Mangling A Myth, Ctd

Readers continue to sound off on Peter Jackson’s The Desolation Of Smaug:

Charm is an essential secret to The Hobbit, and to some extent The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s myth depends on the response of ordinary creatures to horrific threats against their comfortable lives. The hobbits prove uncommonly strong and resistant to harm because they carry the warmth of their home inside them, and they repeatedly summon its charms in the darkest times, while facing the most dangerous foes. Surely Tolkien understood deeply the importance of such inner resources from his experiences as a soldier in the trenches of World War I.

Jackson’s Lord of the Rings conveys the very English charm of the Shire and its inhabitants beautifully and consistently. It helps that Jackson’s own love of his New Zealand home continually comes across in those movies. In contrast, the first Hobbit movie unsuccessfully tries to pack most of its charm into the first dorky meal with the dwarves, and the second film is practically bereft of charm. I could forgive all of Peter Jackson’s additions and vanity if it weren’t for this. In trying to fashion a more epic Hobbit, he lost the basic warmth at the heart of Tolkien’s work.

More readers get deep into the nerdom:

All these people talking about how The Hobbit movies are horrible but the LOTR movies were great are complete loons. The LOTR movies were terrible. Yes, they were lovely to look at, and the visuals were nicely done and accurate, and film isn’t print, accommodations for the different medium, blah, blah, blah. Fine. But Jackson was so obviously tone-deaf about what Tolkien was trying to do in his creation of a faerie land that he misses the really important things for the sake of his own grandiose vision of mayhem in Middle New Zealand. Three simple for-instances:

1) Faramir. For Tolkien, Faramir is the explicit anti-Boromir. Two brothers. One wants to wield the ring for himself; one refuses to touch the ring. Two brothers with different approaches, different relationships with their father, and different ends. It’s an important contrast in the novel that Jackson doesn’t merely elide, he actively destroys by making Faramir the same kind of ring-stealing power-monger as Boromir. Egregious assassination of an important moral compass point so that he can slip in footage of Osgiliath.

2) Aragorn. For Tolkien, Aragorn is a pure hero cut from the Anglo-Saxon cloth of Beowulf (of whom Tolkien was an eminent scholar). Remember Beowulf? “Hey, I hear you have a monster problem. I have the strength of 30 men. I’ll fix it for you.” So Tolkien’s Aragorn–a hero who never doubts his heritage or his calling, who takes the palantir to issue a direct challenge to Sauron, who wins and is crowned king. “I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur. I will claim what is mine by right.” Contrast Jackson’s maudlin, conflicted, postmodern, wimpy man. Every orc in the trilogy has more balls. Heck, his girlfriend has more balls.

3) Elrond. Ugh. By the blazing flames of Sammath Naur, how do you cast Agent Smith as Elrond?!  If you want a scary psychopath, why not cast Jack Nicholson? I mean, what the hell? Do you have any idea who this character is? He’s not a bitter, racist, computer virus, that’s for damn sure. “He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer” (Tolkien, The Hobbit). GAH!

The LOTR movies were absolutely awful adaptations of Tolkien. The Hobbit movies, by contrast (well, I’m seeing the second tonight), at least have the characterization mostly right. I can live with interpolated ass-whuppins and all the Hollywood if you respect the characters. The Hobbit is a simpler story with simpler, less noble characters and so suffers less from Jackson’s ignoble depredations.

Another reader:

Count me enraged that Jackson didn’t stick to the text and show the barrels bobbing quietly down the river for a few minutes or even an hour. Who needs action in a film when there’s confined space and waterlogged dwarves to depict? And I’ll take my Tolkien films without any female roles, thank you very much – who needs romance or intrigue when you can wonder how all those sweaty beardos relieved their sexual energies? AND WHERE’S THE CRAM?! We got all kinds of lembas in LOTR, but Jackson chooses to discriminate against dwarven baking traditions and thereby defaces the Hobbit, which, by the way, corresponds exactly to a 52-minute film and not a moment longer. Boycott New Zealand!

One more:

First, I understand that people think this is a bad adaptation of The Hobbit. But Tolkien himself recognized that The Hobbit was inconsistent with his later works and tried to rewrite it. He made changes to “Riddles in the Dark,” turning Gollum from a fair-minded game-player to a cheating, evil sneak to reflect the corruption of the Ring. Things like Bilbo revealing the existence of the Ring, Smaug’s apparent ignorance of its presence (when even petty Orcs could detect its power in the Pass of Cirith Ungol), casual mentions of stone-giants, Beorn as a whole, the silliness of Dwarves in the early chapters … so much is dissonant with The Lord of the Rings and the legendarium in general.

What Jackson’s attempting to do is make a film that’s consistent with the Lord of the Rings films. That added bit where Bilbo goes berserk over the Ring, then claims it (“Mine”), and then nearly vomits? That is consistent with the Ring and its power. A plan for which a burglar makes sense (as Bilbo’s original role was going to be to steal all of Smaug’s horde, apparently one bag at a time over dozens of years)? Far more consistent with the Dwarves as we are shown them in LOTR and especially in the appendices to Return of the King.

Cory Olsen, a.k.a. the Tolkien Professor, has an excellent two-part podcast reacting to this. I think his first half, where he addresses many of the common criticisms (“X change was made to make money,” “They changed it and it sucks solely because it’s different,” etc.) is very valuable. I think his second half has a great perspective, even if I don’t agree with much of what he says, especially with regard to Tauriel. But his larger point that Jackson may have created a more thematically consistent work than Tolkien did is an interesting one. You can find the podcast on iTunes. I particularly recommend the Silmarillion seminar, as it brought me to a whole new appreciation of the work.