Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Lord of the Rings movies are Feces

I swear, Peter Jackson rapes Tolkien's masterpiece and there are a whole lot of you saying that since it was wearing a short skirt, it deserved it.

But we'll get to that in a minute. It seems my earlier claim of "You can make a decent fantasy movie. Maybe. Theoretically. Although they really do tend to be total crap, and I can't think of a single one off the top of my head that's actually good. The best I can seem to come up with is, "not a total farce," or at least, "not disrespectful to the source material." (which disqualifies that awful, yet attractive and shiny, Jackson LotR trilogy)."

A bit of discussion popped up, and there were cases made for a variety of movies. There are two examples that caused me to reconsider, but we'll get to that in a minute. Right now, I want to talk about the Dumple Shitskins that people have been championing as "good movies."

First, remember there is a difference between, "I giggled/gasped/forgot about my car payment for the ninety minutes duration," and, "good movie."

Second, a soundtrack does not make a film good. Conan the Barbarian has a marvelous soundtrack. Undoubtedly! Buy the CD. Conan may have been a decent sword and sorcery movie, but unfortunately it had the Conan title, and it was a shit Conan movie. I forget who pointed this out, but this grand atrocity presented the Origin of Conan as, "He walks around in circles for years." And is a slave! And... yeah. That's ass. And that homage they played to
Bêlit's ghost saving Conan... maybe it would be nice if you didn't pay homage to Conan stories in a Conan movie. SHOW CONAN STORIES. But it had blood and guts and didn't make us ashamed to say, "I liked that movie," so it's a masterpiece, right?

They did the same thing to Lord of the Rings. Listen to the commentary as Jackson and his cronies talk about how "dramatically incorrect" Tolkien is in his stories. Because for fifty years audiences were just so dissatisfied with what they were reading and were clamoring for someone to correct them, hmmm. Or was the movie made for people who didn't like the books in the first place? The problem is, the "corrections" terribly undermine the entire point of the story! Hundreds of millions of dollars could never fix the problem of a hack director (I love his early work as rather transgressive entertainment, but come on) deciding he was better than the story he was adapting.

In fact, the budget helped kill the movie. Can you imagine attempting that animated Legolas bullshit if they didn't have hundreds of millions to throw around? Can you imagine Gollum being presented, not as a cartoon, but as an actor? Kill the budget and he would have been. I don't care how well animated he was, the fact is that a major character was animated for no good reason. Andy Serkis with a few prosthetics on his face, makeup, and a baldy cap would look just as good and give an added benefit of seamless interaction with Frodo and Sam. But they had to show off their digital penis-waving skills and instead stroked themselves to orgasm with the Gollum monologue at the end of Two Towers for a character that was created in a lab. Fuck this shit.

It seems the Lord of the Rings movies was made for people who didn't like reading the books. The books are written in a dry, scholarly tone, because it's not as much an adventure story as a chronicle of the history of Middle-Earth. That's why Tolkien goes on about the flora and fauna and all those songs and every single "non-essential" thing that was cut out of the film for "pacing" purposes (Bombadil, which necessitated removing the barrow-wights, etc, and the interesting conversation about him at Elrond's Council) destroyed the rich fabric of the history of Middle-Earth that bound the whole story together! The world was much bigger than the story being told, and the movie massacred that concept.

And Liv Tyler... I sympathize with you guys that enjoy thinking about her while you masturbate (I know I'm using that comparison a lot... but if the fist fits, pump it... yes, I've been watching a lot of Harvey Denton on TV), but she adds nothing to the movie. For all the "chaff" that Jackson cuts from the story to fit his needs, he takes a story found mostly in an appendix and puts it front and center in the plot... when what was needed for the films was an appendectomy. That Liv's character replaces others is just another example of how the removal of the "unnecessary" characters wears down the depth of Middle-Earth in the name of satisfying the immediate story, which isn't at all the real story behind Lord of the Rings.

But lets forgive the common sins. Animated Legolas Ninja, Comedy Relief Gimli, Falls-Off-A-Cliff Aragorn, Bombadil, Sauron's relationship with Saruman, elves at Helm's Deep, and all that lovely stuff. It's all good!

Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" completely screws up the beginning and the ending. The beginning of the movie takes years in the books. Gandalf's researching the ring (which is done with a quick montage in the films) has him gone decades. Frodo is quite the mature hobbit when he finally leaves, after six months of planning to carefully cover his tracks (none of this "OUT THE DOOR! HURRY!" crap). Even the Nelwyn in Willow had competent members amongst them, for crying out loud... but for the sake of false suspense, all the hobbits in Jackson's LotR had to be childish and woefully unprepared. It's disgraceful. As if the journey and task before them isn't daunting enough, right? And for what? A couple more minutes of meaningless heart-pounding "danger?"

