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21 December, 2003

Review: The Lord Of The Rings (2001-3)

I haven't had reason to mention it in the blog yet, but I design, sculpt and paint miniatures, aka 'toy soldiers' in my spare (ha!) time; okay, I've won awards for it.  Because they're in a sci-fi, occasionally fantasy, genre, people keep mentioning the 'Lord Of The Rings' (LOTR) films.  To forestall such enquiries about 'The Return Of The King', here's my review:

I haven't seen it, and have no wish to see it. Perhaps when it reaches TV, I'll video and watch it in sections, but there's no way I'll spend time and money seeing it in a cinema.

I really like the book; I can't honestly call it a favourite, as the prose style and dialogue aren't wonderful, but the story itself shines through. I think I've read it all about four times, and dipped into certain sections more frequently. From the first reading, I'd memorised the story, characters, etc.; not to the extent that I could quote Tolkien's precise words (I don't have that type of memory), but nearly.

I wanted to see a film of LOTR, but I mean exactly that - I wanted a director to take the book, and follow it page by page, without deviation.
Okay, that's unrealistic, as editing would be needed for pacing and length, but I'd wanted that to be strictly a process of editing, perhaps removing unnecessary elaboration and omitting events or characters that aren't really necessary to the main story. What I didn't want is the insertion of new events and over-expansion of the roles of secondary characters, which changes the story. I can (grudgingly) understand a need to do that to some extent, particularly to expand the presence of female characters in a very male-centred book, but I feel any changes absolutely, non-negotiably, had to stay within the rigidly-defined limits of the story itself.

I genuinely feel Jackson went too far, particularly in the second film, which was changed from a film of 'The Two Towers' to a film based on 'The Two Towers'.
How could he change the outcome of Helm's Deep? A vital plot point is that the siege is ended by the Ent-led Huorn forest - a mysterious primal force, implying the land itself absorbs and exterminates the orc army. Not a last-minute cavalry charge down a cliff; very cinematic, but simply not what Tolkien wrote. That's the point where I gave up, and realised I have no interest in the third film.

I'd been a bit concerned when I first heard that Peter Jackson was to direct the trilogy, when a magazine interview revealed that he wasn't an especial fan of the book; he'd read it in his youth, but not for several years before taking on the project, and it's not a film he'd always dreamt of making. Presumably to him, and undoubtedly to many of his audience, it was just another fantasy novel, just another sword'n'sorcery film, so any changes didn't really matter. To many, that's probably true, but not me. I like LOTR, but I'm not at all a fan of the wider genre (particularly the style most popular in the 80s, when I was into D&D) - I rather like Michael Moorcock's writing, and his 'Eternal Champion' multiverse is an excellent creation, but the novels of Eddings, Brooks, LeGuin, etc. and Conan-type films bore me rigid.

I watched the first film with a friend who'd been making oh-so-amusing jokes about rings/sphincters, and Jackson's treatment of the material was indeed up its own arse. Though A. was new to Tolkien, he knew I like the book a lot, so I was distinctly embarrassed by the film. I could easily imagine him turning to me after the plodding first half hour, saying "you like this?". No, I don't.

I was deeply disappointed that such a rich story had been rendered merely boring, but at least it didn't directly deviate from Tolkien's narrative. 'The Two Towers' was different. Important events were cut, but worse, totally new ones were invented for no reason. I've already mentioned the changed Battle of the Hornberg, but in the other main plot thread, what the **** was Frodo doing in Osgiliath? It's not a minor point: if Frodo had put on the Ring that close to a Nazgūl at the height of its powers, Sauron would have known his location immediately, and the story would be over.

From what I've heard, 'The Return Of The King' is a good film, though some have expressed doubts about the realism of the special effects (I thought the CGI Gollum was overrated in 'The Two Towers').

But it's not 'The Lord Of The Rings'.

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