The Epic Tale of… Bad Choices – What were they thinking??

by Dec 19, 2002Reviews

Did they release the rough cut by mistake? That was my first coherent thought after I recovered from the breakneck pace of TTT. Where is the character development that made FotR so special, that made us care about these people and this story? And where is the artfully crafted script with loving attention to detail? Sacrificed at the altar of (to paraphrase the mainstream media) “action packed battle sequences” and “stunning special effects.”

To say that Peter Jackson and company overplayed their hand is an understatement. Swept away by the phenomenal success of FotR, I can’t help but think they decided to see how much further they could push the envelope toward a multimillion-dollar-making mega-hit appealing to the widest demographic possible. Where Fellowship stayed true to the spirit of Tolkien’s vision–if not the letter–Towers does neither. Case in point: What the hell happened to Faramir?

Tolkien wove a number of recurring themes throughout The Lord of the Rings. One of them was the alternating of good and evil in the encounters of the Fellowship. For example, after the dangers of the Old Forest, the hobbits found respite, rest, and guidance with Tom Bombadil. After the incident at Amon Sul, they recovered at Rivendell, after Moria, Lothlorien. And after the crossing of the Dead Marshes, Frodo and Sam again found respite — with Faramir, a friend in disguise.

Faramir, in the book, represented the positive side of mankind in direct contrast to his brother. He displayed honor, integrity, self-restraint — traits that are rare among Men in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. The existence of those traits encourages the hobbits to continue, as does Faramir himself with words of advice and provisions. To make him yet another shortsighted, grasping human is to miss the point entirely.

Faramir as a character was altered beyond recognition in the movie. Rather than being thoughtful, balanced and far-seeing, the antithesis of Boromir, he plays a sullen, more one-dimensional version of his dead brother. “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway,” Faramir said in the book. A pity that the same could not be said by movie Faramir. Except for Boromir’s final moment of weakness, his character was by far the more noble of the two on screen.

Also highly questionable is the cartoon-like portrayal of Smeagol/Gollum. I have seen TTT twice; both times the audience laughed at him at several inappropriate points. Yes, the CGI effects are admirable–but far less important than his function as a character. Tolkien’s intention was that the reader pities Gollum because he is a victim of the ruinous power of the Ring, once innocent and still worthy of redemption.

The book portrayed Gollum as pitiable yet malicious, sinister even when trying to cooperate, the embodiment of corruption. Movie Gollum is pitied primarily because he is a pathetic, raving psychotic with multiple personalities. Was the character exaggerated to cartoonish proportions? Absolutely. Moreover, using Gollum for comic relief further detracts from the importance of his role and further damages an already dubious portrayal.

The movie’s depiction of Treebeard and the involvement of the Ents is also a serious departure from the spirit of Tolkien’s work. It is well-known that one of LotR’s main themes is that moral goodness is directly connected to–and perhaps a result of–one’s relationship to nature. This alone lends the Ents significance beyond simply acting as a convenient instrument for the destruction of Isengard’s industrial base. It is notable that, in the book, the Ents decide to act because they recognize the inter-relatedness of life in Middle-earth and their place in it; in other words, they accept responsibility. They are aware of Saruman’s treachery against nature and need only to be roused to action. By using Pippin’s “trick” device in the movie, not only is this important theme eliminated, but we miss the potentially thrilling spectacle of the Ents becoming magnificently angry and marching to war–rather than magically showing up at the edge of the forest when called. If the intention were simply to indicate that Pippin had finally switched on his brain, that could have been done in a host of ways that would not have damaged the story’s integrity. The omission of the Huorns’ role in the victory at Helm’s Deep is also another unnecessary, pointless change.

Part of the art of great storytelling is to make the audience care about what happens to the characters. I cared very much about those in FotR but, unfortunately, in TTT they’ve been reduced to fully poseable action figures. Jackson’s decision to emphasize battles and special effects over characterization and plot has irreparably damaged his interpretation of this timeless story. If RotK is handled similarly, Jackson’s “history-making epic trilogy” will have failed in its attempt to interpret Tolkien’s masterwork for the silver screen.


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