Lord of the Rings Movie Review

© 2002, Wade Shiell

Hello all. Follows something I'll wager I never thought I'd be posting, given the nature of my... opinions these last few months. Enjoy!

Of late, my opinion of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie has been somewhat negative, therefore it probably stands to reason that any account I might give of it would therefore be biased. But here I shall attempt to comment on that which I can remember, of what I saw, in as accurate, opinionative and impartial manner as is possible. No promises, mind you.

Firstly, I guess it would be stupid not to point out (before others get the opportunity) that yes, I saw the movie even after many times proclaiming it was something I would never do. Naturally, I didn’t break any laws by seeing the movie. Indeed, in hindsight, actually going to view the film wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it might have been. Of course, I suppose I’ll have to wait until I read the book again before I can really know how much my interpretation of the characters therein has been tainted, but by then I may have forgotten much about the movie. Anyhow, it would seem that my initial enthusiasm when I heard about the screen adaptation of ‘Lord of the Rings’ proved a little too much for me to dismiss. Plus, the prompting of a certain friend didn’t help keep me away, either.

Admittedly, what I saw this evening was nothing like I envisioned the movie, in my own head at least. I can’t remember the first time I dreamed of seeing ‘Lord of the Rings’ on the big screen. Sometime around the age of 12 or 13 I guess. Then, I envisioned lofty peaks, gallant warriors, and characters exactly as I perceived them in my own head. As I aged, I saw the impracticality’s of what I wished for, and perhaps, as a result, desired less and less to see that which was so dear to me, be ‘butchered’ by some money hungry Hollywood director.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, how has my opinion changed?

Well, it’s never stopped changing, it would seem. But specifically referring to the last few months, and my objection to the film, I would have to say that my opinion has not changed. I think the movie falls dramatically short of the book. Now, I would like to state here and now that, as a movie alone, I thought ‘Lord of the Rings’ was a fantastic piece, cinematically speaking. The computer graphics were most interesting, the characters (well, most of them) were interestingly portrayed, and I didn’t half mind Viggo Morgensten’s ‘Aragorn’. But, let’s be frank. This is MY opinion of what I saw, and is of course by no means meant to be universal. Having said that, let me re-iterate what I intended to suggest above. The movie left me more disappointed than pleased. Though I can both understand, and perhaps forgive, Peter Jackson for forsaking dear Tom, and ignoring the ‘true’ interpretation of the characters, I cannot accept what I saw as a ‘decent’ interpretation of the book I so dearly love. Perhaps it would be best for me to begin with those instances I recall being mortified. They follow in no particular chronological order.

It was the small things, I think, that I missed the most. Those things which could have been included without much fuss. The pronunciation of ‘dwarves’ as ‘dwarfs’, I found almost insulting (of course, I’ll probably be proven wrong here, and told that indeed it WAS pronounced ‘Tolkien-ly’ by Elrond). Obviously there is no difference in time, between dwarves and dwarfs, therefore I see no reason NOT to have included the previous. After all, is this not ‘Lord of the Rings’, and as such is it not fair to want to hear things pronounced as Tolkien himself thought best?

Whilst in Lothlorien, when addressing the remaining eight travellers, I noticed that when Galadriel held Sam’s gaze, he did not blush an turn away. A minor point, perhaps. But once again, out of fear of being labelled a nit-picker, let me say that one, it’s *written* in the book, and two... my opinion.

The third point I can recall at this time, though of course there are many others (which I may or may not discuss here, now), involved the bier of Boromir. Whilst he was at LEAST pushed over the falls, I noticed that the weapons of his fallen enemies were missing from the foot of the boat (I noticed some bundles at his head, which MAY have been the missing weapons, but I don’t think so. I recall seeing only a shield, and miscellaneous baggage). Of course, there was much about the incidents around Parth Galen which I objected to. Most notably was the inclusion of something not even in the book, unless I’m sorely mistaken. The orc Saruman referred to as ‘Uruk-Hai’, seemed to be a creation of Mr Jackson. At first, I thought that Saruman named the orc itself ‘Uruk-Hai’, for it did not seem that there were any other similar orcs to bear the title (ie. He seemed only to have created that one orc, calling it ‘Uruk-Hai’, to lead his minions). Regardless of that matter, the character itself doesn’t belong. Obviously, it’s not Ugluk or Grishnakh, and other than those two I know of no other orc leader mentioned at that point in the novel (other, of course, than the orc with whom Ugluk expected to meet under the eaves of Fangorn. His named escapes me at the moment).

