Lord of the Rings Trilogy, revisited

The shooting script for Two Towers had Arwen showing up at Helm’s Deep and fighting in that battle. They filmed a lot of that but ended up not using it. I think most of us would agree that was the right choice. It was better for Jackson to err on the side of the book, where Arwen doesn’t play a major role. Besides, at least in the extended versions of the last two movies there are periodic Arwen appearances.

  1. The physical manifestation of the Eye of Sauron in ROTK. I know that Peter Jackson agonized over how to visualize the idea that the Hobbits could feel Sauron’s inner eye focused on them. But I don’t think what he went with worked. In Fellowship, when Frodo puts on the ring and we see the world as he sees it and the visualization was so, SO perfect. But in ROTK, the eye sitting on top of the tower like some sort of Spotlight Of Evil™ just looked silly, especially when the tower is collapsing and the eye is looking about in horror. THE EYE IS NOT SAURON! But most audiences walked out thinking it was. I think this could have done better.

What would you have done instead? Originally a physical embodiment of Sauron fought Aragorn at the Black Gate - that was what they filmed. Some elements of that were used in some reaction shots they left in that part of the movie. Later they superimposed the cave troll instead because they didn’t think the idea worked. The problem is that Sauron in the books is a rather nebulous concept to begin with, something that takes a lot of explanation by Tolkien to get across.

I re-read the books after the first film came out, and I remember anticipating that scene more than any other.

IIRC, in the book, when the orcs smash in the main gate to Minas Tirith with their battering ram, the force of the breach downs all the defending Gondor soldiers to a man. The first attacker through the gate is the Witch King, who finds…

…a lone defender, Gandalf, kneeling down and preparing to hold off the attackers single-handedly. Gandalf then does a reprise of his “you shall not pass” speech as the champions of each side prepare to engage each other in single combat. Before the fight begins, though, they hear the horns of the Rohan cavalry which had just arrived at the battle, forcing the Witch King to withdraw to deal with this new threat.

Shooting that scene as written would have been EPIC, but instead of the Witch King breaching the gate first Jackson changed it to three trolls. And the later fight between Gandalf and the Witch King added in the extended edition wasn’t nearly as cool as it should have been.

Also the Witch King would never be able to break Gandalf the White’s staff at a distance like he did in that scene.

I’m fine with leaving Arwen out, but if you’re gonna leave her out, then leave her out completely. Don’t have her first appearance be this warrior woman who can get the drop on Aragorn and then save Frodo from eight ring wraiths with a fast horse and magic. That appearance set our expectations of her character, but she basically changes to a mute porcelain doll after that.

Also, if you’re going to leave her out, you have to down-play the romantic triangle, because you can’t have a romantic triangle with only two characters. Aragorn pining for an off-screen character doesn’t heft much dramatic weight.

I’m definitely glad they didn’t go with a full physical manifestation. What would I have done differently? I’m no Peter Jackson, but I would rather have seen something closer to how they represented Sauron in Fellowship (when Frodo puts the ring on in Bree) - as something more within Frodo’s mind. I don’t have a perfect solution, but what they did do felt wrong to me.

I always thought there was more than a bit of envy in his voice. Almost like he was saying “We’re fighting upscale orcs here, can you believe that shiat?”.

  1. Even in the books Eowyn is much more attractive than Arwen. I think Tolkien meant the reader to be sad for Eowyn from the start, because Arwen was in his mind obviously so much superior to Eowyn in every way; it’s just that he failed to convey Arwen’s superiority in his actual prose. But since Jackson chose to make Arwen a major character in the movie, I agree it was a failure there that Eowyn was still a more attractive heroine despite Arwen’s extra screen time.

  2. Yes, the eye of Sauron in the movies is very dumb. They certainly needed some kind of visual manifestation for the movies, but I would have liked it more if it had been a subtle effect rather than glaring out from the top of the tower like that all the time. Without even a ring-wraith’s body anymore, Sauron has to be something of an anticlimax in any event, I guess. This was a case of deliberately dumbing down the story for the benefit of audiences who had no special interest in the books and had never read them, and who would otherwise be disappointed in subtlety from the supreme villain.

  3. Theoden is only a medium-scale character in the books. He takes center stage for just a couple of chapters, and even his revival from his spiritual and physical illness is due to intervention from the main fellowship, so I don’t really object to his portrayal in the movies. Gimli is of course not meant to be a figure of fun in the LotR books, but what the hell, the movie needed comic relief in a way the books did not. Actually the dwarves were a pretty silly group in the Hobbit, too, so it’s even kind of authentic, in a way. Since comic relief is rare in the books, you can see why they exploited Gimli to the hilt in the movies.

I haven’t seen various rereleases and special cuts. The thing I liked least in the movie was probably the damn frolicking gay hobbits in the infinitely prolonged denouement. I mean, I understand completely why there was no way to squeeze Tom Bombadil into the movies, but why then make the time for this tedious silly ending? The denouement(s) in the books were far superior. At the time I saw the first film, I also thought they made Gandalf too much of a magical action hero by depicting some dramatic magical combats that were never described directly in the books. But I guess it was another necessary down-dumbing for a fantasy film audience.

