Advertisements

Posts Tagged 'the lord of the rings'

Some thoughts on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

On New Year’s Day Megan and I finally got to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Friends of ours were willing to watch Theodore for a few hours, and even bought tickets, bless them. Seeing it in 3-D 24fps, I rather enjoyed it; the supposed departures from the book didn’t bother me for many of the reasons discussed here. One of the things I really liked about it that this article does not mention is that there weren’t any American actors (save Elijah Wood oh-so-briefly) doing English accents that won’t have aged well 10 years from now. That’s something about the LOTR trilogy that really sticks out for me these days; the simple fact is, some American actors have gotten a lot better at accents since those movies were made, and Elijah Wood and Sean Astin really give it their all, but on repeated viewings some things annoy that I suspect won’t with Martin Freeman’s performance.

On that — arguably, Martin Freeman starts out playing his straight man type, John Watson with prosthetic feet, but I assume part of the point will be to see the transformation by the third film (much as, I should add, we see Watson progress in Sherlock). There were already little ways he was incorporating some of Ian Holm’s characteristics; I assume he’ll go further with that as the films progress.

Speaking of Ian Holm, I watched Alien a couple of nights ago for the first time in a long time, and Martin Freeman really does look a good bit like Ian Holm in his younger days. They could have done a lot worse in terms of matching actors.

I saw that Christopher Tolkien has claimed that Peter Jackson’s films “eviscerated” the books. I respect where the Tolkien family is coming from. I can understand the problem of films overtaking the imaginary impetus of the source material and perhaps setting up false expectations. Something very similar to this has historically been my objection to people like Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman being referred to as “opera singers”.

However, something worth pointing out is that Tolkien’s work has in no way been “eviscerated”. Whatever one thinks of the films (and, call me a casual, unserious, uninformed Tolkien reader if you like, but I’ve read them all multiple times, I’m actually surprised at how much Peter Jackson’s films actually do maintain what I see as the spirit, if not the letter, of the books), the books are still right there on the shelves. Not a word of them has been changed (except those that Tolkien himself changed through the various edits and revisions). You can buy Tolkien’s books and read his words for yourself, and many, many people continue to do so, so I find it somewhat disingenuous to claim that the Tolkien heirs don’t benefit at all from this.

Two books I read a long time ago that very much changed how I saw cinematic adaptations of stories from other media are Syd Field’s Screenplay  and J. Michael Straczynski’s The Complete Book of Screenwriting. There are reasons things get changed for films, and even factoring out issues of the economics of film, they have to do with the needs of the medium. Even something as simple as having to decide on a consistent way a character looks or how their name is pronounced has to be decided upon, which itself means you’re going with one interpretation over another. Don’t think this is a big deal? Google “Balrog wings controversy” sometime. I also have friends who insist that the names “Smaug” and “Gollum” are actually pronounced “Smog” and “Gah-LUM”. These are things that an individual reader can decide for themselves when reading it in their own head, but you can’t do that with film.

And, like it or not, film presents an opportunity to “correct” the source material. For every person who thinks it’s ridiculous that Arwen’s story got expanded in the LOTR films, there’s somebody who thinks the filmmakers caved to chauvinistic purists by not going ahead with having Arwen go all-out warrior princess and fighting at Helm’s Deep. (According to the commentaries on the DVD, this was all shot, but it apparently didn’t work when they looked at what they had. Did Liv Tyler just not have the chops for it? I don’t know.) Maybe you can argue that such changes are precisely what take away from the spirit of the source material, but also consider that variations are part of what make myth myth. To the extent that Tolkien was “subcreating” myth, then it becomes problematic to apply some kind of “sola scriptura” rubric to the story. Myths get retold, and they get retold in ways that suit new audiences. Even within the universe of The Lord of the Rings — the book that we call The Hobbit is different in a crucial way from what Tolkien originally published, and it’s because he realized he needed the story to do something else when he revisited it years later.

All of this is to say — I don’t doubt that Christopher Tolkien, perhaps the closest person on earth to the textual sources of Middle Earth still living, feels every and any change from the text like a stab to the gut. I do suggest, however, that that very intimacy with his father’s words make it very difficult for him to properly see the big picture.

Advertisements

Salon: Why no Lord of the Rings in “Top 10 of the Decade” lists?