I shan’t dwell on this much more, but I HAVE to object to the complete disregard for the novel after the fellowship come ashore. I understand, however, that what was done MAY very well have been necessary. In order to allow Frodo to slip away quietly, and to allow Aragorn to make the decision to go West, not East, I accept that the debate on the lawn needed to be removed... to save time. I don’t, however, accept that it WAS done. It’s simply mutilation. Once again, I know it’s BASED on the book, and it’s also... just my opinion.

Moving backward a little, I would like to say I was rather taken by the Argonath. Although I’d never imaged it precisely in my own mind, I’d always imagined it to look something like it did in the movie. Not precisely the same, perhaps, but it was a good looking fit. I wasn’t fond of the absence of shoes, however.

Back a little more, to Lothlorien. The short amount of screen time spent there was, of course, understandable IF… you consider the need to save time. I was saddened that only a short time was devoted to Lorien, as I felt that the movie didn’t express that feeling of rejuvenation that would have come from a stay there. It was in, and out, from what I saw. That’s not to say that it was suggested they only stayed there a moment. I mean, because so little time was devoted to Lorien, it wasn’t made clear what the eight really gained (or lost) from their time spent there.

And what of Galadriel? The one thing that amazed me most of all, was the incredible deviation from the character in the book. To me, the Lady of the Wood is a deep, intricate, caring, compassionate, mildly passive, wise character. The image I saw on the screen reflected little of who I imagine Galadriel to be. I saw a rather cardboard character, somewhat aggressive, with little of the soul of she who I came to know in the book. I’ve mentioned the ‘gaze’ scene above, so I shan’t go into that again, save to say... it was brief, was it not? And Celeborn.. well, his was a brief appearance, which perhaps did not reflect his character from the novel positively or negatively.

The period from the ‘Council of Elrond’ through to the arrival in Lorien I felt was too severely compacted, for of course, there was much that needed to be told. The journey through Moria I felt, was perhaps not as accurate, nor as interesting, as it could have been. Now, I’ve always considered Moria to be, wall to wall, a place of unrivalled dwarvish brilliance. I saw vast arches, and helical stairs rising away to invisible heights. Doors inscribed with ancient runes, and floors paved with carefully laid stone. All of this would have shown the signs of age, of course, but would have none the less seemed marvellous. However, I saw very little of what I saw in my mind’s eye. Indeed, the only time I think I saw something resembling what I imagined Moria to look like, was the scene which showed rows and rows of columns. They looked lovely. But the rest was.. mediocre at best, I think. As for the bridge itself, I know it was thin due to that being an ancient form of dwarvish defence, but I felt that it would have appeared more like Ted Naismith imagined it, in his painting.

The scene at the west gate, was a little poorly done, also. Why destroy the gate, when you could do what was done in the book, and have it merely barred by the holly trees (if holly trees they were, I forget). It wouldn’t have taken any more time. But perhaps, it wouldn’t have looked as dramatic. As for the east gate, I always expected there to be a broad road leading down into the Dimrill Dale. Khazad-dum was, after all, the greatest of dwarf cities. One would expect a major highway to facilitate the traffic which would have passed in and out of it, as opposed to the.. rocks. And the gate I always imagined to be a little lower down the mountain side, and surrounded by more verdant ground.

Whilst I think of it, I was rather disappointed to see barely a mention of Bill. Both Ferny and the pony. Perhaps one of the seedy customers at the inn was the villain, but I don’t know. As for the pony, I always felt that his bond with Sam, or perhaps Sam’s bond with him, was a major developmental point in establishing Sam’s nature as a kind hearted hobbit. Perhaps we’ll see more of him in ‘Return of the King’.

I guess there’s not a lot to complain about, in regards to the journey south from Rivendell. Of course, certain scenes were naturally not part of what was in the book, but one can at least imagine that they might have happened as they were portrayed. The appearance of the Crebain could have been handled better, I think though. Of course, once again, I can see why they appeared when they did.. though I don’t see that as being a good thing. The whole decision about going under the mountains was handled not at all well either. I would ask why have Gimli so eagerly pressing the company to travel that way, but I’m concerned with his character in general, anyway, so I shall remain silent.

Oh, it was sad to see the wargs disappear from the movie, as well as a more thorough description of events on Caradhras. I think it would have been nice to have seen Gandalf bring the sputtering faggot of wood to life with his staff. But, c'est la vie.

I was not overly keen about the emphasis on Saruman’s involvement with the trouble on the Redhorn pass. To consider that it was Saruman, rather than the mountain itself, who was responsible for the Nine turning back, is rather like diminishing the status of Caradhras itself. After all, is it NOT Caradhras which is implied as being responsible for the foul weather and furious winds, in the book? I got the distinct impression that no such character, the mountain, existed in the movie. But, I guess there was no place for it.

