The Mines of Moria: ‘Anticipation’
and ‘Flattening’ in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring
Janet Brennan Croft
presented at the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture Association Conference,
Albuquerque, February 2003
1. Book to Script: “Here is a book very unsuitable for
dramatic [...] representation”
1955, shortly after the third volume of The Lord of the Rings came out in
print, Tolkien’s publisher warned him that he would probably soon receive
offers for the dramatic rights. Tolkien
had made it clear in his essay “On Fairy-stories” that he thought fantasy
was highly unsuitable for presentation in a visual medium, particularly drama,
which he felt was “naturally hostile to Fantasy”
. However, as an Oxford
professor with a family to feed, Tolkien decided at that point that he would
sell the rights for either “cash or kudos,” as his publisher put it
. Tolkien expected “either very profitable terms indeed; or
absolute author’s veto on objectionable features or alterations”
. He told his publisher he would “welcome the idea of an
animated motion picture, with all the risk of vulgarization,” feeling he would
find “vulgarization less painful than the sillification achieved by the B.B.C.”
in their 1956 radio adaptation
the end of 1957 Tolkien received a proposal for an animated motion picture
scripted by Forrest J. Ackerman, Morton Grady Zimmerman, and Al Brodax
. Tolkien told his publisher he was “quite prepared to play
ball, if they are open to advice”
. He thought the pictures
he had been shown were “really astonishingly good,” reminiscent of Arthur
Rackham rather than Walt Disney
, for whose works Tolkien
had a “heartfelt loathing”
. But Tolkien found this
adaptation unsatisfactory (or as he called it, “hasty, insensitive, and
) and it would have
brought in very little cash for the author, so he turned it down
. Tolkien wrote a detailed response to this screenplay, parts
of which are reproduced in his Letters, and which I will discuss later in
sold the film and merchandise rights in 1958
, a year before his
retirement, supposedly to set up a trust for his grandchildren
. Sometime after 1967,
when the Beatles founded Apple Films, they considered doing a film of The
Lord of the Rings, casting John Lennon as Gollum, Paul McCartney as Frodo,
George Harrison as Gandalf, and Ringo Starr as Sam; however, they weren’t able
to purchase the film rights and the project fell through
1970, United Artists owned the rights. They
asked John Boorman, later known as the director of Excalibur and The
Emerald Forest, to make The Lord of the Rings, and he began trying to
condense the work to a single two and a half hour film.
However, by the time Boorman had finished the script, the executive who
had asked him to take on the project was no longer with U.A., and the new
management was unfamiliar with the book. “They
were baffled by a script that, for most of them, was their first contact with
Middle Earth [sic],” and rejected it
. Boorman tried taking the script to other studios, including
Disney, but with no success. He
eventually used some of the special-effects techniques and locations developed
for The Lord of the Rings in other films, notably Zardoz and Excalibur.
Boorman actually corresponded with Tolkien during this process, and
reassured him that he planned a live action version.
United Artists later gave the project to animator Ralph Bakshi
. In 1976 the Saul Zaentz
Company acquired the film and stage rights to The Hobbit and The Lord
of the Rings, as well as licensing rights to names, characters, and places
(Who We Are)
. They are the current
1978, five years after Tolkien’s death, Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass made
an animated version of The Hobbit. One
this production fails of greatness despite all of its genuinely good qualities
because its producers never seem to have taken seriously the inner journey of
Bilbo […]. [A]t the most crucial
point of the inner narrative of the story they sent [Bilbo] over Gollum’s head
and down the tunnel to freedom with a flippant ‘Ta-ta!’
than feeling compassionate and conflicted about deceiving Gollum, as in the
book, Bilbo is made to “succumb to the temptation to taunt his fallen enemy”
, an unfortunate
coarsening of his character.
uneven 1978 The Lord of the Rings was much reviled by many Tolkien fans,
primarily for his clumsy animation technique called rotoscoping, or drawing over
film of live actors. However, there
are also many viewers who praise Bakshi for staying close to the spirit of
Tolkien’s characters. Bakshi
offers a different perspective on how he came to be involved with the project
rather than Boorman:
approached United Artists and told them the film should be made in animation,
and it should be made in three parts, because there’s no way you can take the
three books and condense them into one film.
