When I first saw the Hobbit trailer, I was pretty excited. My inner fan-boy erupted with a huge roar of approval. So much of it is right: the dwarves, Martin Freeman as Bilbo, comedy, a cool battle with the trolls, the foreshadowing of the ring, and almost all the rest looks wonderful. Then there is the song, which just nailed it for me. Wonderful, except …
Except, you see, there are these other three movies — resisting the urge to rant; must not rant — and I am a bit, shall we say, wary. If you want to understand why fans of the books are torn, take a look at this page in which Gary Appenzeller has cataloged the differences between The Fellowship of the Ring book and the movie. He also has pages for The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. (I kind of feel sorry for Gary. I am sure he started the project after The Fellowship of the Ring, which was pretty faithful to the book. Then the other two movies diverged greatly, and he was stuck with a mess. I think he should have switched to cataloging the items which remained the same. It would be a shorter website.)
Let me be clear: I am not a purist. I don’t need to have my movies follow the script of the book exactly. Also, I really like Peter Jackson as a filmmaker, and I recognize the depth and quality of his film-making in the LotR project. Jackson’s love of Tolkien is clearly evident in the bonus material on the boxed DVD sets. More importantly, Jackson’s look at the process of making these movies is by far the most amazing tribute to film-making ever created. Here is a man clearly determined to inspire and teach a new generation to make incredible films. Thank you, Mr. Jackson. Gifted artists who can inspire others to join their craft are rare and beautiful. Thank you so much. However, as much as I am a fan of Jackson as a filmmaker, I am not a huge fan of Jackson or his partners, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, as adapters of other people’s books.
Not being a purist, I wasn’t thrown in the first movie by changes such as Arwen rescuing Frodo or apparently giving him her gift of immortality at the Fords (“What grace is given to me, I give to you,” or something like that.) I kind of liked Arwen choosing mortality to save Frodo’s life. It makes her even more brave than in the book. In the book she is quite brave, choosing mortality for the love of Aragorn. At the end, after she is queen with Aragorn, she gives Frodo her place on the boat to immortality. So the changes to Arwen work for me, because they fit Arwen’s character from the book. Overall, The Fellowship of the Ring works well for me as a film adaptation of the book in most ways.
Yet, even in this film, you can see the seeds of the mistakes which would haunt the other two films. As a writer who has experimented with fiction, I tend to believe characters drive the plot. A story is nothing more than characters responding to emotionally-heightened situations around them. Stories are unique, because a writer’s characters and the situations they are placed in are unique; however, characters lead the dance in this story tango. Great books can have mundane situations if the characters work well, but the opposite is almost never the case. My frustrations with Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings come not from changing the situations and scenery. Rather, they come from changing the characters in ways which destroy the ideals Tolkien meant for each of them to embody.
For example: In the book, Aragorn embodies nobility, confidence, and above all the willingness to risk everything to achieve something great. He is a great leader — just the kind of leader we would want to follow. In the movies all his nobility is stripped away, and he becomes just another angst-ridden man-child. The noble Aragorn of the books never for a moment considered Eowyn. He had his eyes set on Arwen, and they never strayed. In fact, he is very quick to distance himself from Eowyn in the books once he realizes her feelings for him. He is grieved that she loves him, because he does not want to cause her more pain. He is, above all, honorable.
Peter, Fran and Philippa must all have something against nobility of spirit and steadiness of purpose, because they also strip Frodo of the same characteristics: The Frodo of the book would never have sent Sam home. He of all people knew the power of the ring, and while he pitied Gollum, he could never have allowed Gollum to seduce him, because he understood, better than anyone in Middle Earth, just what the ring did to a person. No one would have been able to come between Frodo and the loyal Sam, especially not Gollum.
Characters matter. I will follow a filmmaker down many paths, but when they change the motivations of my beloved characters, they often lose me. This is especially the case when they make them more angst-ridden and emo like they did in LotR. In fact, I would define a good film adaptation as one in which the characters of the film largely stay true to the author’s intent, while the situations are changed to bring the book to life on screen.
So when it comes to the Hobbit trailer, I don’t mind Galadriel showing up. We knew they were going to make The Hobbit into two movies, which meant we were likely to see Gandalf be Gandalf and take on the Necromancer. Nice! I like epic wizard battles, and I like the idea of the white counsel placed on film. But …
I can imagine no reason the Galadriel I know from the books would ever touch Gandalf like that. More than that, I can imagine no reason the maia (demi-god) Gandalf would ever, ever look at any elf with the kind of need you can see in that clip. Uh-oh!
My friends, Peter, Fran, Phillipa, I beg you, please don’t make Gandalf needy! Please do not wreck his nobility. You have already done so with two other of my favorite characters. I just ask you, don’t mess with Gandalf’s motivations. Don’t make him unsure of himself, and don’t let Galadriel be his guide or his girlfriend: partner, yes; girlfriend or guide, no. Just don’t do it! If you already have done it, you can still save it. You have a year. A quick one day re-shoot, and I bet it will be all better — OK, now I am begging, I will stop. But after the flaws in the LotR adaptations, I am concerned. Trust is easily broken and difficult to repair. Getting this right would go a long way — I hope you do.