >
          >I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy (as expressed in
          >"On Fairy Stories") seemed to have been based at least in part on how unconvincing
          >the fantasy element would be when performed on a stage. The very believable
          >nature of current CGI effects may well have eliminated this particular concern.

          Almost certainly not, as far as I can judge from his comments.

          True enough that Tolkien mocked unsuccessful special effects in staged fantasies ("though done with some ingenuity of lighting, disbelief had not so much to be suspended as hung, drawn, and quartered"), he also said, in the previous sentence, that "Had this [the metamorphosis of the ogre into a mouse] been mechanically successful [i.e. had it been done with believable sfx], it would either have terrified the spectators or else have been just a turn of high-class conjuring."

          No, Tolkien was not one who would have been bowled over by believable CGI. The fantasy in the head of the reader was, to him, a profoundly different thing from the fantasy you can watch taking place. This is part of why he considered drama a different art form from literature. But it's a concern that just doesn't click with most people, especially those (not that you're necessarily one of them) whose first thought on reading a good fantasy novel is to dream of the movie that could be made of it.

          I also dispute the premise: "the very believable nature of current CGI effects." I still await truly realistic CGI. I found Jackson's Gollum to be creepily plastic when in the same scene as the physical Frodo and Sam, and the tinkertoy orcs falling off the causeway at Helm's Deep were just awful. And I'm far less picky than Tolkien would be. The original Star Wars, impressive enough at the time, looks pretty moth-eaten 30 years later, and I am convinced that Jackson's LOTR will look the same when it's 30 years old. But - and here's the point - Tolkien's novel has been around for over 50 years, and it's still as vivid as when it was new.

          It must also be remembered that Tolkien's objections to dramatizations of his book extended far beyond bad sfx. I won't even go into the criticisms he made of the first radio version of LOTR, in which sfx weren't even an issue, or the theoretical problems he had with framing secondary worlds within the secondary world of drama. I'll just mention that the idea that a ten-hour dramatization solves the condensation problems is, on looking at the result, just risible. It was not, in the event, long enough to capture even the spirit, let alone the text, of the book, while being, if anything, too long for good drama.

          >On the other hand, I also feel that he would have
          >detested the Peter Jackson version.

          On that we can agree, but why would he have detested it? Not because Jackson didn't use the best CGI available today, because he did use it. Not because Jackson's film is too short - again, it's if anything too long. But because of the inherent nature of dramatization. I think that if Jackson had done a better job, he might have been able to satisfy me - in brief moments here and there, he did so. But I am far less picky towards or protective of Tolkien's work than he was himself.
        • David Emerson
          ... I ll admit that Tolkien s argument against dramatization had more to do with the inherent nature of the form than with the quality of the special effects.
          Message 4 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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            >>On the other hand, I also feel that he would have
            >>detested the Peter Jackson version.
            >
            >On that we can agree, but why would he have detested it? Not because Jackson didn't use the best CGI available today, because he did use it. Not because Jackson's film is too short - again, it's if anything too long. But because of the inherent nature of dramatization. I think that if Jackson had done a better job, he might have been able to satisfy me - in brief moments here and there, he did so. But I am far less picky towards or protective of Tolkien's work than he was himself.

            I'll admit that Tolkien's argument against dramatization had more to do with the inherent nature of the form than with the quality of the special effects. As far as why JRRT would have detested Jackson's films, even if he *had* been impressed with the effects, I would imagine he would have felt too many important things were left out (language, song, Bombadil), too many non-Tolkien things were made up out of whole cloth and inserted without reason, and too many changes to plot and character that violated the spirit of the original text.

            emerdavid

            ________________________________________
            PeoplePC Online
            A better way to Internet
            http://www.peoplepc.com
          • Lynn Maudlin
            My own sense is that Tolkien s greatest umbrage would be at the misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their nature by Jackson et.al.
            Message 5 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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              My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
              misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
              nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
              think.

              I do wonder about the possibility of a 'maxi-series' - something
              keeping much closer to the books and running an hour weekly over the
              course of a season could have been quite wonderful with the right
              screenwriter adapting it and the emphasis on story and character
              rather than battles, special effects, and the bad dental work of orcs.