It’s a physical impossibility. And
here comes the horror story, right? They
said fine, because Boorman handed in this 700-page script […].
‘[H]e’s changed a lot of the characters, and he’s added characters.
He’s got some sneakers he’s merchandising in the middle.
[…] [W]e don’t understand a word Boorman wrote.
We never read the books.’
film ends abruptly with the Battle of Helm’s Deep, and Bakshi was unable to
get studio backing to complete the second part.
However, Rankin and Bass made a “quickie” Return of the King
for television in 1980
The Peter Jackson Films: “The Lord
of the Rings cannot be garbled like that”
other attempt had been made to film The Lord of the Rings until director
Peter Jackson began working on a script in 1997 with his partner, Fran Walsh.
Jackson got his start making low-budget horror movies in his native New Zealand
in the late 1980s
. In an interview with Creative Screenwriting, he
said he had read The Lord of the Rings once at the age of 18, and never
looked at it again until “the whole idea of doing the film came up seventeen
. His ambition was to make
a fantasy film, not necessarily The Lord of the Rings, and he wanted to
move away from horror and take advantage of modern computer special effects
. Co-writer Philippa
Boyens was more immersed in the story, having had “a childhood obsession”
with The Lord of the Rings, but had never worked on a screenplay before
being asked by Jackson and Walsh to collaborate with them
publicity build-up for the first film was incredible, and it opened to (mostly)
rave reviews on December 19, 2001. However,
not everyone praised Jackson’s vision. Viewer
opinion is remarkably polarized about these films.
Many long-time readers of Tolkien were deeply disappointed, after the
wonders promised, to see how far Jackson deviated from Tolkien’s creation, and
even more so after the second film was released in December 2002.
Earlier attempts to film Tolkien also evoked the same response.
Why were Tolkien’s fans so upset?
As one reviewer, writing about the Bakshi film, suggested, “the point
is that we have been there; we can say “Yes, that’s just how it was,” or
“No, no, no, that’s all wrong”
. A reviewer of the Rankin and Bass Hobbit said, “The
original as it has become familiar to its audience stands in judgment of the
. What they see, to quote a critique of the Bakshi film which
is entirely appropriate to the Jackson films as well, is “gems scattered
amidst dross, set inappropriately, scarred and miscut”
. There are moments close to perfection in the Jackson films,
but they are unfortunately outweighed by moments where those familiar with the
books can see no compelling cinematic reason for Jackson’s egregious changes
to the original text. It often
seems that two completely separate crews worked on this film – one, caring
deeply about Tolkien’s vision, on the sets, costumes, and locations, and
another, interested only in entertaining a mass audience, on the script.
Noted Tolkien scholar Wayne
G. Hammond has this to say:
In the moments in
which the films succeed, they do so by staying close to what Tolkien so
carefully wrote; where they fail, it tends to be where they diverge from him
[…]. [T]he filmmakers sacrifice
the richness of Tolkien's story and characters, not to mention common sense, for
violence, cheap humor, and cheaper thrills.
respected Tolkien critic, Jane Chance, reviewed The Fellowship of the Ring
for Literature/ Film Quarterly:
Jackson’s version of The Fellowship of the Ring is overall a flashy,
high-tech adventure film that rewrites Tolkien’s epic narrative […].
Such rewriting is not wholly unexpected on the part of […]
horror-film-specialist Jackson […] Jackson reduces The Fellowship of the
Ring to an action film in which the important complex thematic meanings and
characterizations are discarded or subordinated to the sentimental […], the
frightening […], and the romantic.
also comments on the “infantilization” of several key characters
; as Hammond has pointed
out, “Most of the characters in the
films are mere shadows of those in the books, weak and diminished (notably
Frodo) or insulting caricatures (Pippin, Merry, and Gimli)”
. Carl Hostetter notes the “systematic removal of all traces of nobility and faith from the most
noble and faithful characters, and the concomitant angstifying [of Aragorn] and
wimpifying [of Frodo]“
. Was this sheer misunderstanding of the original on
Jackson’s part? Is there any
excuse, with the great variety of thoughtful scholarship available on Tolkien,
for such misunderstanding?
