Jackson: threat, menace, or bore?
- It's far too early to consign Jackson's LOTR films to any dust heap - a few
people were doing that with Tolkien's book in the early 1960s, and boy do
they look foolish in retrospect - but a column in the online magazine Salon,
noting that the films were critically cheered on arrival but have made
hardly any critics' best lists for the 2000-09 decade, has brought out a lot
of discussion of the point.
The original column brought out a host of letters, a couple of follow-up
columns about the reaction, and more letters on them. The whole thing may
be found here:
It makes interesting reading. Many of the criticisms from viewers who liked
the book seem to me very much on target. Other people who didn't like the
movies didn't like the book either. Too many of the defenders offer the
same specious arguments - that Jackson and his team worked so hard and were
so dedicated to Tolkien, or that the critics wouldn't be satisfied with
anything less than a 70-hour film with Bombadil in it - that I disposed of
in my "Tolkien on Film" article six years ago. A few actually defend even
the most-criticized changes, not with Jackson's own claim that he's a better
story-teller than Tolkien, but on the grounds that it worked for them as
viewers, which as personal taste cannot be contradicted. For most of this
last group, Jackson's is the kind of story they like better than Tolkien's
kind. Fair enough, I'd say, as long as they acknowledge that the two types
of story are indeed different, and that what makes Tolkien's book stand out
among books is that it tells his kind of story, not Jackson's as a thousand
- --- "David Bratman" <dbratman@...> wrote:
<< It's far too early to consign Jackson's LOTR films to any dust heap - a few people were doing that with Tolkien's book in the early 1960s, and boy do they look foolish in retrospect - but a column in the online magazine Salon, noting that the films were critically cheered on arrival but have made hardly any critics' best lists for the 2000-09 decade, has brought out a lot of discussion of the point. >>
Your caution is well-taken, David, because LOTR has actually been cited pretty regularly as one of the "best movies of the decade", appearing both on multiple lists by individual critics (among the more widely-read examples, it was #2 for Richard Corliss at Time, #10 for Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, and #3 for Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly) and in editorial lists or those compiled from critical surveys (for example, MSN put it at #6, while Time Out London, listing each installment separately, ranked FOTR and TT at #14 and #27, respectively).
What Andrew O'Hehir found (with some prompting) at Salon, as was also seen (but not mentioned) in a poll of some 80 critics at the Village Voice, is that when asked to name just one film as best, favorite, or most representative of the decade, critics don't choose LOTR. (O'Hehir himself picked three films, including "Pan's Labyrinth".) Or at least, those critics don't. I would stress that the critical sample under consideration at Salon, which overlaps the Voice contingent somewhat - O'Hehir was one of those polled in the latter set - was as a group never so fond of the LOTR films anyway. The Voice has been conducting an annual year-end critics' poll since 1999. In 2001 and 2002, FOTR and TT ranked only 23rd and 29th, respectively. ROTK did notably better in 2003, tying for 7th with a film set in my hometown.
I'm posting the Voice top ten lists for those three years to the end of this message, to give some sense of those critics' tastes. That taste is far from uniform: even the #1 film each year was listed by only about half of the critics surveyed (except for 2001, which was a blowout). But they do tend to steer away from popular fare. For a further indication of their opinions, as I believe you are a great fan of "Shrek": it ranked 38th in the 2001 poll. (My favorite film of the decade, Nanni Moretti's "The Son's Room" from the same year, didn't make the list at all.)
It may indeed be some time before LOTR's critical position is settled. The most recognized yardstick for that may be the polls of critics for all-time best films conducted once each decade (since 1952) by the British cinema magazine, Sight & Sound (a directors' poll was added in 1992). In their next poll two years from now, it may still be too early for LOTR to place. It took 21 years for "Citizen Kane" to reach the critics' top 10, and 30 years for "The Godfather" to make it (though the directors named it after just 20 years).
Even if LOTR never reaches the top critical tier - quite possible, as I think a fair number of the Voice crowd will be polled by Sight & Sound - it still might become established as an enduring classic with the public. Neither "Gone with the Wind" nor "The Wizard of Oz" nor "Casablanca", to name three older movies widely esteemed today, have ever cracked even the top twenty in the Sight & Sound poll.
--Village Voice, 2001 poll (57 critics)--
1. Mulholland Dr. (D. Lynch, U.S.)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong K., China)
3. Ghost World (T. Zwigoff, U.S.)
4. Memento (C. Nolan, U.S.)
5. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (S. Spielberg, U.S.)
6. Waking Life (R. Linklater, U.S.)
7. In the Bedroom (T. Field, U.S.)
8. The Royal Tenenbaums (W. Anderson, U.S.)
9. The Circle (J. Panahi, Iran)
10. Fat Girl (C. Breillat, France)
--Village Voice, 2002 poll (79 critics)--
1. Far from Heaven (T. Haynes, U.S.)
2. Y Tu Mama Tambien (A. Cuaron, Mexico)
3. Adaptation (S. Jonze, U.S.)
4. Time Out (L. Cantet, France)
5. Russian Ark (A. Sokurov, Russia)
6. Punch-Drunk Love (P. Anderson, U.S.)
7. What Time Is It There? (Tsai M., Taiwan)
8. The Fast Runner (Z. Kunuk, Canada)
9. Talk to Her (P. Alomodovar, Spain)
10. About Schmidt (A. Payne, U.S.)
--Village Voice, 2003 poll (84 critics)--
1. Lost in Translation (S. Coppola, U.S.)
2. Elephant (G. Van Sant, U.S.)
3. demonlover (O. Assayas, France)
4. Capturing the Friedmans (A. Jarecki, U.S.)
5. The Son (J. & L. Dardenne, Belgium)
6. The Fog of War (E. Morris, U.S.)
7. American Splendor (S. Berman & R. Pulcini, U.S.)
-- The Return of the King (P. Jackson, U.S./New Zealand)
9. Kill Bill, vol. 1 (Q. Tarantino, U.S.)
10. Unknown Pleasures (Jia Z., China)
- Merlin <emptyD@...> wrote:
> Your caution is well-taken, David, because LOTR hasIt's not my caution that needs to be citede here, but O'Hehir's facts.