I also really liked Cate Blanchett as Galadriel.

I like Bean’s performance, but Boromir is the one character where the movie was so different then what I had imagined from reading the trilogy that I still cannot quite reconcile the differences. When I read the books now I envision the movie actors in just about every case when their characters appear. But not quite for Boromir, who still comes off to me in a much different way.

Not quite: instead of kneeling, he’s mounted on Shadowfax.

I was ten or eleven when I first read Lord of the Rings. I think it was just sheer bloody mindedness that got me through some of those early boring parts, but in some ways I think it helped it that I was so young when I read it. If I’d read it these days, I don’t think I’d be able to put up with some of that awful prose and pacing these days.

Favourite bit from the movies that hasn’t been mentioned yet: Pippin’s Song.

If you like the books, and think the kid would like them, then I think they should be read before the movies are seen. The movies will set up a false expectation that the books are one big series of battles and action sequences, when in fact they are much slower, with only action punctuations.

Also, while many of the movie cast are well chosen, some are not, and regardless, it would be hard not to visualize those actors when reading the book afterward. I think it’s better to be able to visualize the scenes and characters oneself.

As already noted, the Hobbit should be much more readable than LotR for a kid, since it was after all intended as a children’s book. If a child doesn’t like the Hobbit, then maybe there’s no point to forcing LotR on them.

Let him see the movies. Unanchored from the fictional anthropology that made them special the books are ghastly, humourless things.

Well, I don’t think he fled, more likely he drew them off. He knew Frodo and co. were moving through that area. His commission was also not to throw down and fight the Free Peoples’ battles for them, but to guide via wisdom and counsel.

</uber geeky nitpicking>

Reading The Hobbit first also helps relieve much of the boredom at the beginning of Fellowship, which has quite a bit of humor, provided you already have all the context given in the previous tale.

Fun to think about!

My three favorite scenes:

  1. Bilbo’s speech during his birthday party. With so much facetime bluescreeing that goes on nowadays in movies the gregarious silliness of the scene, with several genuine adults participating, felt like the most real moment in the movie. It also benefited from having a distinctly English appeal, like something that could have almost been shown on the BBC.

  2. Aragorn’s foreshadowing of the threat of the Nazgul, specifically the vignettes of the Nazgul in different settings. Silent, in the daylight, in the distance, was the only real moment of unease throughout the movie.

  3. The view of the Dead City in the third movie. Though it may have looked like something from a video game, the unexplained strangeness of it made it seem far more threatening. Close to this are those scenes of the rebuilding of Barad-ur.

The Hobbit, btw, is the strongest book, judged purely as a book, that Tolkien wrote. It’s also meant for children and is the most “English” of them, with many references to English childhood rhymes and sayings that are not just anachronistic but perfectly illegible today.

Me too. I read the books by myself for the first time when I was 6, and the explanatory parts were generally my favorites, although the first couple times I read the books, I skipped over the talky bits in the Two Towers, when Pippin is riding with Gandalf, because I HAD TO KNOW what was happening to Sam and Frodo. Those later became some of my absolute favorite parts, though.

This is not a bad idea, although if you’ve the stamina for it, I’d really recommend reading the books aloud to him. My mother read me the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and large chunks of the Silmarillion when I was 4 years old, and it’s one of the most treasured memories of my childhood. A few years ago, I read the Hobbit aloud to the son of a friend, and it was an awesome experience.

Well he definitely did lead them on…going through the Ettenmoors instead of the direct path back to Rivendale, but only after he managed to escape from their clutches! And they gave chase because the hunt for a Maia skull trophy was ON!

Also the Nazgul attacked him so he didn’t have a choice about being the subtle in-direct sage guy. He was fighting for his life man!

The reason why she is much more active in Fellowship is because is merged with a couple of other elves, including Glorfindel. They relegate her to a lesser role in the other two movies because they need her remote for the tension/love triangle/payoff at the end and they still get the heroic female character with Eowyn.

I love Pippin’s Song and I love even more that Billy Baldwin wrote it himself. That scene really brings out Denethor II’s madness in a visceral way. Its almost like he is eating Faramir.

Agree with The Hobbit as the test for that. It is very much a perfect first encounter with Tolkien and his prose. After that it’s politics this and Lemlas that. It’s odd to think of the evolution of Children’s books from what we had during my childhood to what kids have today. As I sit here, Tolkien and Lewis are all that come to mind, athough I read all kinds of stuff voraciously. I can’t remember what else I read in this time frame: did Piers Anthony, Heinlein, Asimov, Aspirin, etc. come later? I remember being 12 and seeing a trailer for the movie version of Dune and rushing to thankfully read Herbert’s version before the Lynch version ruined it forever. It’s tough at almost 40 to remember the difference between 10 and 13.

What about the Chronicles of Prydain?

I’m sorry, but this is driving me crazy! It’s Rivendell.

The best and weirdest thing about the Lord of the Rings was how Peter Jackson somehow managed to get a direct connection to my heartstrings. The bad thing is that I’m not sure if the trilogy really stands up to close scrutiny if I managed to analyse it between the tears.