Comic Talk and General Discussion *

Ruminations on the problems with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
ozoneocean at 1:53AM, June 21, 2019
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I was just having a think about this…
What Jackson and a lot of people don't seem to be about to fully get is that Tolkien's work has nothing at all to do with the modern fantasy genre or Dungeons and Dragons, and yet his films and games based on Tolkien's stuff always take that tack.

It's like trying to understand renaissance art by looking at Frank Frazetta paintings, or trying to understand Frazetta paintings by looking at Boris Vallejo artwork: The derivative work is loses a lot in translation.


Tolkien's fantasy is solidly 19th century Germanic romanticism, Wagnerian opera, with a little bit of Norse myth thrown in- and that is REALLY important: It's not directly based on Norse myth but Norse myth seen through that classical, romantic lens. Norse myth is dirtier, earthier, funnier, rougher and more dangerous.

I think that realising that context helps understand and enjoy the stories more because then you're not relying on the usual modern derivative fantasy tropes and you get why they have the chaste love scenes they do, why people need to walk everywhere, the fixation on nature and so on.

When seen in the way they were intended the stories really shine and become properly epic, but with the Dungeons and Dragons modifications (all the Legolas and Gimilli bulshit, Orcs having personality, handsome toyboy dwarves etc) you just start to break down what makes them any good.

What I'm saying is that the “fantasy” stuff and even the story, plot, and characters of Tolkien works are NOT what makes them what they are, it's the entire feel of the work that gives you a Wagnerian opera of a story, and that's what you need to retain in an adaption.
 
bravo1102 at 4:30AM, June 21, 2019
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Gary Gygax ruined it for everyone. :D

It's not Jackson's fault he was actually going back the the Hildebrandt brothers of the 1970s and Tolkien's own sketches and Anglo-Saxon England.

It was supposed to be based on Anglo-Saxon as opposed to Teutonic models. Tolkien spoke Old English. He knew the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the legends of Arthur. The names are from Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Arthurian models and he wanted to do for Anglo-Saxon myth what Wagner had done for Teutonic. There's a good Anglo-Saxon versus Norse documentary of the year 1066 that details point for point all of Tolkien's models. Like an “ork” as Old English for “invader” like the subhuman pagan Norsemen. Like how the Norman and Breton horsemen are the models for the Rohirram even down to the name Rohan which is a French noble family in Brittany who were present at Hastings. It all comes back to Anglo-Saxon England not Wagner.

That's what Jackson went back to.

Or at least that's what I picked up as a Medievalist taking class after class and up to my neck in the Romance of Arthur, Provencal and Breton poetry and the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. (I actually own the Penguin classics edition of it! You should have seen me referring to it whenever I see a documentary that quotes it.)

Gygax used all that to base a fantasy role playing system on. You can actually look at old Hollywood Arabian Night and Knighthood adventures and see prototypes of the D&D spells and magic items.

There are also solid Medieval models for Legolas' archery as well as dour axemen. You think I got the Norse in Sword of Kings ? D&D? We were Medieval studies majors translating our studies into the D&D rules, not vice versa.
last edited on June 21, 2019 4:37AM
ozoneocean at 6:20AM, June 21, 2019
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The thing is Bravo that the “STYLE” is Wagnerian because that's the prototype Tolkien had to work from for doing these kinds of stories.
You're missing my point there.

Where he got this or that character from isn't that relevant here, style is. And that was the thing that dictated everything, that's what I'm saying. The stories are not told in an Anglo Saxon mould, they're more modern than that. If you want solidly Anglo Saxon style writing then pick up ER Edison and the Worm Oroburos. He was one of Tolkien's contemporaries and far more visceral in his style!

Tolkien used that 19th century romantic style and melded it with British Anglo Saxon history, Norse and whatever else to create his mythology. But the style was the Christmas cake, the other parts were just the mixed fruit filling.
 
bravo1102 at 9:23AM, June 21, 2019
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Try 19th Century romanticism as applied to mythical heroes but not Wagner. Not that much sturm und drang and divas in braids and horned helmets singing away. The Lord of the Rings and especially Peter Jackson's version is not Wagnerian. Romantic stylings of the 19th century heroic fiction. But not Wagner.

There is a distinct Wagnerian Teutonic STYLE (yes, stupid Bravo did get your point but as usual expressed himself poorly) as opposed to a Saxon style. It's not German as the National identity had formed during the nineteenth century but a very English Anglo-Saxon identity. This England, this sceptered isle – not Siegfried and Brunhilde.

For 19th century romantics it's Churchill rather than Bismarck.
last edited on June 21, 2019 9:27AM
Genejoke at 1:16PM, June 21, 2019
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I'm with bravo on this, Tolkien spoke of it himself. That said to assume there wasn't broader influences would be incredibly naive though. Again that is something Tolkien wrote about himself, albeit in a slightly different context.
As for Peter Jackson's movies, simply compare the fellowship of the ring to the sequels and then the Hobbit movies. You can almost taste the influence from studio execs saying add bigger, better action, Legolas was cool in the fights, let's have more legolas. The movies definitely took a more action epic route than the books, and I think suffered for it, even though I still love the LOTR films.
Tantz_Aerine at 4:58PM, June 21, 2019
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Of the trilogy of LotR (I couldn't sit through the Hobbit one) the first movie is the one that gets closer to the source material, I think (even though even in that, some scenes that I think were core to the enduring theme of the books were cut or altered, like the Weathertop scene and Frodo's behavior during that) Jackson gave his own interpretation and focused on the things HE wanted/took more from the source material rather than anything else.

