WHEN: November 28, 2014, 7:05pm. (Week 48, November 23-29.)
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME.
FORMAT: Blu-ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Long day at work, eating a chicken sandwich and onion rings (ha). Later had some brie (ha ha).
TALKIN’ AFTER THE MOVIE!
Bill: So, Phil, may I just say how refreshing it was to have someone laugh along with me at The Fellowship of the Ring? Not chuckle lightly, not snicker here and there, but full-on, all-out laugh?
Phil: I’m sorry, but the melodrama, am I right? The emotion smacks of a daytime soap.
Bill: Yeah, you mentioned while we were watching how everybody’s voice goes too intense or they’re constantly over-emoting. I guess it never really bothered me because it seemed to fit the genre, but once you pointed it out, this flick is Ham City.
“HE. IS. CAPTAIN SILLY NAME.”
Phil: It’s just so hard to take it seriously when everybody’s constantly emoting at a 10. Legoland and all his slow turns and long gazes, along with everyone dramatically spouting their lines as if they’re the most important ever uttered, are distracting rather than engaging. You mentioned that the only one selling his character is Viggo Mortensen.
Bill: It’s true, he isn’t making big eyes or seeing how many vowels he can shove into the word “doom.” Ah, I feel like you’ve given me free rein to really rip into this flick. I’ve been trying to be somewhat nice about it all year but it just makes me yawn. Let’s figure this out: why does it bore us so?
Phil: I can think of many reasons. First of all, the pacing is terrible. We start out with a flashback–which is, in my opinion, a very weak choice: Peter Jackson could learn a thing or two from what seemed obvious to literature’s earliest storyteller, Homer, and begin in medias res. Then the movie launches into a fascinating half-an-hour of Gandalf and the Hobbits gossiping about a ring and what could be happening. Then they bounce around from one conflict to another that is almost immediately thwarted.
Bill: Yes, I often refer to it as Fight a Thing, Walk a Bit, Repeat. That formula is broken up somewhat in the other installments, but if this is your introduction to Tolkien’s world, you may not even make it that far.
Phil: Well, I have seen all the Jackson interpretations of Tolkien. I was 18 when I first saw Fellowship, and my reaction was, “That was pretty good.” I don’t know what it was about it this second time, but I was having none of it. It seemed like a lot of time spent only to arrive at, “And after much wandering and weapon-wielding, they’ve brought the ring thus far.” There seems to be an interesting premise, with all these rings and power and early 20th century European rise-of-fascism motifs, that is being utilized in a way that isn’t completely following through.
Bill: Do you mean the films aren’t following through, or the source material isn’t in general? To clarify for the readers out there, I’ve read The Hobbit, Fellowship, and Two Towers, and I’m currently partway into Return of the King, while you aren’t familiar with the books at all. I mean, do you think you’re even qualified to say whether it’s Jackson or Tolkien failing to entertain you?
Phil: I was just about to ask you how you felt the books held up in comparison, and whether it was the original content or the film adaptation that I am finding inconsistent. I called out a bunch of things that baffled me during the movie, such as why they don’t rush down and save Gandalf hanging from the shattered bridge, and you pointed out that in the book he falls before they have the opportunity to choose between saving their most loyal and powerful ally or sitting around idly and watching him struggle before plummeting to his death. So it sounds like the book might be more consistent with character development and motivation, perhaps?
Bill: The book goes into more detail, to be sure, and I enjoyed it more than the film, but I can’t say that Tolkien didn’t spend a lot of time diverting from a somewhat entertaining narrative to throw a whole bunch of seemingly unimportant details at us. The film wins for hacking away at the dense jungle of trivial tidbits surrounding the events, but it also makes a lot of changes that affect basic story logic. And it has no time for exploring characters. This one has arrows, that one has a beard, got it? On to the next Thing We Have to Fight.