A small respite from my onslaught for a moment. Two things I must say I did rather like, were the first image of Rivendell, as seen from some high cliff (ie looking down on the house of Elrond, and the river which ran through it). I can’t say off the top of my head whether or not it was precisely true to what Tolkien imagined it to be like, but from what I recollect from the movie, it seemed to fit very closely to the drawing of Rivendell Tolkien himself drew (and which someone else later copied. Ted Naismith?). The interior of the house was also very.. ancient. Not exactly how I saw it before hand. I always imagined it to be less ‘light’, and more ‘homely’. The house of Elrond didn’t quite seem to be what I always felt ‘the last homely house’ should look like. But I’m not going to complain overly much.. on that point.

The second point which I was pleased with, was the pronunciation of ‘crebain’. Legolas pronounces is ‘crebyne’ more or less, which takes into account the ‘ai’ which I always saw but never seemed to notice. As in Maia and Edain, I can now see how it should be pronounced. I think.

I didn’t really like Hugo Weaving as Elrond. As with Galadriel, I felt that he was more aggressive than his character in the book. Initially, as the ‘commander’ on the battle field, he seemed promising. But afterwards, when the lines began to change, and the scenes began to alter (an argument to end the council?), I began to doubt. The scene on Orodruin, at the crack of doom, although perhaps ‘realistic’ in regards to it’s interpretation of Isildur’s reluctance to do away with the ring, and display of ‘manly weakness’, seemed to crystallise Isildur as essentially a flawed character, proud and arrogant, while symbolising Elrond as the scarred and resentful sage. Perhaps they should have chosen Sam Neill?

I think I shall refrain from commenting on Arwen, as.. well, she seemed to get far too much commentary in the film as it stands. A small point, however. As I was discussing with the person with whom I saw the film, I was wondering whether or not the scene involving Arwen and Aragorn being intimate wasn’t put there to establish their union, and perhaps more importantly, establish why it is that, later on, Aragorn will be so hesitant and distant with Eowyn. I can’t imagine Peter Jackson NOT attempting some kind of romantic confrontation between Aragorn and Eowyn. There’s something of that kind of occurrence in the book, at Dunharrow, if I’m not mistaken.

Other than some minor (well, not minor, but less outstanding than other features) points, I felt that the trip from Bree to Rivendell was perhaps not as bad as it could have been. Well, until they encountered Arwen, anyway. It was short, and in that I feel, lay the need to trim down quite a bit of what was in the book. Hardly any time was spent in the Ettenmoors, and the poor trolls barely got a mention, and then by image only. I felt that the camp at Weathertop was, however, another instance where it could have been possible to be a little more accurate. Why site the attack on the summit, when it could have just as easily been in the dell, where it belonged? And why mention Frodo’s anxiety with the fire, when there was no such anxiety in the novel? Indeed, such concern seems contradictory, considering that Aragorn makes the point that fire would aid, rather than do the hobbit’s harm, in regard to defence against the Nazgul.

One thing that I was wondering about, centred on the horse ridden by Arwen (I know I said I wouldn’t mention her, and I shall try not to). She called it ‘Asfaloth’ at one point, and spoke to it, saying ‘Noro lim’. Asfaloth is of course, the name of Glorfindel’s horse. So for the purposes of the film, do we assume that the right horse is featured, but the wrong rider, or the right rider, but the wrong horse? For I shan’t accept that Asfaloth *wasn’t* Glorfindel’s horse. If they found it necessary to omit him, they should have omitted his horse, too. But it was ‘nice’ to hear the phrase ‘noro lim’, not that I know what it literally means. Some command of swiftness, I would imagine.

In deleting Bombadil from the movie, I think I worked out that 4 entire chapters were also deleted, from ‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’ to ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’. It’s sad once again, that no mention of Tom, nor of the Barrow downs could have been made, but once again, I can accept that they had to be removed, at least to conserve time. Still, I don’t think there were any other chapters in the first volume that were skimmed over completely. Just those 4.

After leaving Hobbiton, I think the entire journey to Bree was rather horrid. The way Gandalf left with them, but didn’t continue with them (of course, he had to leave to see Saruman, but this was supposed to have happened long before Frodo departed.. much went awry there, too!), the way they met Merry and Pippin, the lack of any encounter with Farmer Maggot. And most of all, the altercation with the Black Rider. I really don’t see the need (though once more, I see the purpose of injecting ‘action’) to have included that. It introduced too many questionable elements. To suggest that the Hobbits could have outrun the Nazgul who were there (I’m assuming it would have been five or there abouts, but who knows?), seems preposterous. When faced with the delicious proposal of snatching the Ring, so close at hand, I would think that the Nazgul would have displayed a greater degree of power than they did. I mean, why were they still atop their horses, if they were having so much trouble laying hands on the Hobbits? It’s a matter which I feel could be a great source of debate, so I shall for the moment leave it be at that.