With a tip of my sunbeaten Panama hat to TheOneRing.net

Salon is running a four-part column on the question of why, after so much critical, box-office, and Academy love on their release, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films appear to be all but forgotten on the vast majority of “Best Movies of the Decade” list. I would submit that the resulting discussion in the comboxes is interesting, even as much as certain individual opinions make me want to rip my hair out in clumps. My chest hair. I’ll come back to this. (The combox discussions, not me ripping out my chest hair.)

Having re-read the book and re-watched the Extended Editions in the last year, as well as worked my way through much of the supplementary material on the DVDs, what I might say is this — the story has its seeds in World War I, is in its final form a product of World War II, and was conceived and produced as a film in the last days before 9/11. In a post-9/11, post-George W. Bush world where the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are not yet over, Lord of the Rings perhaps reflects a view of the world that some are going to find hard to stomach — not because it’s wrong, necessarily, but because its central themes and ideas are exactly the things most disputed in our own day, and both the book and the movie dare to treat them with a level of sincerity and earnestness that, by virtue of being irony-free, can be rather off-putting for the modern postmodern. The limits of power (but also its necessary exercise), the honor in fighting for what is necessary (but also the dishonor in picking fights), the importance of having roots in the home of your forebears (but also knowing when you have to give it up for others), respect for (but also fear of) one’s surroundings, the importance of tolerance (but also its limits), the necessity of forgiveness (but also its consequences), and the importance of the common man, but also the reality that he will always pay the heaviest price. There’s also the issue of what tends to be painted as a racial metaphor, but which is really a religious issue the way I read it: follow a false god and it will twist you spiritually and physically. That’s the kind of thing We’d Rather Not Talk About These Days. In general, these themes are all just enough off from contemporary sensibilities to probably be at least distasteful if you start applying them to present-day matters. If there were some self-aware irony (like, say, in the recent Gaiman/Avary/Zemeckis film of Beowulf), well, okay, we’d at least know the storytellers knew better than to take these things seriously, but we know enough about Tolkien to know that he actually took these things quite seriously. They were convictions for him, not storytelling devices.

Specifically as regards the movie, however, I’ll say this: Elijah Wood’s performance, while it didn’t call any negative attention to itself in the theatres, neither does it hold up well after a decade of seeing Daniel Radcliffe improve with every Harry Potter installment, and when he’s the central figure of the plot, that’s a bit of a problem. In the case of both Wood and Sean Astin — who is otherwise note-perfect as Sam Gamgee as far as I’m concerned — there’s the simple reality that American actors have gotten better at accents in the last ten years.

Beyond that — I personally think the movies are marvelous. Outside of Wood, I think the casting is uniformly terrific, the cinematography is outstanding, and I think they tell a complete cinematic story that is true to the spirit of the book without a) becoming something that ultimately only uses the book as a jumping-off point for something totally different, like Blade Runner, or b) becoming a “greatest hits” of the book, which sometimes the Harry Potter movies can feel like.

I’ll say that none of Jackson et al.’s changes to the mechanics of the plot particularly bother me. The bottom line is that film and the novel are two different media, and different things work in one that won’t work in the other. Any person adapting a book into a movie has to make decisions about what they think the book is about, and then how to tell that story in a way that suits the cinematic medium while adhering to what they think the spirit of the book is. Because, then, an adaptation is ultimately an interpretation, there’s not really a way to please everybody, particularly purists. The relevant question winds up being, “Did this filmmaker make an effective film based on their own subjective interpretation of the source material?” and not “Did this filmmaker make an effective film based on my subjective interpretation of the source material?” I will note that for every book purist I’ve heard complain about this, that, or the other deviation from Tolkien’s text, I’ve also heard somebody unfamiliar with the books criticize the films for things that ultimately have the book as their source. “The first movie doesn’t have a real ending, it just sort of stops, and you have to see the next movie to find out what happens,” one person told me as to why they didn’t like Fellowship of the Ring. “This movie was long enough. Why do I have to see two more long movies over two years to get my money’s worth out of the first one?”

