Sunday, November 09, 2008

Tolkien

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to watch a spectacular movie, and all I could think of was Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings." I'd watched them all a few years ago and was pretty much unimpressed, but I remembered that it was at least colourful and fast-paced. And that's what I cared about.

So after about eleven hours of movie I was left with pretty much the same impression I'd had the first time: Frodo is a schlump, Sean Astin is a surprisingly weak actor (with a surprisingly bad accent), and the movie is REALLY about Aragorn, Theodin, Faramir, and Gollum. And it simply doesn't end. None of this piqued my interest much...

...but my opinion of the movies shot into the stratosphere when I watched the special features. The passion and agony of the filmmakers adds a new dimension of the movie itself, and I find myself wanting to see it all again. Someday. If just to get another glimpse of The Mouth of Saruon.

Watching venerable actors gush about the source material was enough to get me thinking: maybe I should revisit THE BOOKS? Again, I was never impressed by "The Hobbit" or "The Lord of the Rings" when I was a teenager, but at the time I was more into "Xanth" than "Beowulf." Maybe my matured and more finely-tuned aesthetics will find the same joy in Tolkien's world that Ian McKellen does?

The jury's still out. I breezed through "The Hobbit" and found it...well, breezy, though it was nifty to know more about "The Necromancer" this time around.

Mr. Old Goat himself (of Old Goat Books) is a self-confessed Tolkien obsessive, and he insisted that I read "The Silmarillion" before revisiting "The Lord of the Rings." It sure ain't no "Hobbit!" Digging through its antiquated language and almost point-form notation is like reading the books that inspired it -- the Anglo-Saxon and Norse legends -- and about as fun as The Bible. But I'm in awe of the breadth of his creation, and I hope that if I stick with it I will be rewarded.

PS: I vividly remember seeing Ralph Bakshi's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" in a movie theatre, and thinking that it was really damn ugly. Having since caught up with Bakshi's other work I can only marvel that his Tolkien riff was so restrained...like, no pneumatic short-skirted elves being spanked.

21 comments:

bashford said...

What a coincidence. I wasn't feeling very well last weekend, so I decided to watch the directors cut of the LoTR from end to end (12+ hours).

Frodo is a bit useless, but I think it was really a plot device to show how much power the ring had over its bearer. The only way to get around this character development issue would be to spend more time before the ring came into Frodo's possession developing his character. Since the film is already ridiculously long, this isn't an option.

Why are you picking on Sean's accent?? What accent is a hobbit supposed to have? As to his acting ability, I thought he played a simple-minded squire to Frodo pretty well, and didn't distract me at least. Orlando Bloom on the other hand... and the elves in general.

Viggo & Sean Bean did quite well IMHO, as did the actors performing in comic relief roles (Merry, Pippin, Gimli).

The standout role was Andy Sirkis though as Smeagol and Gollum!!! Wow, I think he should have been given the Oscar, but a CGI character was too much of a stretch for the Academy Award Selection Committee.

Peter Jackson is now working on an adaptation of the Hobbit, which I hope he does with the same passion. More frightening are rumours of a 'Hobbit 2' which bridges the gap between The Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring. This scares me!

Eli McIlveen said...

Yeah, I don't feel any real need to see the movies again, but the behind-the-scenes story - a bunch of lunatic New Zealanders pulling together the biggest fantasy blockbuster ever - was much more fun.

madkevin said...

No offense to Mr. Old Goat, but telling somebody to read The Silmarillion before reading The Lord Of The Rings is like telling somebody to read a bunch of Bible commentary before reading the New Testament. The Silmarillion was never intended to be read as a novel - it's essentially a cobbled together collection of short pieces and notes on the history of Middle Earth that Tolkien used as references to create the trilogy. For nerds like myself it's awesome, but it's completely unessential to the less hardcore fan.

When I was younger, I read the trilogy and The Hobbit pretty obsessively. (Big surprise, I'm sure.) The Hobbit is, like you say, a light, breezy ride. Sure, things get a bit complicated with the five armies converging on the Lonley Mountain, but at it's heart it's a reasonably simple, fun tale about a little hobbit thief meeting a TOTALLY BAD ASS DRAGON.