              All that is rich but very secondary and Jackson made it primary.

              *sigh*

              And thus far Narnia has suffered similar Jacsonification ("gee, there
              aren't enough battle sequences in 'Prince Caspian' and if we strip out
              all the Bacchus stuff and all the 'following Aslan even if nobody else
              can see Him' stuff, there's not much story there... I know, let's have
              another battle! yeah!!"). I have some hopes for 'Voyage of the Dawn
              Treader' because they're going with Michael Apted (directed 'Amazing
              Grace' on Wilberforce) and a different screenwriter - still, it could
              be so badly mangled... *shudder*

              -- Lynn --

              --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, David Emerson <emerdavid@...> wrote:
              >
              > >>On the other hand, I also feel that he would have
              > >>detested the Peter Jackson version.
              > >
              > >On that we can agree, but why would he have detested it? Not
              because Jackson didn't use the best CGI available today, because he
              did use it. Not because Jackson's film is too short - again, it's if
              anything too long. But because of the inherent nature of
              dramatization. I think that if Jackson had done a better job, he
              might have been able to satisfy me - in brief moments here and there,
              he did so. But I am far less picky towards or protective of Tolkien's
              work than he was himself.
              >
              > I'll admit that Tolkien's argument against dramatization had more to
              do with the inherent nature of the form than with the quality of the
              special effects. As far as why JRRT would have detested Jackson's
              films, even if he *had* been impressed with the effects, I would
              imagine he would have felt too many important things were left out
              (language, song, Bombadil), too many non-Tolkien things were made up
              out of whole cloth and inserted without reason, and too many changes
              to plot and character that violated the spirit of the original text.
              >
              > emerdavid
              >
              > ________________________________________
              > PeoplePC Online
              > A better way to Internet
              > http://www.peoplepc.com
              >
            • Lynn Maudlin
              I meant compromised of course... y all probably figured that out, eh? -- Lynn --
              Message 6 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                I meant "compromised" of course... y'all probably figured that out, eh?

                -- Lynn --

                --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Lynn Maudlin" <lynnmaudlin@...> wrote:
                >
                > My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
                > misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
                > nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
                > think.
                >
              • Mike Foster
                So have y all scheduled a Mythcon panel on The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT Films: Why We Hate Them Already ? ;-) Cheers, Mike ... From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                Message 7 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                  So have y'all scheduled a Mythcon panel on "The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT
                  Films: Why We Hate Them Already"?

                  ;-)

                  Cheers,
                  Mike

                  -----Original Message-----
                  From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
                  Of Lynn Maudlin
                  Sent: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 3:30 PM
                  To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                  Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation

                  I meant "compromised" of course... y'all probably figured that out, eh?

                  -- Lynn --

                  --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups <mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com> .com,
                  "Lynn Maudlin" <lynnmaudlin@...> wrote:
                  >
                  > My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
                  > misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
                  > nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
                  > think.
                  >



                  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                • Mike Foster
                  So have y all scheduled a Mythcon panel on The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT Films: Why We Hate Them Already ? ;-) Cheers, Mike ... From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                  Message 8 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                    So have y'all scheduled a Mythcon panel on "The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT
                    Films: Why We Hate Them Already"?

                    ;-)

                    Cheers,
                    Mike

                    -----Original Message-----
                    From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
                    Of Lynn Maudlin
                    Sent: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 3:30 PM
                    To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                    Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Tolkien letter touching on screen adaptation

                    I meant "compromised" of course... y'all probably figured that out, eh?

                    -- Lynn --

                    --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups <mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com> .com,
                    "Lynn Maudlin" <lynnmaudlin@...> wrote:
                    >
                    > My own sense is that Tolkien's greatest umbrage would be at the
                    > misrepresentation of his characters; every one was comprised in their
                    > nature by Jackson et.al. and this would have grieved him mightily, I
                    > think.
                    >



                    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                  • David Bratman
                    ... That would be superfluous, wouldn t it?
                    Message 9 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                      Mike Foster <mafoster@...> wrote:

                      >So have y'all scheduled a Mythcon panel on "The Jackson-Del Toro HOBBIT
                      >Films: Why We Hate Them Already"?