3. Problems of Adaptation “No evident signs of any
appreciation of what it is all about”
extensive commentary on the Zimmerman script is especially interesting now that
we have seen two of the three Jackson films.
Tolkien’s introductory comments ask the screenwriters to
an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on
occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds,
his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly,
and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.
and his co-authors may not have added a “fairy castle” to Lórien, or had
characters traveling everywhere on giant eagles, but they did fall prey to the
temptation to add “incantations, blue lights, and some irrelevant magic”
. They are certainly
guilty, in many places, of altering the original’s “characteristic and
peculiar tone” and “showing a preference for fights”
. As Tom Shippey has pointed out, in reference to the Zimmerman
script, “What ruined everything for [Tolkien] was an endemic carelessness over
detail, coupled with a probably unconscious urge to standardize everything in
Middle-earth toward suburban norms”
. Jackson is guilty of
something very similar, in his case standardizing the characters and action
scenes to Hollywood fantasy norms.
concepts Tolkien mentions in his criticism of the script are ‘anticipation’
and ‘flattening’. Tolkien
defines them this way: “One of [Zimmerman’s] chief faults is his tendency to
anticipate scenes or devices used later, thereby flattening the tale out”
. For example, Zimmerman
has Eagles landing in the Shire before the hobbits’ journey begins, thus
reducing the surprise factor of the Eagle rescuing Gandalf from Orthanc, as well
as ruining the folkloric “third time pays for all” aspect of the climactic
rescue of Sam and Frodo. Over-using
this device throughout the script makes it stale and predictable.
‘Flattening’ can also describe what happens to a character arc when a
writer ‘anticipates’ later character traits in earlier scenes.
an example of ‘anticipation’ and ‘flattening’ from the Jackson films,
consider the hobbits’ first encounter with the Black Rider in the woods near
Hobbiton. In the book, Frodo’s
only conscious desire is to make himself disappear, primarily out of annoyance
at being followed, and his hand barely touches the chain the Ring hangs from
before the Rider turns away
. In the movie, however, Frodo is seized by an uncontrollable
urge to put on the Ring; his eyes roll back in his head and he appears
nauseated, and Sam reaches out to stop his hand just before Merry throws the bag
of mushrooms to distract the Rider
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, scene 10)
. In the book, Tolkien subtly and slowly strengthens Frodo’s
compulsion to put on the Ring. When
the Ringwraiths are close by, or as Frodo gets closer to Mordor and grows
physically weaker, the temptation builds. Sam
does not have to help him resist it until they are on the slopes of Mount Doom
. By anticipating the Ring’s later effect on Frodo, Jackson
has left himself no room to build up to this later pivotal scene.
consider the hobbits’ first glimpses of Bree and The Prancing Pony.
In the book, it is a clear, starry night, and Merry’s family at least
is familiar with the town and its inn. Unsophisticated
Sam is nervous about the height of the buildings, but Frodo reassures him that
the inn comes highly recommended. From
the outside, the inn “looked a pleasant house,” and there are lights shining
through the windows. They can hear
singing inside, and they get a friendly welcome from the innkeeper and the
hobbits who work for him. The first
hint of anything sinister is Frodo’s glimpse of Aragorn smoking quietly in a
corner with his hood concealing his face
. Aragorn’s revelations and the later attack by the Black
Riders are all the more frightening for happening in such a seemingly safe and
comfortable place; this contrast is important to Frodo’s decision to accept
Aragorn’s guidance. In
Jackson’s movie, however, Bree is threatening from the start.
It is pouring rain when the travelers reach town; tall Men jostle them in
the streets and a cart nearly runs them down. There is harsh laughter in the bar, and an intimidatingly
tall reception desk. The customers
are unpleasantly dirty, and sloppy drinkers to boot. And when the Ring slips onto Frodo’s finger, we get the
“Ring effect” of blue light and rushing wind, along with Sauron’s
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, scene 12)
. In the book the Ring has
absolutely no effect in this scene but to make Frodo disappear from sight
. Again, this anticipates
Frodo’s experience of the Ring’s effects on Weathertop and his vision of
Sauron’s Eye in Galadriel’s mirror, making their later use stale and
repetitive rather than startling and new.
some places, Zimmerman and Jackson treat the same incident in similar ways.
