Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Concerning Hobbits

Mr. M and I have divergent tastes in movies. He, being a guy, is drawn to films that feature explosions, combat, and plenty of vehicles - which may or may not metamorphose into something larger and more menacing - racing down streets and around corners and generally contributing to the overall mayhem. He is also drawn to almost anything based on a computer game, or an inspiring sports story of the underdog-triumphant variety.

I like quiet, character-driven movies, with witty dialogue and (if possible) careful costuming and production design. Romance is optional; good writing is not. Parodies and unabashedly silly movies also have their appeal. While Mr. M usually likes the videos I choose, I don't always like the ones he picks out - which is fine. Variety is after all the spice of life.

Luckily there are plenty of movies we both enjoy. Pride and Prejudice, for instance (the BBC version featuring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle), is one of our favourites. (Yes, she says proudly, my husband loves that film. It kills him that the first disk ends with Mr. Darcy's spurned proposal. Even though he knows a happy ending will ensue, he can't rest until he puts in the second disk and watches it through to the end.)

Another of our very favourite films is The Lord of the Rings, which we fell head over heels in love with from our first viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring back in December 2001. I can still remember walking out of the theatre thinking despairingly of the yearlong wait for the next installment. (Of course that year flew by and before we knew it we were in the theatre again on the opening day of The Two Towers, and again a year later for the spectacular final segment The Return of the King. And I had recourse to the books.)

Now, each December, in honour of the original release dates, we hold a mini-marathon viewing of the entire set (extended versions, of course). It takes us a week, sometimes two, of evenings to get through Peter Jackson's epic production - and we both enjoy every minute of it.

Of course no movie based on a book can be completely satisfying to one who reads and re-reads the book (which in this case would be me), but the film version of LOTR comes close. Yes, the plot has been tweaked and massaged in spots to make it more Hollywood-palatable. The makers left out huge chunks of story, and interpolated others from the appendices. (Where are Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel? Why not leave Arwen in Appendix A where she belongs and include more of the central if less romantic characters?) But I still feel that they captured the spirit of the original and brought it to stunning visual life. The sets, the costumes, the miniatures, the breathtaking natural scenery of New Zealand, all combine to create an easy suspension of disbelief and a total immersion in what C.S. Lewis called "Story". The book itself is even more absorbing, of course - and how nice, after seeing the visually excellent films, to be able to "see" in my mind Minas Tirith and Hobbiton and Helm's Deep and Barad Dur, as faithfully represented via the illustrations of Alan Lee according to Tolkien's descriptions.

A scriptwriter adapting a book to film, who does not make full use of the author's own voice wherever possible, is presumptuous to say the least. One of the things I enjoy most about the LOTR films is their use of plenty of authentic dialogue and poetry from the book (although words are sometimes put into the wrong character's mouth). There are some manufactured lines ("Looks like meat's back on the menu, boys!") but they're usually appropriate to the story and characters involved.

It occurs to me that LOTR offers Mr. M and me plenty of what we both like in a movie: battle, murder and sudden death for Mr. M, and the satisfaction of watching the (literally) little guy triumph over seemingly overwhelming odds ("Even the smallest person can change the course of the future") - with enough good dialogue and outstanding costuming to satisfy me. I will say nothing of the theology which quietly underpins the whole, save that its presence (faint yet discernable) deepens our enjoyment.

Tonight we embark on The Two Towers, in which Frodo and Sam are wandering lost in the rocky impasse of the Emyn Muil, tracked by the devious Gollum; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are hard on the trail of Merry and Pippin who have been kidnapped by the exceedingly nasty Uruk-Hai at the behest of evil Saruman; and Gandalf, seemingly lost to the Fellowship after his deathly encounter with the Balrog of Morgoth, has yet a role to play in their quest.

This is my favourite of the three segments, with its lovely depictions of Rohan's court, the stunning battle sequence at Helm's Deep (which in the book is a rather minor battle but becomes a major set-piece of the film with bonus elves joining the fray), the beautiful bits of Tolkien's poetry worked in by the scriptwriters ("Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? ... They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow; the days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow...."), the wholly engaging voice-over of Treebeard by the talented John Rhys-Davies (who also played Gimli the Dwarf), and the simply outstanding performance of Andy Serkis as Gollum (whose computer-generated character completely steals the show).

As I see this post threatening to become as long as the book and movie it concerns, I will close with this:

The other night I asked Mr. M what he liked best about the LOTR films, and his answer was so surprising and delightful I had to pass it on. This is what he said: "Everyone has a place, and they know their place. There's order. And within the order, there's courtesy and bravery."

A very good review of a very good set of films.

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  1. I didn't think this was too long a post at all, but then again, I love your writing! This is one trilogy I have yet to see, although I have spied bits and pieces in very tiny segments over the years. Now I'm wondering if maybe this might make a nice gift beneath the tree...

    It would provide me some excellent respite from my own better half's pre-occupation with Clint Eastwood and spaghetti westerns. :)

  2. What a coincidence. The Goatmother and Goatfather have a tradition of watching these movies every year - but usually between Christmas and New Years! Long live the LOTR Trilogy! That the books will live on simply goes without saying. "What say you? What say you? I am Isildur's heir. Fight for me. And I will hold your oaths fulfilled. What say you?" (love that part - I couldn't resist. :))

  3. The NVO and I are with you and Marigold...have had two LOTR marathons over the holidays. So fun and relaxing. This year it appears that it's going to be Star Wars.

  4. Like the LOTR trilogy but don't love them. I do like explosions, but I need a bit of humor with my explosions. Love, love, love Pride and Prejudice, the real one!, and Lost in Austen a rather warped version of it.

  5. How weird...we just bought all three LOTR films today! (I can't believe we didn't already own them)

  6. I was only thinking of these films yesterday. I remember the exact same thing watching that first film and being totally bowled over. I love them and feel sure they will come out of the cupboard over Christmas when tv pickings are low on the ground. Hubby and I vary greatly in film/tv choices. I am extremely sensitive to anything weird, nasty, stressful, leaving me with very little choice. Hubby is very understanding but draws th line at period drama unfortunately.

    I do enjoy reading your blog, it is very comfortable and warming. I like what you said about your childhood Christmases, growing up on a dairy farm, my dad was always out milking in th morning, so we would wait until after lunch when we would open our presents, unlike my friends who all seemed to be bored by mid morning. I think the little things are often what you remember not the presents and expense. I hope to instill this in my boys, but it isn't easy when the whole world appears to be all out to spend.

  7. The battle at Helms Deep is also one of my favorite parts of The Two Towers. The tension before the battle when the Uruk-Hai are yelling and pounding the ground is fantastic. I look forward to hearing about your favorite Christmas...perhaps provided by your favorite nephew (wink)?

  8. How strange! I haven't watched LOTR since I acquired the set, but as soon as I read your post, I put it on.... Just watching the opening Galadriel preamble now.... Thanks for the reminder!!!

    Happy holidays,


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