                      That would be superfluous, wouldn't it?
                    • David Bratman
                      ... And it s salutary to examine the why of these things. Bombadil was left out essentially because he was the only skien of the story that could be abridged
                      Message 10 of 15 , May 28, 2008
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                        David Emerson <emerdavid@...> wrote:

                        >As far as why JRRT would have detested Jackson's films,
                        >even if he *had* been impressed with the effects, I would
                        >imagine he would have felt too many important things were
                        >left out (language, song, Bombadil), too many non-Tolkien
                        >things were made up out of whole cloth and inserted without
                        >reason, and too many changes to plot and character that
                        >violated the spirit of the original text.

                        And it's salutary to examine the why of these things. Bombadil was left out essentially because he was the only skien of the story that could be abridged out at all without doing massive violence to the story (ignoring what his omission does to the theme and the feel). As to the other things you mention? Well, we've been told over and over again that they HAD to be done, because it's a MOOOOVIE. And thus we are assured by the self-appointed explainers of filmdom that whole cloth insertions and rampant spirit violations are an inherent element of the cinematic art.
                      • John D Rateliff
                        I don t think it would have made any difference. Tolkien would have hated any adaptation, no matter how well done, no matter how well any special effects were
                        Message 11 of 15 , Jun 4, 2008
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                          I don't think it would have made any difference. Tolkien would have
                          hated any adaptation, no matter how well done, no matter how well any
                          special effects were handled, no matter how long or short the
                          results. And he would have hated any changes, no matter how
                          insignificant. He did not like green eggs and ham, he did not like
                          them Sam-I-Am.
                          --JDR


                          On May 28, 2008, at 9:06 AM, David Emerson wrote:
                          > [John Davis wrote:]
                          >> On the other hand, I wonder if Tolkien could have invisaged, at
                          >> that time,
                          >> both the effects available to a film-maker today, or the fact that
                          >> the
                          >> dramatisation would be over ten hours long? And if so, whether
                          >> that would
                          >> have served to alleviate his concerns?
                          >
                          > I feel that he would. His objection to dramatizations of fantasy
                          > (as expressed in "On Fairy Stories") seemed to have been based at
                          > least in part on how unconvincing the fantasy element would be when
                          > performed on a stage. The very believable nature of current CGI
                          > effects may well have eliminated this particular concern.
                          >
                          > On the other hand, I also feel that he would have detested the
                          > Peter Jackson version.
                        • David Bratman
                          ... True enough, but mostly because it either _couldn t_ be done well or _wouldn t_ be done well; the insistence of film people, despite their collectively
                          Message 12 of 15 , Jun 5, 2008
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                            John D Rateliff <sacnoth@...> wrote:

                            >I don't think it would have made any difference. Tolkien would have
                            >hated any adaptation, no matter how well done, no matter how well any
                            >special effects were handled, no matter how long or short the
                            >results. And he would have hated any changes, no matter how
                            >insignificant. He did not like green eggs and ham, he did not like
                            >them Sam-I-Am.

                            True enough, but mostly because it either _couldn't_ be done well or _wouldn't_ be done well; the insistence of film people, despite their collectively spotty track record, that they know what they're doing and renowned long-selling fiction writers don't, means there's no effective difference between the two. From Tolkien's point of view, the principle arises from the practice.

                            Nor is the green-eggs-and-ham guy a good reference. He said he didn't like green eggs and ham because he hadn't tried them. Tolkien did like, or at least didn't mind so much, the idea of dramatization of his work _until_ he'd tried it. Applying Rateliff's Law, I find that his generous comments about allowing "other minds and hands" to have their way with his creation predate his experiences with Terence Tiller and Morton Grady Zimmerman, will his declarations that LOTR is not suitable for dramatization come immediately on his encounter with what dramatists did with his book. (Though he should have known, as his OFS criticism of fantasy drama and his expression of loathing for Disney predate either.)
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