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Re: [mythsoc] Salon on LOTR

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  • Trudy Shaw
    A few arguable points without benefit of coffee: --Trudy ... From: Stolzi@aol.com To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2002 5:27 PM
    Message 1 of 5 , Jan 10, 2002
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      A few arguable points without benefit of coffee:
      --Trudy
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Stolzi@...
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2002 5:27 PM
      Subject: [mythsoc] Salon on LOTR


      Interesting but with many highly arguable points:

      "Lord of the Rings" vs. "Star Wars"
      By Jean Tang

      >>"LOTR" and "Star Wars" share a long list of structural and thematic
      similarities. ......Even beyond the genre they share,these likenesses are hardly coincidence...
      [I'm glad she finally got to that point after several paragraphs in-between, although she still doesn't mention that Lucas openly credited Tolkien's work as inspiration for the movie.]

      >>...A movie's ability to entertain, engage or enlighten us, and its significance
      to the culture at large, aren't things we can judge until after we've bought
      the ticket and contributed to the box office figures.
      [Well, yeah, the *first* time "we" buy a ticket...]

      Far simpler than Tolkien's intricately crafted Middle-earth, the universe of
      "Star Wars" is more similar to our own. Fittingly, "Star Wars" is the more
      human of the two movies, infusing each major character with thematic clarity
      befitting flesh-and-blood action heroes...
      [From a number of paragraphs on the characters of both movies, what I basically understand is that "thematic clarity" means each character has one particular trait that's played on throughout and never acts ambiguously (as, gee, "Strider" does once or twice). But she complains that Frodo is one-dimensional (much more than in the book, yes--but isn't that "thematic clarity"?)]

      >>Indeed, humor runs throughout "Star Wars," whose adventure-tale earnestness
      nevertheless refuses to take itself too seriously, squeezing jokes out of
      every "uh-oh" moment.
      [I've pulled together a few things in LotR/FotR that she thought should have been played for laughs. I don't know what to say about this, except that if she's not joking herself she has a bizarre sense of humor.]
      >>The insufficient development of emotions and character handicaps the movie's
      ability to make us laugh... For example, elf queen Galadriel's know-it-all reply to Lord Celeborn when he demanded to know where Gandalf was. But they go untouched. In a moment of direct comparison with "Star Wars," when Frodo and associates stop short of a
      precipice, the moment passes with neither comment nor the clever wringing of
      comedy from cliché... and both [Gandalf and Boromir] die emphatically with deliberation -- with three arrows in his chest, Boromir pulls a great Eveready bunny act -- again, the moment calls for not even a snicker.
      [...unless you have a couple of immature 12-year-olds sitting behind you.]

      [Seems when SW makes evil tangible it's a good thing...] Both acts [showing rebel fighters being killed, and Vader obliterating Alderan]help define a real evil, make it more tangible. [But, about a dozen paragraphs later, referring to LotR...] And here, digital tricks stand in for old-fashioned imagination; we see a schlocky [well, arguably] image of a talking eye slit rather than visualize our own image of something far more evil.

      >>In "Star Wars," humanity is the point. In "LOTR," with fans and followers in
      the tens of millions, Tolkien's world is the point.
      [Uh, yeah, *your* point being...? (Of course, his world includes humanity.)]

      >>...Just in making the movie, Jackson shouldered enormous challenges safeguarding it against similar nitpicking.
      Very true, but I don't know that there was any way to get around this. I disagree with a number of individual decisions Jackson made but, on the whole, I think he navigated between the two shoals just about as well as anyone could have.

      >>So meticulous is Tolkien's Middle-earth, with its genealogy charts and
      linguistic consistency, and so loyal Jackson and his crew to its detail...
      [Did I miss something--did anyone else see any geneology charts or explanation of linguistics in the movie?]

      >>...Everyone knows the next plot point will bring the next visual extravaganza, and the filmmakers seemingly did not have the patience, or the interest, in slowing down the visual progress.
      [Yep, I agree with this one.]

      >>Certainly, as the escape from humanity Tolkien intended [!!??], Middle Earth
      operates by its own rules. But as human entertainment, the film would be
      meaningless without the emotion that comes from human truth -- the kind of
      emotion that a couple of Enya songs on the soundtrack cannot deliver. "LOTR"
      harbors some real emotion, but comparatively speaking...
      [Compared to what? The book--it goes without saying; SW--I'd argue that one.]

      >>...But having made the offer, not until the very end of the film
      does he [Frodo] actually stop trying to give the ring away [yes, the offer to Galadriel being quite close to the end of the film], and even then he seems far from convinced.
      [Well, yes, this is an important aspect of the story, and we are only one-third through. But I suppose for "thematic clarity" he should be gung-ho from the beginning.]

      [To be fair, I'll say at the *start* of this paragraph that it's one I totally agree with; will add some comments following it.]
      >>As for the other members of the Fellowship, film audiences aren't given enough information for their sense of instant duty to be compelling. Whence comes hobbit buddy Sam Gamgee's unswerving dedication to Frodo? Certainly not from the cowardice he showed under a furious Gandalf (again, this seems like comedy at the expense of character) [But I thought she wanted *more* comedy]. And the loyalty of the two other undifferentiated hobbit sidekicks seems even more unlikely. Pointing to the book doesn't work: Jackson very clearly wants his movie to stand alone.
      [This is one of my two biggest disappointments in the first movie (the second being the ford--it's hard for me to say which one is the bigger). And it would have taken only a few seconds to make this clearer: Sam's statement that hearing Frodo was going away was what made him gasp, and letting us see his *willingness* to go along; and--if I may be allowed the heresy of saying Bakshi actually did some things right--revealing the conspiracy even "on the road," as Bakshi did it, letting Merry give an edited version of his "It all depends on what you want..." speech, which says so much about the relationships among all four of these hobbits in a very small amount of time.]