The Weathertop scene is a major example.
There is no grand battle on the hilltop in the original; the only blows
struck are Frodo’s at the hem of the Witch-king’s robe, and his in return at
Frodo’s shoulder. Aragorn drives
them back with fire alone. At this
point Aragorn should not even have a sword, as Tolkien points out.
But both Zimmerman and Jackson create an extended swordfight scene out of
the encounter. Tolkien felt that
presenting it the way it was written “would seem to me far more impressive
than yet one more scene of screams and rather meaningless slashings”
. And indeed, it would
have made the primarily non-physical nature of the menace of the Ringwraiths at
this point in the story more apparent, if it had been presented this way.
change both Zimmerman and Jackson made was to intercut the two parallel stories
in The Two Towers. Intercutting
may seem appropriate at first glance. In
an interview, scriptwriter Fran Walsh said:
I often wondered […]
what kind of movie it'd be if you played out one story, and then the other.
But it's a narrative structure that lends itself to literature much more
than film. When Tolkien was writing this book, intercutting wasn't
something that was so prevalent in literature -- though it is starting to be
now, and partly I think because of the influence of film.
is adamant about this point: “It is
essential that these two branches should each be treated in coherent sequence. Both to render them intelligible as a story, and because they
are totally different in tone and scenery.
Jumbling them together entirely destroys these things”
. In addition to the objections Tolkien raises, there is also
the fact that intercutting the two books lessens their suspense and dramatic
irony. The characters we follow in
Book III – Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, and Pippin – all build
suspense by voicing their concerns about Frodo and Sam.
The reader is repeatedly reminded that their fate after leaving the
Company is unknown. Then in Book
IV, the reader experiences the dramatic irony of knowing what happened to the
rest of the Company every time Frodo and Sam worry about them.
This subtle contrast of tension and release is lost when the stories are
somewhat surprising to see an exact duplication of some of what Tolkien
considered Zimmerman’s scriptwriting mistakes in the Jackson films.
I myself saw co-screenwriter Philippa Boyens look up a quotation in
Tolkien’s Letters at a conference I attended; she was familiar enough
with them to page very quickly to the one she wanted
(for another account, see
, so she must have been
familiar with Tolkien’s criticisms of the Zimmerman script.
Of course, an author unacquainted with the specialized techniques of
writing for film may not know the best way to adapt his own work for the medium.
Tolkien only wrote one dramatic
work, “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son,” a quite competent
short verse play which has been produced several times in England.
He readily admitted his ignorance of filmmaking and scriptwriting, but
had some ideas of his own about translating text into dramatic form.
For example, he suggested “the older art of reading ‘mime’” for a
, and “abridgement” of
events rather than “compression” for a film
. As Tolkien observed,
The canons of narrative art in any medium cannot be wholly different; and the failure of poor films is often precisely in exaggeration, and in the intrusion of unwarranted matter owing to not perceiving where the core of the original lies. (Letters 270)
4. The Mines
of Moria: “[He] may think he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot
expect me to agree with him”
close study of the Mines of Moria sequence illustrates the above problems
further, and shows how Jackson’s preference for horror and fight scenes
actually reduces tension and suspense. These
two chapters, “A Journey in the Dark” and “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm,”
are brilliantly written. Tom
Shippey comments on the “increasing tension” and “relative
understatement” of this section of The Fellowship of the Ring:
Unlike many of his imitators, Tolkien had realized that tension was dissipated by constant thrill-creation. Accordingly the dangers of Moria build up slowly: from the first reluctance of Aragorn, ‘the memory is very evil’ (never enlarged on), to the ominous knocking from the deep that answers Pippin’s stone (was it a hammer, as Gimli says? – we never learn), to Gandalf’s mention of Durin’s Bane. The Balrog is also hinted at several times before it appears: the orcs hang back as if they are afraid of something on their own side, Gandalf contests with it and concedes ‘I have met my match’ before it is ever seen, and again the orcs and trolls fall back as it comes up to cross the bridge of Khazad-dûm. Even when it does come into focus, the focus is blurred […]. What Tolkien does in such passages is to satisfy the urge to know more […], while retaining and even intensifying the counterbalancing pleasure of seeming always on the edge of further discovery, looking into a world that seems far fuller than the little at present known. (Shippey, Century 86-7)
Jackson tries to increase the horror factor of a scene, he tends to destroy
Tolkien’s subtleties and instead ‘anticipates’ future events.