I’ll wrap up by touching on one of the comments over at Salon. I think what this person says demonstrates how the trouble is the clash between the worldview of the story and where contemporary sensibilities often fall at a time, after nine years of Afghanistan and Iraq, when there still seems to a cultural catching of one’s breath after George Dubya — or, to put it another way, why Avatar‘s shelf life as compared to LotR‘s will be interesting to compare:

[The books create] an aesthetic world that is reactionary by default rather than by choice, but reactionary all the same. They long for a world where no one asks pesky questions about race, where the pettiness and complexity of deliberative democracy don’t hamper great leaders, where brutal capitalism doesn’t exist, just happy markets, where the “land” isn’t a resource that people choose to value in a rational, moral way, but a force that gobbles you up if you violate it. Crunchy cons and easy-living libertarians, wall-to-wall.

On his own terms, he’s not wrong. It just demonstrates that everybody has a teleological view of history — the question is only whether the telos is an endpoint down the road, or modernity.

Post-Lenten unwind

This last weekend was the most relaxed I’ve had in a couple of months. I didn’t have to set an alarm Saturday morning, and we were able to leisurely make biscuits and gravy for breakfast.

Yesterday, after Divine Liturgy, we had time and energy to walk to the movies in the afternoon, and then come home and make French Onion Soup for dinner (to use up the onions with which I had dyed eggs last weekend).

The movie we saw yesterday was State of Play, with Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Helen Mirren, Jeff Daniels, and, in a standout supporting performance, Jason Bateman. (Can I say that I never thought I would ever type a sentence where “standout supporting performance” would modify “Jason Bateman”, the ’80s sitcom kid?) Anyway, it was interesting — it asks the question, how do you make a good newspaper movie when the newspaper itself is a  dying medium? An undercurrent of the story is blogging vs. print journalism, and also how journalistic ethics are jeopardized when a newspaper has a mandate to sell copies at all costs. I’ve posted here before about the death of the print version of one of the newspapers of my childhood hometown, and Rod Dreher blogs regularly about surviving the various batteries of layoffs at the Dallas Morning News which have occurred recently; these are things I think about as somebody who taps out a few words here and there in various places, and I found it to be an engaging treatment of the question. Could Watergate still happen in today’s information economy? Or would it be spun so fast that the story would be managed before anybody knew what happened?

As long as I’m thinking about movies — I’ve mentioned before that I watch a lot of DVDs while I use my treadmill. I burned through the entirety of the old Batman: The Animated Series, as well as Batman Beyond and a good chunk of Justice League Unlimited. I’ve also watched all three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films plus the Peter Jackson commentary, and recently did all the commentary tracks and other supplemental material on the Blade Runner: Final Cut set. Well, Friday, I finally took the opportunity to watch the new Wonder Woman animated movie.

You know what? It’s actually not half-bad. It looks as good as any of the Timmverse stuff at its best, the writing is clever and entertaining, the voice acting is fun, and it does a pretty darn decent job of having a thoughtful take on the material and telling a good story about the character. It definitely borrows from 300 and Lord of the Rings in spots (which I thought on first viewing and which later was owned up to in the commentary), but parts of it also remind me of Gaiman’s Sandman (which I’d love to see taken on as one of the DCAU projects, but I’m not holding my breath).

Anyway — it was a really welcome change of pace to be able to sleep in on a Saturday and have a Sunday afternoon where it could be just the two of us. We’ve got six more weekends before I head off overseas (for a change), so hopefully we can have a few more like that.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s favorite band

With a tip of the hat to Rod Dreher, I find myself very intrigued by English folk/roots duo Show of Hands. Rather than attempt to describe them when I’m still getting familiar with their music myself, check out this song, “Roots,” for yourself:

It’s interesting encountering this at a time when I’m rereading The Lord of the Rings for the first time since a number of things began to clarify my own perspective on, well, what we might broadly describe as the things worth preserving (to say nothing of a first trip to England). I now see, as I never could before, Tolkien’s idealization of the English countryside and the attendant way of life — as well as his Catholic faith — as the protagonists every bit as much as Frodo and Sam. Tolkien understood very well the sentiment expressed in the line from “Roots,” “Without our stories or our songs, how will we know where we come from?” His particularly English mythopoeia was, however much of a retrofit as it may have been, his own reclamation effort on that front.

Anyway, if Show of Hands is available via iTunes US, I will be exploring further.


Advertisements

Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 227,727 hits

Flickr Photos

Advertisements