29 January 2012


“I’m the strange Dr Weird, and you’ve just entered the Vaults of Mindless Fellowship . . . .”

Finished watching, last night, the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring. So that I have now seen the entirety of the Peter Jackson trilogy.

Overall, my observations have remained consistent: I should not mind ways in which they modified the narrative for cinematic considerations, but the freedom which the screenwriters took to themselves, in playing fast and loose with the character of Tolkien’s dramatis personae, (a) resulted in gratuitous changes which were hardly ‘necessary’ for the movie(s), (b) made for weaker characters, and therefore for reduced power of the story and its arc, and (c) betrayed either a failure to have read and understood what Tolkien wrote, or a self-important disregard for what Tolkien, or both.

I suppose I do not necessarily lament the fact that the house at Crickhollow, and the episode of the Old Forest/Tom Bombadil/the barrow wight, were dropped. But one important aspect of the interlude at Crickhollow was, that Merry and Pippin joined in the quest knowingly and with assent. That got lost with Jackson’s decision to have the brace of young hobbits just stumble onto Frodo and Sam in the cornfield. In Tolkien’s narrative, Merry and Pippin were part comic foil, yes, but also informed participants, who mature along with (though at slower pace than) Frodo and Sam; and it means something when they are permitted by Elrond to complete the tale of nine for the Fellowship which sets out from Rivendell. Jackson reduces them to munchkins.

I’ve not yet made up my mind, yea or nay, about Jackson’s decision to show the narrative of Gandalf’s delay in (real-ish time) parallel with the hobbits’ journey to Rivendell. So put me down as considering the possibility that it’s all right. But, I wasn’t crazy about the written-in “duelling wizards” episode in Orthanc, for much the same reason that I wasn’t crazy about the “exorcism” fantasy imposed upon Théoden later on.

Similarly, not mad about the “evil-faced Bilbo” bit in Rivendell when the older hobbit glimpses the Ring on the chain around Frodo’s neck. Even less seemly (if that be possible) was Bilbo’s blubbering afterwards. It’s clear that the screenwriters have no sense of how they are dramatically altering the tone of Tolkien’s characters, because they have no better than a comic book concept of drama. They’re like kids who only work with stick figures, who have decided they are the ones to do a copy of a Titian.

One understands the arguments for making a fuller character in the movies of Arwen (who is off-stage for most of Tolkien’s narrative). But I think they ought to have been able to do that, without so radically rupturing Tolkien’s story of Aragorn and his path to the restoration of the unified Kingdom. Part of the collateral damage there (as I’ve observed before) is the diminution of Elrond . . . who just becomes a supporting actor in a Danielle-Steele-type love story where the two lovers are on pointedly different pages.

An equal but opposite horror, is how Saruman is made a much bigger cheese, practically a hand-in-glove lieutenant to the Dark Tower (where Tolkien’s story is much more nuanced, much more interesting). That the near-catastrophe on Caradhras is now attributed directly to Saruman is another instance of the screenwriters taking a rich narrative, and reducing it to two dimensions.

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