And the end... Well (as he often does), James Maliszewski hits the truth of the matter, responding to this post here. The Lord of the Rings was not simply an epic tale of derring-do, or about Aragorn's ascendance to the throne, or anything that was sold by hucksters and apologists as the plot of the films. Tolkien put far more into the story than that, and seeing that isn't reading too much into it. It was all put there on purpose and intentionally. Tolkien was a great literary man (and I fear I'd come terribly close to disparaging several authors dear to my heart if I made comparisons to the authors that, unlike Tolkien, were heavy influences on D&D) and worked all that usually boring literary stuff into a grand mythology that again was conceived with great care. It isn't a moment's escapist entertainment.

The "crap" that a lot of people were glad to see cut out was the heart of what Lord of the Rings actually is. All the usual excuses ("they spent x dollars on it and had to ensure that it would appeal to the average moviegoer" is a common one) just brings me back to the line with which I opened this post.

But apparently cinematography and other things that budget can buy are a film, and mimicking (or more accurately, mocking) the trappings of the source material is enough to be the source material if it looks the part. If you enjoyed the spectacle of Jackson's LotR, fine. If you were blinded by their prettiness around the time of release, fine, beauty does hide a rancid personality for awhile, it fools the best of us every now and again, but it's half a decade after the close of the trilogy, and you just can't disregard the fact that it does claim to be Lord of the Rings. Dismissing complainers as "Tolkien nerds" or "Middle-Earth geeks" or whatever doesn't wipe away the fact that you're ignoring a great deal in order to accept these movies as The Lord of the Rings.

Jackson should stick to making guilty-pleasure horror-comedies, or direct National Geographic specials, instead of ruining a succession of 20th Century classic stories.

As Dungeons and Dragons has shown us for well over a decade now, just because the name on the tin says something, that doesn't mean that the contents are that thing. Names mean something and it is a sad commentary on our society and our integrity as human beings (yes, you read that right) that the meanings of things shift so easily. Invent something new, or at least new twists on these old ideas. Star Wars and Indiana Jones, for two examples, were new tales (whether they were original is completely besides the point) ripped from specific kinds of stories. They were able to be what the creators wished them to be , and celebrated rather than denigrated their source material because they didn't claim to be that source material... but both those "franchises" (I should use the Picard Facepalm again when needing to utter that word) couldn't leave well enough alone either, could they?

As to a few movies brought up as being quality fantasy films... I yield on but one and a half examples.

The Princess Bride is indeed one of my favorite movies. It's well made, and while I could do without Fred Savage and Peter Falk (and I do usually loves me some Peter Falk) interludes to skip ahead in the narrative, but to me it's all about the witty dialogue and the plot. But is this really a fantasy movie in the sense we're talking about? I have my doubts... I want to read the Princess Bride book but I fear what that will mean for my appreciation of the movie.

Excalibur was also brought up. I love this movie, but to me it seems like a Cliff Notes version of one particular vision of King Arthur. But my nitpickings can't obscure some simple truths. It's undoubtedly a fantasy movie in the sense we're talking, and it's undoubtedly a good movie in the sense of good movies. So yeah, we've got our Good Fantasy Movie. woooo! Too bad it's the Pendragon movie and not applicable to the D&D movie category. ;)


  1. I think I saw Excalibur a long time ago, but I'm not sure. Was that the movie in which the knights leaped around in plate mail that apparently weighed 2 ounces, and in which at least one knight had sex while still in his plate mail?

    If that was Excalibur, I hated it. If that wasn't Excalibur, then I've never seen it and I hate some other movie.

  2. There's a good reason I'm not sanguine about prospect of The Hobbit film(s). I suspect, like The Lord of the Rings, the book will be reduced to fight scenes and opportunities to linger over expensive special effects. And since Del Toro is directing it, you can be sure it'll be filled with creepy and macabre monsters -- just like the books! Oh, wait ...

    Oh well.

  3. I watched the best D&D movie that will ever be last night- Bender's Game! Totally based on D&D and was just about as serious as the average adventure.

    Good Fantasy movies are few and far between though. My favorites would have to be the old Sinbad movies, especially the one with Tom Baker in it. The Harry Potter movies are probably the best fantasy films currently. I do hold some hope for the HBO series for the George Martin books and the upcoming Avatar movie.