      >>...Likewise, there is little infighting on the same side of the conflict -- everyone seems to know the human warrior Boromir is a potential bad seed (in his Hamlet-esque torture chamber, Sean Bean's ambiguity is beautifully played--
      [Have I missed something, or is this the *only* positive statement she makes about the movie, not that Bean's acting doesn't deserve the comment?]
      >>--but no one confronts him about it, or even keeps him under any sort of special Ring Thief alert.
      [Aragorn's hand on his sword hilt was made so blatant I don't know how she could have missed it, so I think the presence of a "Ring Thief alert" is pretty clear. I'm not sure what more she wanted here.]

      >>And realism? "LOTR's" odds step straight out of a Hong Kong karate movie. Nine warriors fighting armies of orcs and other unattractive horrors suffer but two casualties...
      [Okay, I agree with this point, too, but I think the reason is a little more complicated than Hong Kong karate movies. The problem generally springs from a dilemma Bakshi and Jackson both caused for themselves by eliminating anything that smacks of religion. The particularly unbelievable movie scene of Aragorn single-handedly dispatching five Ringwraiths at the equivalent of Weathertop is made necessary because evidently Frodo isn't allowed to call on Elbereth (gee, not even an undirected moment of silence?). We don't hear anything about the possibility of a "higher plan" until we're in Moria, but I'm glad it was at least kept. In a non-theological point regarding the attack on Parth Galen, it could have been made clearer that the main point was to grab the hobbits--the "heroes" didn't fight off all the orcs; the orcs got what (they thought) they had been sent for and left. And I thought the balrog chasing off all the orcs in Moria was effective.]

      >>...And the existence of a well-read, well-loved book handicaps "LOTR." The book is a vehicle that allows shortcuts: Although Jackson compacts "The Hobbit"--[...actually, he compacts LotR's Prologue and a bit from the appendices; see note below.]--admirably in a few fact-bulging minutes for those who haven't read it, the missing background nevertheless leaves fundamental loopholes. For example, who are these wizards and why do they care? Where does Frodo go when he puts the ring on? How is it that Cate Blanchett can read everyone's mind? And what makes an orc inherently bad, aside from the fact that it's ugly?
      [Hey, guess what? The book doesn't answer those questions, either!! And it doesn't matter if Tolkien answers them somewhere else. Either Howe or Lee suggested at one point incorporating something from The Silmarillion--I don't remember what, but some type of symbol--into one of the movie sets and was told it couldn't be done legally because the movie rights are *only* to LotR, so any backstory is limited to what's between the covers of *that* book. The istari may be brought up in an appendix, but if their nature were spelled out, this reviewer probably would have said too much detail was included. I had to check a couple of things after the movie, but everything in the movie's prologue--as far as I can tell--can be found within LotR's prologue, appendices, or main text.]

      >>In other words, had Jackson been more generous with his creative machete, he might have rivaled the book [Uh, no... and I don't think Jackson would say that, either] with a translation that truly stands on its own, rather than resorting to inevitable reference to the volumed set.
      [But then we wouldn't have so many people running out to buy the book after they see the movie! One thing Jackson does very well, I think, is present a story that can be understood on its own by someone who hasn't read the book, but make it clear that there's much more to it. From the first time I heard these movies were being made, I said they'd reach their highest purpose if they could be, essentially, *very long* trailers/teasers for the book, and I do think that's been accomplished. Of course, that's not something a film critic would be looking for.]


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

      About the writer
      Jean Tang writes about film, food and her hometown, New York.


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    • Stolzi@aol.com
      In a message dated 1/10/02 9:18:20 AM Central Standard Time, ... he ... What was that, I don t remember? DP
      Message 2 of 5 , Jan 10, 2002
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        In a message dated 1/10/02 9:18:20 AM Central Standard Time,
        tgshaw@... writes:

        > For example, elf queen Galadriel's know-it-all reply to Lord Celeborn when
        he
        > demanded to know where Gandalf was.

        What was that, I don't remember?

        DP
      • Trudy Shaw
        ... From: Stolzi@aol.com To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Thursday, January 10, 2002 4:08 PM Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Salon on LOTR ... he ... This was the
        Message 3 of 5 , Jan 10, 2002
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          ----- Original Message -----
          From: Stolzi@...
          To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Thursday, January 10, 2002 4:08 PM
          Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Salon on LOTR


          >In a message dated 1/10/02 9:18:20 AM Central Standard Time,
          tgshaw@... writes:

          >> For example, elf queen Galadriel's know-it-all reply to Lord Celeborn when
          he
          >> demanded to know where Gandalf was.

          >What was that, I don't remember?

          >DP

          This was the Salon reviewer's take on Celeborn asking (words probably aren't exact), "Eight there are here, but nine set out from Rivendell. Where is Gandalf? I very much want to talk with him."

          Then Galadriel, taking over Aragorn's line from the book, and evidently reading someone's mind to get the information, says, "He has fallen into shadow."

          Celeborn's demeanor is quite cold and I can see how someone could possibly call it demanding, although that would be stretching it.

          How the reviewer got "know-it-all" from Galadriel's gentle reply, I don't know. (Unless she thought Galadriel was just showing off: "Ha, ha! I can read minds and you can't!")

          --Trudy



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