Finally, at least as far as ‘nit-picking’ those major elements of the film which I can recall, there’s what was set in Hobbiton. Though I could be mistaken, I got the impression from the way the shadows fell over the door of Bag End, that it faced west. I always assumed Bag End faced the south. But this is not concrete in my mind, so I shall let it lie.

The party itself was about as good as I think it could have been. Perhaps a little rustic, like the entire description of the Shire seemed to be, but not too bad. I didn’t mind the fire works, though they were a little loud. And the Dragon didn’t dive into the Water!! Or did it explode over the water in the book, as well? I can’t quite remember.

The speech, and the absence of knowledge on Frodo’s part, I really wasn’t thrilled with. Perhaps it would have been more difficult to have made it so that Frodo knew of Bilbo’s coming holiday.. I don’t know. But the whole instance left me a little peeved, as you might expect. Why wasn’t there any flash of smoke, or a bang? Nothing! Just a disappearing hobbit, and no more.

Other than what I’ve written above, although I started by saying that I was only going to detail ‘minor points’, there are only a few instances which further irk me in any great detail. The overuse of Saruman and Isengard I think could have been left out. But I guess I can understand that, simply by isolating Saruman to ‘The Two Towers’, and a little of ‘Return of the King’, it would have been a little harder to incorporate him as a major character. But then again, compared to others, he’s NOT a major character.

As sleep descends upon me now, and threatens to take with it the last vestiges of what I can remember I wanted to discuss about the movie, I shall quickly write them down. As a whole, ‘Lord of the Rings’ was somewhat hollow. Although the actors seemed to, mostly, play the characters they were given, well enough, compared to the novel I felt that the movie lacked ‘soul’. I couldn’t sense there being anything outside of what I saw. When I read the book, no matter where I was (in Middle Earth, that is), I could always imagine, say, the desolate plains of Dalgorad, or the tumultuous falls of Rauros echoing in the Emyn Muil. But there was none of that, for me, when I saw the movie. If the characters were in Moria, there was no outside world. If they were floating down the Anduin, I could sense no rangers stalking the woody slopes of Ithilien.

Oh.. one last gripe, before I forget it. During the Council, Boromir mentions that Aragorn is ‘only a ranger’. That’s a rather poor comment, don’t you agree? If Boromir knew of the existence of the rangers in Arnor, you’d assume he’d know where they had descended from. Even if he didn’t know specifically that Aragorn was the heir of Isildur, you’d still think that he wouldn’t have made the ‘only a ranger’ comment, based on the fact that rangers were descendants or the Dunedain of old.

And one more ‘last’ point before I go.. the characters, as a whole. Now, I mentioned that I felt that most of the actors portrayed they characters they were given, well enough. That doesn’t mean I felt the characters themselves were anything special, however. Admittedly, the fact that many more times than once the characters from the book were altered and placed in different situations and contexts, would no doubt have made it hard for any actor, even the best, to have made the character they were to portray resemble the same from the book. Nonetheless, they still weren’t the characters I’ve journeyed with so many times, and have come to know, see, and enjoy in my own personal way.

In hindsight, is my experience with ‘Lord of the Rings’ on film going to dramatically affect the way I see the story, written down? I can’t say that I know at this point in time. I’m tempted to say that I perhaps over reacted a little, and that things won’t be quite as bad as I felt they would be. But, I can’t be sure. I’ve now visions of Elijah Wood in my head as Frodo, and thatched rooves in Hobbiton where once there was tile. But I wasn’t left completely unchanged for the worse. One thing I think I noticed after having watched the film, is that my view of the book, that is, what I see.. mountains, rivers, people.. has always been somewhat two dimensional. Perhaps the movie will allow me to see a little more depth now. I guess I’ll have to wait and see, when I next read ‘Lord of the Rings’.

To close. Whilst not being as bad as I had perhaps thought it might be, the movie was certainly not as good as I hoped it might at least be. Wooden and hollow, and yet in places both deep, beautiful and thought provoking, I won’t say I’m NOT sorry the movie was made, but I don’t resent it’s coming into being. At least, not at this juncture. No doubt, a few days to mull over in my head what I saw, and the emails which I shall no doubt enjoy reading from you all, shall change the way I see the film, at this point in time.

But in the end, there really is no book, nor is there a film, which accurately describes ‘The Lord of the Rings’. For me at least, it shall forever exist most acutely in my mind, where the grass of Rohan smells the sweetest, the heights of Caradhras are most dizzying, and the dogs chew bacon rind in front of Farmer Maggot’s fire. Anything else, book, movie or sound, merely enhances and renews those images that are already there.
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I wrote that immediately after seeing the flick, and I finsihed at 3.30 in the morn, so forgive any odd comments :-)

Wade.


 

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