Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers movie discursion

I’m a huge Tolkein fan; the trilogy is definitely a sacred text in my life. The Peter Jackson film series was something I had a lot of hopes for – and largely those hopes were realized. The story isn’t Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, it’s Jackson’s take on it. Since Tolkien’s books are huge (Tolkien was a big fan of one of the longest poems in existence) I didn’t expect 100% following of the text. Jackson is a fan, and he did a fine version and one far better than I thought Hollywood was capable of.

BUT – sometimes he goes off the text for no good reason that I can discern. I happened to be doing some work-work, and put on the Two Towers to play in the background. Bad idea. Not only did I cease doing work and watching the movie, I decided I needed to write about it as well.

Of the things Jackson did do that piss me off, a bunch of them are in this movie. First of all – he makes the good guys less good, and the bad guys three times worse than they already are. So it’s a less optimistic movie than the books were; given the time it was made (the depths of the Bush Regime) perhaps that makes sense. Nevertheless, he’s constantly pushing people into being petty, vindictive, jealous, weak, selfish, batshit crazy in ways that Tolkien didn’t.

Arwen, Aragorn, Faramir, and Frodo all get the treatment.

Arwen Undomiel has the choice of Elves who love Men; to either stay with Aragorn or to go over the sea. In the books, it was indeed a grave choice and a hard one; but the frame was that Elrond would give the hand of his daughter only to the man who was king of Gondor and Arnor combined. The challenge was for Aragorn, and the decision point was Elrond. In the film, Elrond tells Aragorn to leave her. Aragorn tells Arwen that she’s too good for him, she says she isn’t. Aragorn tells Eowyn, who’s practically lubricating for him, that Arwen has left Middle Earth and is sailing over the sea, but he remains faithful to her. Arwen, under pressure from her father, bends and leaves; and then decides not to and throws aside her peeps for the rough and ready King of All the World.

Faramir, second son of Denethor (and younger brother of Boromir, who did fail the moral test) has this gigantic Freudian complex slathered on his character. In a lengthy flashback we get a ton of off-book detail. (And I give Jackson some slack here – the added scenes were not part of the initial release’s narrative flow, so adding the content either requires crappy devices like flashbacks, or shooting a bunch more film. I assume some of the clunkiness has to do with extending the version, but a bunch of it is in the source, which buried information all over the place. The scene where Eowyn and Aragorn are talking about his age, and his status as a Dunedein is really funny and cute. And was never in the book.) Like this load of mean stench; Denethor’s learned about the meeting in Rivendell and sends Boromir to steal the ring. Boromir is not sure but follows Daddy’s wishes. Daddy Denethor also has a hate-woody for Faramir (never explained) and disses him publicly at all times. (Denethor, overall, got the worst treatment at Jackson’s hands, I think.)

Aragorn doesn’t have a moral dilemma – he just gets literally pushed of a cliff of Jackson’s imagination and is throught dead until he comes back to help lead the defense to save the day. Sheesh! It’s dangerous enough, but Jackson (probably with the complicity of Viggo, who jizzed all over this role and totally method-acted it.) decided that we needed a bunch of Swords and Sorcery Cowboy moments with the not-dead cliff fallen Strider getting the kiss of life from his spooky witch girlfriend (And his horse) and having all these Clint Eastwood Down Under moments. I mean, making the Worgs big riding hyenas – yeah, that was cool. Deciding you needed another OMGZ DANGER!!!11!! moment for your lead buff hero (the heroic hero not the tragic hero) is like pointless. And took time from some solid plotline that Tolkien put in there.

Anyway – Faramir has a much more dramatic swordspoint – so you have the ring! moment with the hobbits, and then he decides to send them to Daddy, and then they go to Osgiliath, which is cool, but then under fire Faramir sends them across the river. (For which he gets royally screwed by Daddy anyway in the last movie, sending him out for a way-stupid Charge of the Light Brigade into orc pikes. If the Men of Gondor have such an inflexible command structure that you can tell people to commit suicide and they gleefully do, maybe they deserved to get wiped out. I mean, cavalry without any backing infantry? Who do they think they are, Rohan?)

I know I said Frodo gets it too, but I ran into the stumbling block of the Battle of Helms Deep, where you get great glory of war quote lines like “If this is their end, I would have them make such an end as be worthy of remembrance.” (Theoden) and then there’s some awful ‘wee ones going to war’ stuff. "Farmers, farriers, stableboys. These are not warriors." (Legolas) OMGZ! "Where is the horse and the rider, where is the horn that is blowing - they have passd like rain on the mountains like wind on the meadow. The days have come down on the west behinds the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?" which is more Theoden and could come out of the mouth of some right-wing Classics professor standing at the gates of Princeton and bemoaning the Obama victory parade going by outside.

So I stopped watching, since I was getting too pissed off. But Frodo basically turns his back on Sam, breaking the perfect relationship they have between them, for Gollem's sake. Sam, the disgruntled bottom, weeps after Master and then saves his kiester in yet-another dangerous homoerotic puncturing of Frodo by the nasty spider. But that's another post.

(Oh yeah - the Ents - they were starting to back out too. I hadn't gotten to the point where Pippen riles them up into it, but that's another character gooped with the 'less good' slime.)

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