March 30, 2004

Giving Peter Jackson His Due

Ian thinks I'm being too hard on Peter Jackson and company. He reminds us that unless a thousand little things all come together exactly right an otherwise good movie can be ruined. He points out how much worse Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy could have been. He says that it's a miracle that it was made at all, and an additional miracle that it's so good. He thinks, I gather, that we bookish folks who carp and complain about every little detail are missing the big picture. In his phrase, we've been handed a pile of diamonds, and are complaining about how they are cut.

In short, we need to (a) count our blessings, and (b) give Jackson some credit.

Very well.

I went and saw Ralph Bakshi's animated The Lord of the Rings when it first appeared in the theaters. It was 1978. I was in 9th or 10th grade, and a thorough-going Tolkien geek. But even a young geek's enthusiasm couldn't save Bakshi's movie from being the complete and utter disappointment that it was. So I'm well aware how much worse Jackson's movie could have been.

In fact, I'll readily concede that Jackson got almost everything right, especially when it came to the visuals. The Shire was a joy and a delight; Moria was suitably eerie; Lothlorien was suitably ethereal; the Argonath was glorious; Gollum was exactly right, even with that absurd trick with the lembas; Minas Tirith was gorgeous; Grond was a terrible sight; and on and on.

I'll further concede that, not being a movie buff, I've got no real appreciation for all of the difficulties involved in making a movie, so the achievement that seems so unlikely and miraculous to Ian seems less so to me. Nevertheless, it was a superb effort, and I'm genuinely grateful to Ian for filling us in on some of what went on behind the scenes.

So, Ian, I've looked at it from your point of view; now look at it from mine.
You compare the movie to a pile of (possibly miscut) diamonds; Tolkien's trilogy, then, must be the Arkenstone of Thrain. If I'm holding Jackson to a ridiculously high standard, it's because I'm measuring Jackson's achievement against Tolkien's. Not fair, perhaps, but being a bookish person I can't help it.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 30, 2004 08:05 PM

Ian Hamet said:

As I have said before, and will say again, the movies are not perfect (I try to make a point of mentioning at least one boner per post on this topic).

But also remember, Tolkien was answerable only to himself. Sure, his publishers and editors had some influence over the final shape of the novel, but he could have chosen not to publish. He had total control over every word of his novel.

Jackson had to guide hundreds, if not thousands, of creative individuals, and then he had to answer to the studio bosses.

Is the book better than the movies? Sure. Are the movies faithful to the spirit of the book, despite their documented flaws? I think so.

All I was pleading for was context, some sense of scale, in all of the quibbling I've heard and read over the past few years, which I felt was missing.

As for measuring Jackson's achievement against Tolkien's, I don't think it's possible. Tolkien invented, Jackson adapted. By it's very nature, Jackson's is the lesser accomplishment.

Jack said:

I agree with you both (Lawks! I sound like Frank Griswold!). I am not sure that Jackson could have done a better job; but I think his substantive changes were usually for the worst. Not the omissions, e.g. leaving out Bombadil; but the actual changes (Arwen's Romantic Wasting Disease, the massive shift in the Denethor-Faramir-Boromir relationship). But he got the last two hours almost perfectly right (thanks mostly to Bernard Hill), and this achievment overwhelms any other failure. Oh, and he hired Alan Lee. Best move of all, maybe.

Phil said:

So, Ian, you were responding more to the whines of book purists than to Will's and my considered criticism? I freely admit many complaints I've heard are silly, but I thought some were pretty good.