For example, the way the Watcher in the Water grabs at Frodo’s ankle in
the book is an understated foreshadowing of the way the Balrog’s whip snakes
around Gandalf’s foot and pulls him off the bridge
. But in the movie, the Watcher pulls Frodo out over the water
and dangles him over his beaky mouth
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, scene 27)
. This shot from above repeats almost exactly the shot of
Gandalf falling into the pit, which opens the second movie. When the two scenes are viewed within a few hours of each
other instead of a year apart, the repetition is obvious, and the first scene
detracts from the later one.
of the most incomprehensible changes Jackson makes is that he immediately
reveals the fate of Balin and his companions, thus eliminating one major aspect
of the tension of the journey through Moria.
As Chance puts it, “The
prolific dead bodies and severed heads littering the floor of the Mines of Moria
from the time the door opens constitute more of the usual Jackson
. Moria is no longer the haunted and disquieting scene of a
dwarf-colony’s mysterious disappearance; it’s just a rather prosaically
bloodstained killing ground. Why
would any director waste such a good opportunity for creating an eerie, ghostly
effect? Echoes and cobwebs would
have been far more intriguing and suspenseful than scattered bits of armor and
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, Scene 28)
flattening of dialogue is also troublesome in this sequence.
As one reviewer points out, “Tolkien’s dialogue was always very
carefully crafted – he had a delicate ear for nuance – hitting the tone just
right with impressive consistency. The
screenwriters are clumsy by comparison. […]
I don’t think Jackson has much faith in words”
. Gimli’s invented
speeches about dwarf hospitality are rather painfully forced: “Soon, Mister
Elf, you will enjoy the hospitality of the Dwarves – roaring fires, malt beer,
red meat off the bone”
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, scene 27)
. That doesn’t sound
quite right for Tolkien’s “tough, thrawn [and] secretive” Dwarves
. Gandalf’s original
lines at the point the Company is lost are precise and in character: “I do not
like the smell of the left-hand way; there is foul air down there, or I am no
. It is grating to hear
this reduced to Jackson’s colloquial “When in doubt, always follow your
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, scene 28)
. It makes Gandalf sound like Toucan Sam™ chasing after Froot
Loops™; perhaps his prosthetic nose inspired this piece of deathless dialogue.
It is only when the screenwriters use Tolkien’s own words, even shifted
many chapters away from their origin, that the script comes close to soaring.
Gandalf and Frodo’s conversation about pity and mercy, the fate of
Gollum, and how Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, though displaced far from its
source in the early chapter “The Shadow of the Past” and much rearranged, is
more effective and moving than anything else Jackson has added to this scene.
battle in the Chamber of Mazarbul is another sequence Jackson rewrote
drastically in order to add both horror and comic elements. As one reviewer put it,
“[T]he Fellowship’s fight with the Orcs and the cave Troll is a
flurry of cuts and laboured humour”
. Instead of Pippin dropping a pebble in a well two days
earlier, so that the Company forgets the drumming and tapping noises until it is
too late, Pippin’s pebble is changed into a full skeleton in armor, and the
drumming and attack are an immediate response to it. There is not actually a cave-troll in the battle in the book
– it is simply an early speculation as to why the orcs are hanging back, and
it turns out to be the Balrog that is frightening them. Aragorn’s grim “We shall make them fear the Chamber of
is transformed to
Gimli’s over-the-top “Let them come! There
is one Dwarf left in Moria who still draws breath!”