  4. Down with Exaclibur haters! Fantasy films are invariably not very good. I am not particularly bothered by the way Conan the Barbarian diverges from the REH tales, mainly because that means Conan is working like a real mythology and being reinterpreted (and was being well before the movie).

    That, I think, is the heart of the matter. If I want you to learn about Roland, should I direct you to La Chanson de Roland, the chronicle that inspired it, the Pseudo Turpin, or any of the many derivative texts that sprang from it? All of them, none of them? Two of them, one of them?

    Frankly, there is plenty to dislike about PJ's LotRs, but the "disrespect" it has done to the source material doesn't really bother me. On the one hand you have a book written exactly as Tolkien intended, on the other you have a film made to make money and with the (lackluster) vision of PJ and Fran. Both should be appreciated for what they are (which may be worthless).

    The real problem that you seem to be driving at here is "recognition". If the films are more popular and highly recognised than the books, then that is an unfortunate comment on the taste of the majority of the population, but hardly surprising, given that mainstream culture and "popular" give us such dreck as Big Brother, Harry Potter or the X-Factor/American idol, and a wide variety of other stuff that I think is absolute crap.

    It all reminds me of Ursula le Guin's comments on the Sci-Fi channels version of Earthsea.

  5. Although I don't necessarily disagree with you on some of these points, all I can work myself up for is a hearty "meh".

    Film is not literature, literature is not film. You cannot take one and put it into the other without losing much of the original in the process. And pointing to the handful of adaptations that HAVE worked and saying, "Look! It was done there, so WHY didn't it work here?" is an equally pointless exercise.

    The life-cycle of a film, from inspiration to theatrical release, is a unique and fragile endeavor that never turns out the way it was intended. The road of filmic adaptations is often paved with the best of intentions, but it rarely turns out as little more than a disappointment for the majority of people who go to see it BECAUSE it was an adaptation of something they love (which sounds like self-torture to me, but whatever).

    Anyhow, again, you've got a lot of good points, but ultimately you're railing against something that not only will not change, but, I feel, cannot change.

  6. Assuming that we're not counting the 1977 Star Wars and the 1933 King Kong as fantasy films, I'd say that the best fantasy film is Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts.

  7. Hey James, well, suffice to say that we'll have to agree to disagree on the Jackson films. I'm one of those rare birds who enjoys both. And while I prefer the novels, I will maintain that Jackson did a far, far better job at adapting Tolkien's work than I could have hoped. They're far from perfect and if you poke around my Web site you'll find I have never made that claim.

    As Badelaire pointed out above, books and films are vastly different mediums and I can only imagine the enormous difficulty of bringing The Lord of the Rings to the screen. I understand your aggravation at the compressed beginning of Fellowship, and I suppose Jackson could have used some film technique to allow for the passing of several months. I happen to think his decision not to do so was a simple matter of pacing.

    As for butchering the ending, well, I was disappointed to see no Scouring of the Shire. But I will argue that Jackson kept the spirit of Tolkien's message about "The long defeat" intact. We still get a visibly wounded Frodo, and Gandalf and Bilbo and the elves, departing for the West, and a sense of magic draining out of the world. Or at least I do.

    As for Conan the Barbarian, no arguments from me that it's not Howard. But I maintain that, if it were called by any other name, the film would be an enduring piece of swords and sorcery cinema, and not reviled as it is by Howard fandom. I think it's a well-told, engaging story, thoughtfully made, and just plain old bloody fun.

  8. As for Geoffrey's comment about Excalibur, any claim to historic accuracy was tossed out the window in the first 5 seconds of the film. During the opening sequence Boorman pastes "The Dark Ages" (roughly 500-1000 AD) on a black background--and then cuts to knights fighting in full plate, a sight which wasn't seen until the 14th century or so.

    But you're missing the point if you go into a King Arthur film with an eye trained on historic accuracy. The Arthur stories are a collection of myths, and nothing more. Whether or not there was ever a historic Arthur, we do know that the Knights of the Round Table, Guienvere, Merlin, etc, were entirely fiction. What's important are the archetypes and the underlying message, and I think Excalibur succeeds remarkably well in its particular spin on the tale.

  9. I'm fine with Arthur and his knights wearing plate.

    What bothers me is the plate weighing 2 ounces. The movie I remember has knights running around in plate as though it were made from ultra-light-weight plastic.

