All that is gold does not glitter...
, 29 Jul 2006
I get the strong impression that people who criticise harshly this film version of LOTRs are paying too much attention to flaws in its appearance and have been seduced by the evil technical genius of Jackson's trilogy. They slag it off because they think they ought to, not, on balance, for well-founded reasons. It amazes me still to think how Jackson's trilogy did not offend a lot more Tolkien fans (see below). Yes, I know, Tolkien dreaded an animated treatment of the trilogy but, given the time it was done this is far from being a failure and has considerable appeal. Think Watership Down, not Walt Disney.
The voices/casting is successful, the music too. The animation is atmospheric and inventive. Okay, the beardless, live-action dwarves in Bree are truly awful, and Legolas is rather Disneyesque, but the Black Riders are excellent (and original). Helm's Deep is also very well handled. In Bakshi at least more Tolkien dialogue is transposed to film. LOTRs is already written in a way highly sympathetic to cinema. Messing about with rewriting as Jackson has done is patronising and gains nothing. Jackson did not set out to make Tolkien's LOTR as a respectful film-maker fan would, he made 'Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings' and stamped his influence all over it.
The real strength is the fact that it does actually stick to the book, as another reviewer points out. For example, in Jackson's Fellowship the party fight (or surf, in Legolas' case) a cave troll who almost kills Frodo. Bakshi faithfully reproduces the book, in which all that is seen of the cave troll is it's foot, Gandalf advising wisely that they do not try to face it. It is an orc who sticks Frodo with a thrown spear, all of which is reproduced blow for blow by Bakshi. Jackson's preposterous troll-sequence was one of several gratuitous scenes thrown in, i can only imagine, to please 12-year-old boys, or the studio. Some of the many awful manglings of the books are [deep breath]: the way Moria crumbles like the end of a bad Bond film (the cringe-worthy line, 'lean forward!', when Aragorn and Frodo, impossibly, cause an 100-ton stone mass to topple forward is just awful); Gimli's 'You're gonna have to toss me' - and Aragorn subsequently tucking the dwarf under his arm as he is lifted, one-handed, by a rope (cartoon plausability); the boar-like wargs and Aragorn getting dragged off the cliff (to highten the romantic tension with Eowyn); The Fellowship being voluntarily disbanded by Aragorn after Boromir's death (again, more faithfully-rendered by Bakshi); Frodo dismissing Sam from the quest; changing the whole Paths of the Dead section from a host at a hilltop-set obilisk to a chat with a bunch of zombies in a cave; finally, given that Jackson's directing is overlong in many places, it is a truly mind-boggling to omit one of the most thrilling and cinematic scenes of the trilogy - when Gandalf faces the Lord of the Nazgul entering the gates of Minas Tirith '...under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face. All save one. [...] Gandalf upon Shadowax'.
In case you think me pedantic, with an overly-fragile ability to suspend disbelief, these changes and childish action sequences affect the tone of the whole film and characterisation also (for character is revealed through actions). Gandalf is not authoritative, impressive and imposing enough - in demeanor or knowledge (for example: making Frodo, not Gandalf, decypher 'speak friend and enter' at Moria - I assume to make Frodo clearly the hero of the film even at this premature stage in the quest; omitting the above Minas Tirith scene with Gandalf further diminishes his character and role). Given the central place of language and dialect in Tolkien's career and works, it is a mystery too, how Jackson has got away with making Gimli Scottish - Scottishness does not exist in Middle Earth and it is pure laziness to use an accent we know in this world insead of makng him speak like a dwarf of Middle Earth. Gimli is also played for laughs to an uncomofrtable degree eg. changing his chainmail for an overlong hauberk (even though his dwarven armour would have been superior). Jackson uses Elvish but instead of having orcs speak (even a very crudely done) Orcish, they speak like Cockneys - a truly terrible missed opportunity. A previous reviewer criticises the Sam character in Bakshi's film, and he is a bit of an awkward bumbling oaf, but Jackson's Sam lacks the humility and warmth of personality needed in Sam - a much greater fault. The hobbits in Jackson's films are presented in a way that conflates race with age - hobbits look too young (except Pippin) and, so, too much like humans children instead of mature hobbits. The Bakshi's animated Aragorn was criticised too, but John Hurt's voice is excellent and he is more faithful to the book once again (Viggo Mortensen - casting's fault,not his - is too young, too short, and too good-looking for weatherbeaten Strider (a spy would 'seem fairer and feel fouler').
I won't deny Jackson's LOTR doesn't look good much of the time and the music is an acheivement (if, at times a bit self-consciously stirring/shmaltzy). It is also genuinely moving at times. But it is sad that, given that this was probably the only time LOTRs will be made (in my lifetime at least), it was not treated in a more serious manner throughout. Sad too that The Hobbit will be getting the Jackson treatment and that we will not get a vision of Middle Earth from another director (Ridley Scott? Clint Eastwood???). Ultimately it is hard to compare the Bakshi with the Jackson results, live-action is certainly the preferred medium, but given what they could have achieved, Jackson's is more flawed, and Bakshi's intentions, at least, rather good. Worth seeing.
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