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, scene 29)
. Frodo does not hang back behind the other hobbits or hide
behind a pillar as in the movie; in fact, he stabs at the foot of the first orc
who tries to force the doors. Sam
isn’t a comic figure wielding a skillet; instead, he fells an orc with “a
sturdy thrust with his Barrow-blade”
. Jackson takes time to linger lovingly on Frodo’s agony
after the spear-thrust from the cave-troll for nearly fifteen seconds all told;
in the book, Frodo says “I am bruised and in pain, but it is not too bad”
problem Jackson shares with Bakshi is a predilection for over-using new and
unproven special effects. Commenting
on Bakshi’s rotoscoping, one reviewer said, “[T]his constant intrusion of
technique draws the attention away from what is being presented to how it is
. The battle with the cave troll is supposed to be a wonder of
computer-generated imagery, but it frequently looks ridiculous, and the
“forced perspective” technique used to make the hobbits and dwarves appear
shorter is not always seamless. It
is especially intrusive in the “group portrait” at the end of the Council of
Elrond. When technique becomes
obvious, the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief fails and is difficult
interpretation of this sequence is also affected by his sense of humor.
Tolkien’s books are not without their humorous moments, but the kind of
crude comedy Jackson adds works against the tension of highly serious scenes.
Ursula K. LeGuin’s influential essay on the language of fantasy,
“From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” included this observation: “humor in
fantasy is both a lure and a pitfall to imitators”
. It is fatal to introduce contemporary humor, like Jackson’s
dwarf tossing joke, to high fantasy. There
is a type of comic fantasy, of which Terry Pratchett is the master, that can
sometimes shade into high fantasy; but pure high fantasy takes itself seriously
and cannot shade back into the comic without serious damage to its themes.
LeGuin’s words about another writer apply as well to Tolkien: “He
never lets his creation down in order to make a joke, and he never shows a tin
ear for tone”
. Jackson unfortunately does show a tin ear for tone,
particularly in Moria but also at other key moments.
When Jackson adds a comic sequence not in the original, like Merry and
Pippin’s misadventure with Gandalf’s firecrackers, or inserts some banal
dialogue based on nothing in the books, the viewer is “jerked back and forth
between Elfland and Poughkeepsie”
dwarf-tossing joke, repeated in the second movie, is especially egregious.
Tom Shippey calls it an “error of tone […].
One sees the joke, and the […] audience laughed, but it is an
anachronism beyond anything Tolkien allowed”
. As another reviewer
observed, “Gimli was, in the
books, somewhat comical, but never the parody he has become in the films”
. Jackson was known for “corny in-joke[s]”
and a “taste for
in his earlier movies,
but they are out of place in high fantasy. This is another fault he shares with
Bakshi: one critic observed, “The grotesque, the homely, and the comic are in
easy reach of Bakshi’s grasp”
. Jackson said in one
interview, “I have a sort of inherent dislike of things that take themselves
too seriously and I just think there’s a sort of pompousness that I’m always
trying to avoid’
. It seems he thought
Tolkien a bit too pompous and in need of puncturing. That is not a crime when
the clear intent is satire; the Harvard Lampoon’s hilarious 1969 parody Bored
of the Rings is a case in point. However,
Jackson said repeatedly that he was making a film as true to Tolkien as
possible, and to do this properly he should have maintained Tolkien’s tone of
high seriousness. As one reviewer
There is a simple truth that film-makers miss: fantasy
works best when it’s played straight. It
was one of Tolkien’s great contributions to the genre: he applied the methods
of realism to a novel of the fantastic. Film-makers don’t seem to be able to do it without feeling
they must make it comic, or mock the genre.
are other errors in emotional tone in the Moria sequence as well.
Gandalf’s treatment of Pippin is disturbing, and it will be interesting
to see how their relationship is portrayed in the third movie, when they travel
to Minas Tirith together. Chance
points out that “the critical, abusive behavior of Gandalf toward Pippin” is
alien to Tolkien’s text
. Gandalf calls the young
hobbit “Fool of a Took!” quite frequently, but all his rebukes to Pippin in
the book have a kindly, almost avuncular feel to them. In the movie, after Pippin knocks the skeleton into the well,
Gandalf cruelly sneers, “Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your
stupidity,” snatching his hat and staff back from the chagrined young hobbit
(The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring, scene 29)
. The original “Throw
yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance”
is somewhat less harsh
and not as personally insulting, particularly as it is preceded by a slightly
humorous line and followed shortly after by kind words and Gandalf admitting he
was not his usual self.
portrayal of Gimli throughout the movie is terribly off the mark, but this
sequence especially is difficult to take. The
grim, serious dwarf is made to talk gloatingly of the hospitality they will soon
receive in Moria (in the sort of hubristic speech that always presages disaster
in the movies), and then cries out in anguish when Gandalf’s light reveals the
dead bodies in the caves. This
‘anticipates’ and ‘flattens’ his later reaction at the tomb of Balin,
where “he sobs horribly in a most un-Tolkienian moment of grief.
