Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Epic of the Decade?

So, Friday I picked up the new issue of TOTAL FILM magazine (not something I usually read), which proclaimed on its cover their selection of Peter Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy as The Epic of the Decade. This designation turns out to be less distinctive than it might be, since the magazine turns out to have ten nested covers, each inside the other: Best Epic, Best Blockbuster, Best Sci-Fi, and the like. Still, LotR did get priority of place, both as the first cover and first write-up for the lead story (pages 62-65) -- which focuses mostly on Jackson who, seeing the films again for the first time since their release (in order to get his mind working on THE HOBBIT project), muses on ways his films had influenced the way other films had been made, right down to specific shots. Better still, there's a small box about the upcoming HOBBIT movie, which is due out the end of next year: they've now finalized the look of Smaug, the wargs, spiders ("visually striking, in a different way to Shelob; massive but very nimble") &c. Apparently filming starts late this spring -- not so far away at all now, the day before Groundhog's.

Retrospectives are always interesting, and when the tenth anniversary of the first film rolls round I'll be curious to see what the consensus opinion will be about how well they hold up. There may be remakes someday (given the way Hollywood works, or doesn't work), decades down the road, but I suspect these will remain the film adaptations people think of when they hear the phrase "Tolkien movies".

--John R.
current reading: THE RABBI'S CAT by Joann Sfar.


Brian Murphy said...

Hi John, thanks for sharing this bit of news. Frankly, it's nice to see a Tolkien scholar like yourself who appreciates these films. As someone who first and foremost loves the book(s), but also appreciates Jackson's films, I often feel like a lone holdout--sort of like Gandalf, arms outstretched, between two advancing armies.

Jackson's films have their problems and their flaws, a few glaring, but in the main I think they're amazing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Prior to 2001 I considered The Lord of the Rings unfilmable: Jackson proved me wrong.

David Bratman said...

"I suspect these will remain the film adaptations people think of when they hear the phrase 'Tolkien movies'."

Well, that's not very arguable. They definitely would stand as a monument in the class "Tolkien movies" even if that class was larger than it is. Better that people should think of Jackson than Bakshi or Rankin/Bass.

What's somewhat more arguable is how many critics still think of them as a major monument in the class "movies of the 2000s decade", though obviously "Total Film" does. Others perhaps do not, even if they praised the films at the time, but we've been over that elsewhere.

Speaking just for myself, as a tagged "Jackson-hater", in response to Brian Murphy:
1. I do appreciate the films. Taken on their own merits, apart from what they're an adaptation of, I found them pretty good fantasy adventure films, not great nor bad, no more nor less than that.
2. They absolutely are an amazing achievement in the craft of film-making. Getting a film story of that size to hang together at all, and even more the logistics of producing it (which many famous directors of epic films could never have done: could you imagine FF Coppola on such a project?) was stunning.
3. Jackson did indeed prove LOTR to be filmable. The tragedy is that, except in tiny bits and pieces here and there, he didn't accomplish a good LOTR film. He so easily could have, without violating any of the commercial or filmic constraints upon him.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi David, I appreicate hearing your thoughts on the films. I am interested in why you think they fail as a LOTR adaptation.

Please note that I am not a Jackson crusader; as I mentioned in my comment I think the films have some flaws, both annoying but relatively innocuous (shield surfing, Gimli comic relief, etc.), and larger and more problematic (removing the Scouring of the Shire, altering some characters' motivations). Still, in the main, I think the broader themes are there, the spirit of the work is intact, the acting is good, and certainly the props and effects are marvelous.

Anonymous said...


If you pick up a copy of the book Tolkien on Film: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, edited by Janet Brennan Croft (Mythopoeic Press 2005), you will learn in great detail why David believes that the films fail as adaptations. The book is definitely worth reading, with some good, provocative essays on both sides of the issue.

David Bratman said...

Brian -

Well, there we'll have to disagree.

The spirit of the work? Jackson clawed out and stomped into the dust every speck of that he could, and all that's left is what he couldn't get out. What do I mean by that? The altered character motivations are a large part of that. The additions you call "relatively innocuous" are huge neon signs reading "I Don't Get It /s/ P. Jackson". I can understand why he left the Scouring out, but I don't think he understands why Tolkien put it in.

The acting? Some is good. The guy who played Boromir is fine. The guy who played Wormtongue is pretty good. I'm sorry to have to place them first, because Boromir and Wormtongue are the only kinds of Tolkien characters that Jackson gets. The guy who played Elrond is awful, though he's a good actor. The guys who played Frodo and Aragorn tried hard, but were out of their depth. As for the guy who played Denethor, what was he thinking?

The props and effects? Much of the prop work and the set design is excellent, because good artists did it. But the effects? The Galadriel's mirror woo-woo scene, the Theoden's exorcism woo-woo scene, and that awful thing they called Gollum (another example of a superb actor gone sadly wrong) are just winceable.