The Lord Of The Rings is a different thing, because while the Hobbit never really loses sight of the main plot, the trilogy tends to get very far away from the simple part of the plot (Frodo, Sam and Gollum trying to destroy the Ring) to indulge in some pretty dense political intrigue. By the time you get to the Return Of The King, the narrative splits into those two main streams, with each alternating chapter devoting itself to one stream. As a kid, I tended to skip the political stuff and just reread the bits about Frodo, but now as an adult I find the political stuff way, way more interesting.

The movies, I think, reflect that, because they were made by adults as opposed to 12-year-old rabid fanboys.

Mind you, I'm completely unable to have any real critical distance from the movies because they get so much of it to look like what I pictured in my head. I could watch the Balrog all goddamned day.

bashford said...

@madkevin

Totally agree with the Balrog comment, that was awesome! I can never understand though how Gandalf could kill that beast, and be so ineffectual in every other battle!

You touch on another good point: The book was enjoyable for different reasons based on your age. When I was a kid, I didn't understand a lot of the nuances and politics involved in the political intrigue, but those became my favourite parts in my advancing years.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Bashford, I did the same, but I interspersed each extended cut with the bonus materials (since I was renting the DVDs).

I agree that Frodo could not have been much more developed in the time available...I just got tired of him staring into the distance with his big blue eyes.

All the hobbits had different accents, which is strange considering they weren't exactly geographically distant from each other. Pippin was Scottish, Frodo was more aristocratic, and Sam had a northern "mummerset" accent which it seems he could barely maintain. When he says "I can't carry it for you Mr. Frodo...BUT I CAN CARRY YOU!" I cringe.

I agree about Orlando, though. Pretty. But Cate Blanchett was wonderful as always.

I found the Comic-Relief Gimli to be distracting actually, but his tone-lightening point was well-taken. He seemed a bit Scooby-Doo.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I LOVED the evoling behind-the-scenes drama, especially Jackson's horrifying way of forcing them to have the RotK premiere in NZ. Wow!

Also Philippa Boyen's inexplicable weight gain and almost total disappearance from RotK, and the nameless, ponytailed sound recorder who seemed almost totally humourless.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Aha, MadKevin, but does the Balrog have wings? I remember there being a minor flurry about this at the time (I was part of the Zangband mailing-list, and since the Balrog was one of the Big Bosses the movie caused concern).

I agree, it's an amazing effect that still looks great today! And Shelob, wow.

I think I'm familiar enough with the LOTR books to be able to get lots out of "The Silmarillion," if read slowly enough. I love the idea of a world without light -- just stars -- and the first-born elves all trying to figure out which way they should go.

I agree, though, that somebody who's never read LOTR should not read this first. :)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Bashford, I believe that some of the Balrog's innefectuality was due to it being quenched by the underground lake...which was cut out of the movie at the last minute. :)

Gary said...

I disagree somewhat about the breeziness of The Hobbit. Perhaps it's because I was lucky enough to purchase an annotated version many years ago.

This version really goes into depth about the Nordic, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon sagas and legends. Even more so, it gets into the origins of the "language" and place-names that Tolkien invented, and his fascination with, and study of, these languages (including his membership in the "Coal Biters," a group that was formed to read and discuss the Edda sagas.)

I re-read this Hobbit every couple of years or so, and I always find something that I didn't know before.

A new film version of The Hobbit is supposed to come out in the next year or two. If this is true, then I will hope it's done with a view to the authentic story and has the richness that well-annotated books have.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

The real difficulty with a "Hobbit" adaptation will be finding a romantic interest for Bilbo -- preferably a little elf -- and making Ian Holm look young. Plus finding a role for fan-favourite Viggo, and expanding Gollum's part.

I do wonder how the dwarves didn't drown in those barrels.

bashford said...

St. Bernard:

"Bashford, I believe that some of the Balrog's innefectuality was due to it being quenched by the underground lake..."

