21 December 2011

Return to The Return of the King

Enthusiasts for the movies will wonder at why I am only now viewing Peter Jackson's historical The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The short answer is, because I love the book(s). One consequent is, I felt that I should probably be impatient (at the very least) with ways in which the screenplay "tinkered" with Tolkien.

That said, I have by chance, in various public or semi-public places, seen enough "snippets" of the movies, that I felt motivated to view them in their entirety.

This is the first instalment in the account of that journey There and Back Again.

(What's it have to do with music? you may well ask. Shan't answer right off.)

So, I have at last viewed the greater part (I suppose) of the first disc of the extended version of The Return of the King.

Before I get to the airing of grievances, I'll say straight off that (even from the as-yet limited taste I've had of the movies), whatever its failings, Jackson's trilogy is a stunning, impressive, even great achievement. And although I see a great many ways in which it ought to have been done different (i.e., truer to the author, and to his story), it is hard to imagine that Jackson's work here could be materially improved upon.

And now, drumroll, please:

In the back of my mind, there was dim recollection (from back when our man in Rancho Cucamonga saw it in the cinema) that Peter Jackson had excised "The Scouring of the Shire" from The Return of the King. He did so, even though (I am sure he was made aware) the author himself considered it "an essential part of the plot, foreseen from the outset." (Of course, narrative-wise, I haven't nearly got to that point yet.)

Heading the list of artistic liberties taken by the filmmaker, then, to which I cannot help but object: Saruman's death is transferred (accelerated) to the confrontation with Gandalf.

That decision also conflates Saruman's death, with Gandalf's formal "expulsion" of Saruman from wizardly authority.Jackson's Gandalf has peculiar obsession with getting information from Saruman, which has a curious resonance with № 2 from The Prisoner. You understand that Gandalf was certainly concerned (and tirelessly) with understanding and knowledge, in judging how to act. Information is an uncharacteristic word to add to Gandalf's script.

(Another word which never appears in Tolkien, and which therefore mars the tone of the screenplay: regurgitation. So much of the value in Tolkien's work is the poetry of it, that it is criminal to kill off the poetry like this.)

The dialogue of the confrontation at the gate of Orthanc (which for simplicity's sake Jackson seems to call Isengard) loses its richness and interiority: lost are the mental fears of the bystanders both as Theoden begins to reply to the wizard's entreaties for peace, and as Saruman invites Gandalf to enter the tower. (Loss, too, of the great line, "The guest who has left by the roof will think twice before entering again at the door.")

Of course, it is hard to see how a filmmaker might realize Tolkien's description of Saruman's death, the "spirit" rising, looking with hopeless longing to the West, but dissipated with a juridical breeze. But it's a desperate poetical loss to have the, erm, fallen wizard plunge down from the top of Orthanc, onto a spiked wheel.

Consequently, the manner of the Palantír's "falling" into the hands of Pippin is entirely different.

Pippin's misadventure upon yielding to his curiosity about the mysterious stone, is astonishingly dramatized by Jackson. Almost did not believe my eyes.

That the temporarily reformed (but at heart, duplicitous) Sméagol-Gollum manages to drive a wedge between Frodo and Sam, is a horrific wrench of the narrative, gross and unnatural. That obscenity is not even marginally justified by sober considerations of the problems of realizing the subtleties of Sméagol-Gollum's changes (shifts, really) in character through the course of the journey. That, too, is a loss … here in the movie, Gollum never becomes the genuinely pitiable character which Tolkien skilfully depicts.

Disappointed to see Elrond Half-Vulcan reduced to a sort of errand boy, himself delivering Andúril to Aragorn. Unthinkable that the Lord of Rivendell would go a-wandering to Theoden's tent. And apparently the whole process of Aragorn's decision to brave the Paths of the Dead is different. That Theoden would even say (in effect) Why should we ride to Gondor's aid when they didn't come to ours? is a severely sour note

The fabrication of Arwen's failing health here is contemptible.

Don't like that Aragorn's touching line to Éowyn (paraphrased as "I have wished you joy since I first saw you") was transplanted to the Muster at Dunharrow.

Denethor looks a bit like he wandered in off the set of Throw Momma From the Train.

All these are objections I find, and I've not yet seen all of even the first disc of the extended version of the third film (at a rough guess, less than 15% of The Show).

And I should say again that, while I raise these objections (and I do think them artistically important) there is much which is done well (I'll get to those considerations), and I am enjoying the ride.

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