As a lifelong fan of Tolkien’s stories I admit I was intrigued to hear, a few years ago, that a live action version of The Lord of the Rings was being made. Like many fans I have read and re-read the books many times and have built up a picture in my own mind over the years of the characters, landscape etc. This is, of course, aided by the wonderful descriptions that Tolkien has given us. As an amateur painter I have attempted many renderings of favourite sections in LOTR and other books often with mixed results!
When I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring I was completely captivated by the visual interpretation Peter Jackson had produced, assisted of course by the excellent artwork of Alan Lee & John Howe. Add to this Tolkien’s own descriptions and it could be argued that he had a foolproof blueprint for the film, but of course it isn’t that simple. Casting, screenplay, locations all come into play. Peter Jackson seems to have had the magic touch with all of these. I felt the actors were (nearly) perfectly cast, each seeming to fit the role as if it were written for them. The locations are awesome; New Zealand seems to be the ideal Middle Earth. The screenplay was always, in my opinion, going to be the most hotly debated aspect. How can you take a work as huge as LOTR and transfer it entirely onto the screen. There were always going to have to be sacrifices and some people were going to be disappointed. I had really hoped the Old Forest section would be included, but as with the BBC radio dramatisation this was cut out (Shame!)
Nevertheless the film is a masterpiece. In my opinion it captures the “feel” of Book 1 beautifully, introducing the characters, setting the scene and giving us some thrilling moments (Moria and the Balrog being my favourite part of Book 1 and of the film). It conveys the naïve quality of the hobbits and their gradual realisation that the world outside the Shire is big and dangerous in just the way I wanted.
As a fan I always felt that I would be too critical of the film. After all, someone who wasn’t familiar with LOTR would, presumably, see the film without preconceived ideas, without their own expectations and view it simply as an action, fantasy film. You have to admire Peter Jackson for his commitment to the film. It must be quite a daunting task to put your interpretation of Tolkien’s work up before the world and no one should accept that his is the definitive representation of Middle-earth. (Of course, I am sure Peter Jackson would never claim this.) What I am getting at is this. As a devoted fan, am I capable of viewing the film fairly without picking up on every little change or adaptation? Of course Peter Jackson going to take certain liberties with the plot in order to make the film both more accessible and more appealing to a mass market. I mean did we really need to see Arwen in the first film, what happened to Glorfindel at the Ford of Bruinen? We saw Arwen because apparently you can’t make a film without some “romantic/love interest.” I don’t necessarily agree with his changes but I am prepared to accept them in the context of the film. From a purist point of view it is, maybe, sacrilegious but let’s be realistic, it is only a story after all!
Overall the “Fellowship” is a superb piece of work, more than worthy of the numerous awards and high praise that have been lavished on it.
So what about The Two Towers? Having eagerly waited all year for the second film, after watching the first several times in cinema and more than a few on DVD, I was certainly not disappointed.
The film is long (nearly three hours) but I didn’t feel as if I had been sat still for that long. For someone unfamiliar with the story it may be difficult to keep up with the plot. As there are three separate strands to the story and the film jumps from one to the other frequently you do need to concentrate. This mirrors the feel of the book and I felt that TTT captured the “darker, more serious” tone extremely well. The changes in Frodo’s character from innocent, happy go lucky to weary and bitter is portrayed beautifully and Gollum is just fantastic. I’ve always felt a certain amount of sympathy for Smeagol and the CGI Gollum comes across with just the right amount of sympathy and mistrust. Again some (very) major liberties have been take plot wise. I didn’t see the need for Aragorn to fall over a cliff, and Frodo travelling to Osgiliath and facing down a Nazgul was a bit silly. However these could be excused as Peter Jackson’s way of moving his adaptation of the story along. I suppose he needed a way of allowing Aragorn to be able to “dramatically” inform Theoden of the vast Orc army approaching Helm’s Deep. I can only assume that Ceorl was considered to minor a character to bother with. (I think I am right on this point having checked the book but am happy to be corrected by others if wrong.) As for Frodo, I honestly can’t see why this section has been changed as it has. In the book, after initial mistrust, a bond of friendship forms between Faramir and Frodo and this didn’t come across at all. Maybe this comes in the final film but I can’t see it happening myself.
Why Haldir had to appear at Helm’s Deep and get himself killed into the bargain I’m not sure.
These gripes aside the film is a visual masterpiece (again) Helm’s Deep, the Dead Marshes, the Gates of Mordor and not to mention Rohan are all beautifully portrayed and the final battle scenes at Helm’s Deep and Isengard are fantastic. Of course the action has to be emphasised in the battle scenes, as before, to keep the wider audience happy maybe.
My only real plea to Peter Jackson would be – don’t go overboard in making Gimli the comic focus of the story. A little bit of humour is acceptable and I suppose, unfortunately necessary but he is in danger of degenerating into slapstick. How many “tossing the dwarf” jokes can we have? OK, it does raise a laugh and lighten the tone a bit but does the story need it. Would you have Hamlet cracking jokes, or Heathcliff? I think not.
But at the risk of becoming to pompous I would like to finish with this. As the title of this piece says this is a very personal review of the films and is not intended to provoke any particular response. It is simply my view and my response to watching the films. I have thoroughly enjoyed both films. Regardless of changes to the book they are superb works of art in their own right. If you want pure Tolkien then read the book, the films are adaptations of the books not the books themselves. Peter Jackson should be congratulated on a masterpiece and I am impatiently waiting for Christmas 2004 and The Return of the King.