Why Lord of the Rings Will – and Must – Be Remade
By Doug Kern
Tech Central Station – July 16, 2004
More Lord of the Rings movies — oh, yesss, preciousss, we wantsss them.
And within the next twenty or thirty years, we’ll get them. Children who watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy will take their own children to a complete remake of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s inevitable.
Most great movies will never be remade. We will never see remakes of The Godfather, or Gone with the Wind, or even Star Wars. But Lord of the Rings is different.
Why? Consider these five reasons.
The pre-existing fame of the LOTR novels prevents the actors in the LOTR trilogy from dominating the roles they played.
No sane actor would dare to recreate the role of Vito Corleone; the role is bound up too tightly with the performance of Marlon Brando. Similarly, what actress can hope to compete with Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara? But in the current LOTR trilogy, no actor consumes his role so completely. The finest performance in LOTR (Gollum notwithstanding) may have come from Ian McKellan as Gandalf. Yet, much as I enjoyed his performance, I can think of several actors who could have done as good a job portraying Gandalf: Sean Connery, Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart — the list goes on. The major characters in LOTR are so densely textured in the books — and yet so indelibly etched into the minds of Tolkien’s fans, after decades of reading and re-reading the novels — that the performances of the leads in the current trilogy seem like interpretations of the characters, rather than definitions. Moreover, Peter Jackson’s direction emphasized plot, rather than characterization, thus allowing room for future actors to place their own imprints on the characters in a way that would be impossible in other remakes.
Tolkien’s novels are so richly detailed and his plots so intricately crafted that future directors will be able to re-tell the story from their own unique vantage points.
Star Wars could be remade, but the story could only be retold — not re-imagined. Cinematically, there is nothing more to the Star Wars world beyond what George Lucas has chosen to show us. Star Wars offers no themes to balance, no nuances to explore, and no room for a director to craft a new vision. A remake could only imitate the original. It could not create, but only re-create.
By contrast, a remake of LOTR could be art. Tolkien’s novels teem over with themes, motifs, and plot notes that a thoughtful director could explore in ways that Peter Jackson didn’t. For example: my favorite aspect of the LOTR novels is the pervasive and melancholy sense of loss that permeates every page. All the wise characters realize that the world they knew is slipping away, and even victory cannot prevent the great ships from sailing into the West. The heroes fight less for their own dying world than for a world yet to come; strength and vitality ebb from all things great and marvelous, and the stain of evil is not easily erased, if indeed it is erased at all. Jackson touches only lightly upon this dolorous theme; a different director could make that theme the center of the movie, thus changing the trilogy completely. Then again, one could imagine a lighter, more childlike LOTR told from the point-of-view of the Hobbits — or a LOTR that focuses more explicitly upon the religious overtones of the novels — or a LOTR told from the perspective of the One Ring itself. One LOTR trilogy cannot come close to telling the story in every way that it can and should be told.