Rather, I was commenting on Gandalf's 'innefectuality'. Kills the Balrog then occasionally does parlour tricks?? He dispelled the curse on Theoden, but that was about it!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

When I wrote "innefectual," I was using the DWARVISH spelling of the word. :)

Gandalf seemed like the typical Bad Parent. The kind of guy who throws his children into the ocean "to teach them how to swim," and then -- when they're rescued by magic dolphins -- says "I knew you could do it!"

Gary said...

There are plot devices for giving Bilbo some romantic interests without altering the plot too much...

For example, he loves the Elvin singing when they are guests at Beorn's lodge. Perhaps he could fall asleep to it, and dream of a romance with a like-minded Hobbit, or Elvin princess. (No Dwarf babes - the chicks are probably too grim and task-oriented!) How about a human female from among the townsfolk?

Bilbo's intro to Gollum in the underground cave (when Bilbo first finds the ring) is the perfect setting for the harrowing chase that ends with Bilbo finding that he is invisible. Give Gollum more screen time, let him find and eat some animated, nasty-looking snacks while chasing Bilbo, and "Precious" is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille!

And don't forget good ol' Smaug - lots of action there: The drama of the thrush and the hidden key-hole; the tunnels; the Dwarves’ treasures; Smaug’s lair and other shots inside the mountain (use Ralph Richardson-like voices for calling up Dwarvish memories from the past.)

More action: Stealing the Arkenstone! The eagles! The archer and the black arrow! The town in flames! The Five Armies! There's really a wealth of detail that could be used for great storytelling. If anything, the producer & director would have to cut out a bit.

And, yeah, how about those barrels?

GeoX said...

What I mainly remember about the LoTR movies was flippin' Agent Smith--he of the enormous forehead--as Elrond. There's a catastrophic miscasting for you. Also, the horribly cheesy CG ghosties in the third one. I think I might not be cut out for movies of this kind.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Gary, I'm very curious about the Dwarf wives myself...I'm 3/4 through Silmarillion and the Dwarves still sound like a race of men only.

I know that Gimli made a crack about them in the movie, but that was COMIC RELIEF Gimli.

Oh yes, Smaug would make a great CGI villain, no doubt. Especially in those echoey caves. I think he SHOULD have a Kiwi accent!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Mr. Elrond certainly DID have a large forehead...but that's because of his Big Elvin Brain!

I've never seen that actor in any other role so I didn't see miscasting myself.

But I agree: the ghosties were bad, and in the extended cut you have to watch a lot more of them (and some tedious jumping around on skulls).

madkevin said...

Some really interesting responses to this post. I just have one more movie-related tidbit to add:

When I trucked down to Conestoga Mall to see The Return Of The King, there was some hapless theatre employee doing some market research, asking people what movie they were there to see. I said: "Look at me. I'm an overweight dude with glasses and a goatee. What do you think I'm here to see?" "Ummmm.... Return Of The King?" "There you go."

Gary said...

Madkevin, I don't know you from Adam, but your post about going to the movies sounds - scarily - like something the comic book shopkeeper on The Simpsons would say.

Even the sarcasm is dead-on.

Should anyone ask, years ago I used to have a goatee. More currently, I wear glasses and have been - gently - chided by my wife that watching a movie sans popcorn wouldn't be the worst thing for my health...

Uh - I won't discuss or admit any former membership in the A/V squad.

;-)

madkevin said...

As my long-suffering wife will attest, I'm MUCH more annoying than Comic Book Guy. I can rant for hours - literally - about such amazingly important topics like "Lucas vs. Spielberg: Which One Raped My Childhood The Hardest?" or "Why Star Trek Isn't Fit To Lick Babylon 5's Balls". We recently watched Juno, and there's a scene where Justin Bateman's character talks about why Herschell Gordon Lewis was a better movie-maker than Dario Argento, I PAUSED THE MOVIE to pontificate about why J.B. was TOTALLY FUCKING WRONG.

That's right. I felt compelled to correct the opinion of a completely fictional character. Comic Book Guy ain't got nuthin' on me.

Gary said...

We are indeed blessed with understanding wives...

scott said...

Speaking of peevish correcting...

It's Jason Bateman, Kev. Not Justin.

But I couldn't finish LOTR in either movie or novel form, so you're obviously a better man than I.