    And a knight freakin' has sex with a woman WHILE THE KNIGHT IS STILL WEARING HIS PLATE. That's just ridiculous.

    I honestly don't know if it's Excalibur that I'm remembering, but there definitely is some movie like that. And I couldn't stand it.

    Does this stuff happen in Excalibur?

  10. Yes, that's Excalibur. And the sex scene in plate is rather... memorable, and not in an entirely good way.

    I don't know enough about plate armor to say whether it is portrayed unrealistically in Excalibur, but I have watched some videos floating around on the Web of dudes doing cartwheels in full plate, proving that it wasn't nearly as cumbersome as many thought.

  11. I would agree with you there, Brian. There is very little about the use of armour in Excalibur that struck me as inauthentic in terms of weight, flexibility, or athletic capability. People often conflate late period jousting armour with battlefield plate, which drives an unfortunate and inaccurate perception of the lumbering knight.

    As to the sex in armour, I am reasonably sure that had some sort of symbolic meaning. The actress was actually the director's daughter, or so I am given to understand, which makes me wonder whether there was an ulterior motivation, perhaps some misplaced parental concern ("Naked is fine, but no touching!").

  12. The whole point of LotR was summed up when Sam, in Mordor, with his beloved master captured and probably tortured or dead, is tempted by the Ring. The Ring promises him that he can save the people he loves and indeed set all the world at peace. All Sam has to do to make earthly the paradise of his sentiments is claim the Ring as his own, and in doing so give himself to it. But then he thinks of his friendship with Frodo, and the simplicity of a free gardner, and resists the temptation. He resisted it because, even if it was not a trick, he had the humility to know that it was not his place to dictate to others on the basis of his passions.

    The Ring is greed, power and pride. And even at its strongest, it can be defeated by humility, friendship and common decency.

    Tolkien KICKS ASS. Unfortunately, Peter Jackson cut out such ass-kicking parts so he could show us a ho-hum pageant of comic book violence. Instead of seeing the triumph of common decency over unbridled ambition, we got to see Saving Private Frodo.

  13. The thing to remember about Arthurian source material is that it was written hundreds of years after the events depicted by writers without any meaningful understanding of history. A 14th century writer would have assumed that all the technology in his time also existed in the age of Arthur. So, a movie that's faithful to Arthurian source material will by definition be full of historical anachronisms. Also - aren't we talking about FANTASY here?

  14. Admittedly, I saw Excalibur a LONG time ago. Perhaps if I re-watched it I might find more to like in it.

  15. Crap on a stick. Blogger ate my lengthy reply.

    Most essential part: I recommend The Princess Bride book.

  16. "Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" completely screws up the beginning and the ending. The beginning of the movie takes years in the books. Gandalf's researching the ring (which is done with a quick montage in the films) has him gone decades."

    In defence of the film, I have to say, I never understood why, in the book, it took Gandalf so long to identify The Ring.
    Middle Earth is not a setting that is swimming in magic items, like the typical D&D world. The magic of the world is more subtle, like the protective auras of Lorien and Rivendell.

    How many other Rings of Invisibility are there?
    Gandalf never mentions any red herrings, or leads that came to nothing. Indeed, the only magic rings mentioned in the whole series are the ones related to Sauron. That alone should have been reason enough to call the Council of Elrond at the earliest opportunity, not leave it to work its poison on Bilbo's mind for years.

    So; I understand why that got changed, and I can't get worked up about it.

    I do wish they'd included the Scouring of the Shire, though. For me, that was one of the major events. If they'd cut out some of the Brokeback Mount Doom moments, the hobbit-gazing at the Grey Havens, and played the elves' scenes at normal speed instead of artistic slo-mo, they might have been able to fit that chapter in, if only on the Special Edition DVD.

  17. The armour in "Excalibur" was made by Terry English and was real armour. If the actors jumped around in it like it weighted only fractions of a pound, then good on the actors. I won't put links here (I don't think I am allowed to do so) but five minutes on google will change some opinions. Steel armour is actually a third the weight of rubber or polyurethane armour (but steel rusts and dents which is a problem for film continuity)
    I am a professional armour maker myself, and if you wanted me to fit you out in a real armour, you might be very surprised at how comfortable a real armour can be.

    Bill Fedun
    Armour maker

  18. 1. ALL movies are made for people who don't read books.
    2. Yes, the Scouring of the Shire was the entire point of the books and it was criminal that's the worst offense of the movies.
    3. Read the goddamned Princes Bride! The Savage/Falk interludes are the "Scouring of the Shire" of the book!

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