>actually been cited pretty regularly as one of the "best
>movies of the decade", appearing both on multiple lists
>by individual critics
Here's some of what he actually says:
1) "the critical reputation of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy
has fallen so far and so fast"
2) "In the first half of the decade, Jackson's trilogy seemed like the
dominant moviegoing experience ... [but] the zeitgeist, or at least its
critical-cinephile-pointyhead component, seems to have shifted somehow."
3) Quote from the reader Matt Burr: "why the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has
been so disrespected by critics. Not just at Salon but also at Slate and in
every list I have seen." [disrespected in the decade-end list, I guess he
means, and this from a reader who goes on to say that he himself would place
the films very high indeed]
4) "I received perhaps 65 or 70 suggestions for our Films of the Decade
series, and exactly zero pertained to the LOTR trilogy."
5) "When I made an initial list of 40 or 50 favorites to consider for my
decade-end list, I included "Fellowship of the Ring" ... But when I asked
myself whether I had any overwhelming visual or emotional memory of that
film, I lopped it off in the first cut and never looked back."
Numbers 1-3 are generalizations about how the overall critical and popular
reaction has changed since the films were new; note that this is O'Hehir
agreeeing with Burr's proposition, and that Burr cites "every list I have
Numbers 3- 4 (3 belongs in both categories) give statistics backing up the
view of a fall. Note that O'Hehir is not counting only the suggesters' top
#1 film each, but any of their suggestions, and that Burr is apparently
referring to top-ten lists, again not just to #1 picks.
And number 5 is O'Hehir's own personal reaction agreeing with this trend he
and Burr see.
So I take it you're telling me that the generalizations are false, the
statistics are unrepresentative, and the personal reaction is sui generis.
If so, your quibble is with O'Hehir, not with me. I claim no knowledge of
the film zeitgeist; I am only reporting what O'Hehir said, which surprised
Of the 30 films on those three 2001-03 best of the year lists you give, I
have seen eight. That gives an idea of how much film-going I do. Of those
eight, all but two (ROTK and "Memento") are what I'd call small and quiet
films. I enjoyed them all to one extent or another, ROTK least of the
eight, but the only ones I've been moved to re-watch of my own volition are
the two that require more than one viewing to make sense ("Memento" and
"Mulholland Dr."). I have seen ROTK three times, but that was for exterior
reasons, and I'm not bursting with desire to take the DVD down from the rack
again, even though I own it. (What do I frequently re-watch? Jane Austen
adaptations.) Whereas I've been re-reading the book, either in whole or in
chunks, regularly for over forty years, most intensely during and through
the first decade.
- Sorry -- I didn't mean to give the impression that I was disagreeing with you: just expanding on your note of caution. My quibble would indeed be with O'Hehir and Burr.
Until Burr pointed it out to him, O'Hehir seems not even to have noticed (or perhaps not given much thought to) LOTR's absence from the approximatley 70 suggestions he received from his invited contributors, which had resulted in about 30 people providing a post each to Salon's "Films of the Decade" series between Dec. 13 and 31. Almost all of those posts discussed just one film. (I see now that I may have misunderstood O'Hehir, as I had took his comments to mean that he had received suggestions from 70 different people, from which I thought 30 led to actual posts -- the rest presumably omitted from the series due to duplication or for various mundane reasons. Instead it may have been just those 30 people, averaging about two suggestions each.) The Village Voice's decade results and its polls from 2001-3, and some overlap between O'Hehir's contributors and the Voice's, suggested to me that the critics O'Hehir follows were never the fans of LOTR that he thought they once were.
In addition to LOTR's absence from the Salon series, Burr claimed to have found the film regularly missing from other top-ten lists for the decade. I had a different impression, and offered some counter-examples accordingly, but I didn't conduct a thorough search for every list out there -- but clearly Burr didn't either, since he missed some rather prominent appearances. A project for some truly dedicated fan of the films.
So yes, my point was, as you wrote, that:
<< the generalizations are false, the statistics are unrepresentative, and the personal reaction is sui generis. >>
I should have been clearer.
As it happens, I've only seen ten of the 30 top Voice choices for 2001-2003, eight of which I enjoyed. And I've only seen the LOTR films once each.
- A little more on this subject: _Film Comment_ polled nearly 200 critics and filmmakers about the decade's best films, and has ranked the top 150 accordingly. Jackson's _LOTR_ missed the cut. More here:
--- "not_thou" <emptyD@...> wrote:
> Sorry -- I didn't mean to give the impression that I was disagreeing with you: just expanding on your note of caution. My quibble would indeed be with O'Hehir and Burr...