Phil: Indeed. You’ve hit on it. In addition to lacking coherent motivation, the characters are completely underdeveloped–something unwarranted given the film’s runtime. Thus when Bore-omir dies, it’s insincere and meretricious, not heart-wrenching as it’s so clearly supposed to be. When Sam rushes after Frodo in his boat and practically drowns, I wasn’t touched by his loyalty, I was bewildered: “You of all people, Sam,” I was thinking, “must know that you can’t swim!”
Bill: Okay, real quick, and I’m trying not to go over too many things I’ve already covered in a previous article, but in the book he’s running along the bank and leaps for the boat and misses! Mind blown at how much more sense that makes than running straight into the water?
Phil: See, now that… ‘Cause the… And if the film… Agggh! And that was happening consistently throughout our viewing: I’d ask a question and a good portion of the time you’d say, “Well, in the book…” So now I’m wondering, from all these odd choices, like making Gandalf drop himself or to make big green women on an Apple IIe screen, is this just a subpar film adaptation?
Bill: Probably. Yes. Yup.
Phil: This brings me to my next question. You and I have discussed together this year whether it is a better idea to create the world first and then write stories about it, or to come up with compelling characters and stories and let the world build around them. Lord of the Rings would be the quintessential example of the first scenario, and something like Doctor Who would be a good illustration for the second. On the one hand, the Doctor Who universe came out of the writers’ ensuring that the characters and stories are captivating, and thus the whole world is strong; the problem with this, however, is that, without an overarching plan, the series eventually started ret-conning as they thought up more ideas. Tolkien, on the other hand, had everything planned out, to be sure; however, the issue with this scenario is that if it is the world that is the compelling aspect, is it too difficult to create characters and stories that compliment it?
Bill: I think it’s worth pointing out that any fictional universes I can think of as complicated as Middle-earth got that way in a serial manner: Doctor Who, Star Trek, Marvel, DC, etc. Rather than laying everything out and then finding a pathway through it, they all told one tiny story at a time that added on to the world bit by bit.
Phil: Even mythology is essentially a compilation of cohesive stories that ultimately makes up its world, not the other way around. Zeus and Hera and Achilles and Narcissus all are the different “bits.”
Bill: And the parts of mythology that we like the most keep getting reused, just like in Star Trek or comic books. Multiple storytellers, multiple stories, same resonant elements. But, let me throw another complex world into the mix, one I think we can all agree is comparable to Tolkien’s in design: Grand Theft Auto V. I’ll pause for you to make a flabbergasted noise.
Phil: [Phil’s flabbergasted noise]
Bill: You see, I think Tolkien was trying to make a video game before video games existed. Yes, he started out by telling a story, but he got so engaged in creating this crazy world that anybody could load up just by reading all his appendices and Silmarillions and what have you. He was making holodeck programs with paper and ink, dude. And just like Grand Theft Auto V lets you go to the movies and do yoga and shit like that, boooring. I’d rather have a story.
Phil: And there it is. I think Tolkien was entirely trying to do this, and I think one has to be very careful that one does not simply dwell in the world one has created–one must have, as you say, a story.
But this probably just comes down to personal opinion. To continue the video game metaphor, one of my favorites is Mafia. In it, there are specific missions that come in a specific order and that follow a very strict storyline. Each mission is, in effect, an episode, and the collection of missions makes up a cohesive story. On the other hand, I’ve never been able to get into something like World of Warcraft, as I find it too open-ended.
Bill: I very much want to end this on an all-too-trite “to each their own.” I mean, the world of Middle-earth wouldn’t be successful if it weren’t clicking with thousands of people to this day. It’s just not clicking with me. Or you.
Phil: One does not simply “click” with everyone.
ONE THING THAT WOULD HAVE IMPROVED THE MOVIE:
During this viewing, I just about died laughing when Phil wanted to know how they achieved the effect of little Frodo hugging big Gandalf, which he worded thusly: “How’d they do that?! Did they get a baby and shove a face on him?” I wish.
Seven babies died to film this scene.