In actuality Gimli merely ‘cast his hood over his face’”
. Surely, seeing all the dead dwarves lying about, he ought to
have concluded that Balin was dead as well, and not been so shocked to see his
tomb. In any case, Gimli is not
only made into the butt of cheap humor, but must play the overly emotional
sidekick as well.
has been justifiably praised for allowing his male characters to show the
emotion and unselfconscious physical affection for each other they reveal in the
books. But he does at times go
overboard, dwelling on a character’s pain too long and disrupting the rhythm
of a scene. For example, “When
Gandalf falls in battle with the Balrog at the Mines of Moria, Frodo tearfully
hugs Aragorn like a child needing comfort from his father.
Yet the Hobbit hero weeps in Tolkien’s novel only as he runs”
. The surviving Companions
were fleeing for their lives and did not have time to stop and mourn until they
were well out of the caves. Dwelling
on Frodo’s anguished face for just a beat or two too long makes all the
difference to the pacing of the scene, just as dwelling on his injury did in the
cave-troll scene and at Weathertop.
a director better known for suspense, rather than horror, would have handled
this scene better. Imagine Alfred
Hitchcock directing the Moria sequence, perhaps even in black-and-white: the
spooky emptiness of the vast corridors and stairs, the slow building of tension,
the half-seen shadows out of the corner of the eye, the ominous sounds in the
dark (a hammer, or a drum in the depths? a patter of feet, or merely an echo?),
the silent forcing of the door to the Chamber of Mazarbul and the frightening,
bewildering battle in the dim dusty light, the headlong race to the gates and
the Balrog a menacing unfocused shadow… It could have been so much truer to the book.
5. Conclusion: “Sighing for something quite different
– a moon no doubt”
one of the notes to his well-known essay “On Fairy-stories,” Tolkien recalls
taking a group of children to see A.A. Milne’s stage adaptation of The Wind
in the Willows. As David
Bratman has pointed out
, his comments are oddly
appropriate to the Jackson films:
perceptive admirer (as distinct from a great admirer) of the book would never
have attempted to dramatize it. […]
The play is, on the lower level of drama, tolerably good fun, especially
for those who have not read the book, but some children […] brought away as
their chief memory nausea […] [T]hey preferred their recollection of the book.
adds, “Whether Tolkien would actually have said this about the Jackson film
must remain unanswerable – I think he’d be nowhere near as good-humored
many readers worry about is that “mass exploitation […] is likely to have a
detrimental effect on Tolkien’s literary status, shaky enough by dint of his
says, "I wouldn't give [the movie] much thought except that so many of its
reviewers have praised it as faithful to the book, or even superior to it, all
of which adds insult to injury and is demonstrably wrong"
are “sighing for something quite different – a moon no doubt,” as Tolkien
commented after reading the 1956 B.B.C. radio script
early reviewer of the Bakshi movie stated, “The mind of the initiate to
Middle-earth is likely to fix on Bakshi’s relatively limited images before his
imagination has a chance to move through Tolkien’s depth and complexity.
[…] Bakshi’s movie may
leave future readers free to see only what Bakshi saw”
. Shippey says of the Jackson film, “It imposes alien visuals
on the mind […]. Jackson will
replace Tolkien, even erase him; this is the fear of some of Tolkien’s
. Fortunately, few people seem to carry the Bakshi images in
their heads any longer. Perhaps
Jackson’s mistakes will fade from our memories as well, leaving only memories
of the images and scenes that were miraculously right.
is unlikely, but not impossible, that we will see another attempt to film The
Lord of the Rings in our lifetimes. We can only hope that next director who
tackles Tolkien will take note of the critics of the Bakshi and Jackson films
and the Zimmerman script, and create an adaptation truer to the spirit of the
book and less attuned to the tastes of Hollywood’s hypothetical mass audience.
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