more on lotr

After prattling on about it for so long in my last entry, last night I decided to give the Lord of the Rings a watch. It had been ages since I had seen it; we have the special collectors extended version, so I only got through the first half of the first film before the DVD had to be changed, by which time Mitchel had already gone so the next sixth will have to wait. It occurred to me, however, that this is indeed a remarkable bit of film, and Peter Jackson tried his best to live up to the grandeur of Tolkien. Other directors would, no doubt, have condensed the film into one more marketable piece, leaving much of the rich detail. I dread to think what the Walt Disney company would have turned it into. While I disagree with some of Jackson’s choices and the way in which he changes things slightly, I am glad that it was he who made these films.

However, that was not the point I was trying to make last time. Whoever made them, the lord of the rings as a cultural entity has changed: it is no longer a book read by geeks and people with beards, but a mainstream film. I think in a way this changes the text philosophically, and part of me wishes it had remained the book I knew as a child. Part of me thinks that the magnificent work of JRR Tolkien should have stayed as it was, on the page, rather than being brought into the shallow world of mainstream cinema.

Yet I realised last night that this is not quite the case. Jackson did not simply make a movie; in a way, I think Lord of the rings is an experimental piece of cinema. It is far longer than any other mainstream film I can think of, and it is in three parts. It stands apart from other films, and is special in it’s own right. It has a rather low pace, which is a quality Jackson deliberately took from the book. It is clear that Jackson and his studio respected Tolkien’s work enough to make them into something special and unique, and not just another film. As I wrote here, an adaptation of a book is an interpretation of it, and it is natural that the two will differ. But Jackson clearly did his best to keep the grandeur of the books; Like Tolkiens prose, the films are slow and detailed, and I also think the fact that they take time and considerable effort to get through reflects the complexity of Tolkien’s writing. I am relieved that, if these books had too be adapted for the screen, the result is something as special as the original in it’s own right.

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