Wednesday 2 July 2014

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - thirteen years on...


Thirteen years ago I went to the cinema to watch the first Peter Jackson movie of The Lord of the Rings, and within four minutes from the title I was absolutely convinced that this was going to be a great experience of my life:

My enjoyment was helped by the fact that back in 2001 I had not read LotR for quite a large gap of years. I had dipped into it frequently, but I had not read it all nor sequentially. Therefore I was not much aware of the many detailed changes and omissions made by the Fellowship of the Ring movie.

Anyway, I enjoyed it as much as any movie I have ever seen. And when I saw the DVD extended version, I liked it even more.

The Two Towers was considerably worse as a movie - badly edited, with a ridiculous 'Aragorn is dead... NOT' addition, and a real mess being made of the Ents - which somewhat overcast the perfection of Gollum.

The Return of the King marked a return to the very high level of the first movie, with perhaps the best moments of the whole series in the charge of Rohan across the Pelennor Fields and Eowyn's slaying of the Nazgul and his steed - and (strangely, perhaps) the lighting of the beacons of Gondor.


Thirteen years on, I am unfortunately more aware of the bad aspects of the treatment, script, directing and acting - yet I still rate LotR as one of the very greatest of all movies.

Why? Two major reasons: the mise-en-scene and the music.

1. The mise-en-scene includes the design - by illustrator Alan Lee (mostly) and all the other aspects of the visuals, as chosen and implemented  by Peter Jackson.

This was quite simply a revelation to me. For example, in the above opening sequence, I had never been able to form in my mind a picture of Sauron, or a picture of the battle of the Last Alliance in Mordor, or what Hobbiton actually looked like.

Suddenly, there it all was! Just as I would have wished to imagine it, but had failed.

2. The musical score, by Howard Shore, is by far the best music ever written for any movie (except, of course, I haven't seen every movie - or anything like!). It is not just an enhancement of emotions, and extremely beautiful and thrilling qua music; but - especially at the very end - pretty much carries the main narrative in all its turns and closures, in a manner that can only be compared with Wagner.


Aside from this, the script, the direction and the acting are good enough on the whole not to spoil the visuals and music - and often enough better than that; with many delightful touches from Gollum, Sam, Merry and Pippin, Gandalf, Denethor, Wormtongue, Eowyn...

But on repeated viewing the faults do rather stand out; and it was extremely dismaying to see them repeated and so much amplified in the Hobbit movie (I could only stomach part one) - where they they were no longer able to be sufficiently compensated by visuals and music.

Still and all - I continue to cherish the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies for what they did so well - for their revelations that filled in where my imagination failed - and for their overall truth to the story and message of the Book.



Commodore said...

I have commented to my wife that Jackson must have been working under divine inspiration on those movies...much like J. K. Rowling, he hates and does not understand all that made them so good, as is clear in the tragic Hobbit abortions. Although John C. Wright's review of the second Hobbit was an utter delight, and the dwarf song from the first still sticks with me, so I suppose some good came from them.

Bernard Brandt said...

I think that Jackson's genius was in the original vision, and in his organization to obtain that vision.

After having obtained his original seed money from the producers, he used it to develop his own special effects studio, Weta.

Additionally, he invested in the two top fan artists of Tolkien's work, and allowed them the creative freedom and the time to develop the designs which Weta enfleshed so convincingly.

Moreover, he did something unprecedented in the film music world: rather than bringing the film composer in at the last minute, after the film had been shot and edited, he commissioned Shore to work from the very beginning, and gave Shore the advance notice (and several years head start) to start composing as the film was being planned and shot.

Finally, he had the genius to cast Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, and Sir Christopher Lee as Saruman. Lee, to his credit, had been yearly reading LotR since it came out in the '50s, and even went up to Oxford to stand 'The Professor' a drink at the latter's favorite pub. On the other hand, McKellan modeled Gandalf's character and speaking voice after the few recordings we have of Tolkien's voice. Between the two of them, they managed to keep Jackson and his dreadful wife on their toes and from straying too far from the original story.

In short, much of the reason that the movie LotR was so successful was that it was put together in the older 'workshop' or 'atelier' process, rather than the standard slapdash modern Hollywood method.

I think that the subsequent mess of The Desolation of Jackson was as a result of giving his wife too much control over the screenplay. But then, what could you expect from someone who could say, with a straight face, that she would never have allowed Tolkien to have written The Two Towers as he had, as it broke up the story of the Three Companions' search for Merry and Pippin from the journey of Frodo, Samwise, and Gollum!