Cutting the entire last third part from Return of the King (The Scouring of the Shire) is like mutilating the feet off the legs of the source material. That's where the real climax of the story is, not in Aragorn's frigging coronation and a gazillion endings. That was an executive choice on Jackson's part, including the silly stuff with Legolas (which could totally have been studio demands, like Genejoke suggested).

It might sound presumptuous but I don't think Jackson grasped the scope of LotR when it came to philosophy and theme. He did a splendid job with the setting, that goes without saying, but he absolutely ruined the biggest asset of the book: having the David vs Goliath theme come through in every single story arc, as it did in the books. I also don't think he truly understood Frodo's character (assuming he cared) nor how the Ring's power of corruption worked. Eh, but that's of course up for interpretation, others might feel absolutely happy with what he did on that area.

I just think it was a shallow adaptation overall, but with amazing production value when it came to the imagery and illustration of the Middle Earth world.
 
BearinOz at 5:32AM, June 22, 2019
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bravo1102 wrote:
Gary Gygax ruined it for everyone. :D
D&D? We were Medieval studies majors translating our studies into the D&D rules, not vice versa.

Hahahaha…I love that “Gygax ruined it….”
That's it sorry, nothing intellectual to add, after reading the above diatribes.

 
Abt_Nihil at 8:16AM, June 24, 2019
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Oz, your initial post sounds as if you're saying that the movie was somehow wrong because it didn't follow some original spirit or intentions of the source material? The question is, in what specific ways should the movies have been different from your point of view (e.g. even more hiking?), and why/how would that have resulted in better movies? (Except perhaps to stoke Tolkien historians' inner fire?)

Obviously, the movies - especially The Hobbit - had some flaws, and there was too much pandering to some imaginary “mainstream” audience in them (i.e. generic studio influences, like action & slapstick) - but that only seems to be very indirectly your concern. (What if Tolkien had intended that? Would that have made it better? ;p)
last edited on June 24, 2019 8:28AM
bravo1102 at 11:03AM, June 24, 2019
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They added more Legolas because poor Orlando Bloom needed a job. 😂
Genejoke at 11:42AM, June 24, 2019
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Nah, it's because Peter Jackson, being a raging alcoholic kept saying let's get legless and everyone misinterpreted it to mean let's have more legolas. Thus surfing down an elephants trunk came to be a thing.
ozoneocean at 8:33PM, June 24, 2019
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Abt_Nihil wrote:
Oz, your initial post sounds as if you're saying that the movie was somehow wrong because it didn't follow some original spirit or intentions of the source material? The question is, in what specific ways should the movies have been different from your point of view (e.g. even more hiking?), and why/how would that have resulted in better movies? (Except perhaps to stoke Tolkien historians' inner fire?)

Obviously, the movies - especially The Hobbit - had some flaws, and there was too much pandering to some imaginary “mainstream” audience in them (i.e. generic studio influences, like action & slapstick) - but that only seems to be very indirectly your concern. (What if Tolkien had intended that? Would that have made it better? ;p)

Not quite…
The stories are in the style of a Wagnerian romance (Bravo: STYLE, I don't mean taking elements from it. Like Starwars is made in the style of 1930s adventure space operas but is NOT a 1930s space opera because it takes elements from Westerns, Samurai, and WW2 films).
What I'm saying is that what really grabs you in the books are not the generic fantasy elements that people commonly take from them now (because those are accessible, cliché, and common due to the influence of later derivative work), what makes the stories the influence they are is the grand, epic, operatic feel: the world itself is a significant character. It's not just a fantasy drama about people and battles but about a whole world, seen from the low angle perspective of the smallest, most innocent and coddled inhabitants so it all appears bigger and more noble and the consequences of disaster more horrible and devastating.

Elements like the walking are meant to tie you deeper to the land. The scouring brings the magnitude of the disaster home. The first film did get the tone right but after that it went wrong.
-How to do it better? Simple. Keep it to the perspective of the hobbits as much as possible. Keep the characters and actions as seen through their eyes and the actions and events that mean something to them.

It's tricky to explain, I'll try to think of an analogy that's meaningful to me: When I try and put together an outfit like my hussar uniform and get the right “look” I've learned it's a LOT more than the sum of the parts… you can't just get all the right costume pieces and put them together hoping it'll look right, no matter how historically accurate. You can't get a whole bunch of simplified cosplay stuff that sort of has the right look either.
You have to have a good think about the overall look and why these things worked so well together- get the right stance, the attitude of the hussar, not a modern person wearing a costume.
As with The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit: a 19th century romantic style of story seen from the perspective of child-like adults. Once you have that key then all the other elements start to fit correctly.
 
Abt_Nihil at 4:53AM, June 25, 2019
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Thanks for the explanation!

While I can see your point (and am somewhat sympathetic to it), I do think the general approach the movie took (i.e. minus the dumb stuff) was justified. As this “general approach”, I would describe the following:
- Treat The Lord of the Rings as a somewhat timeless story
- Distill the essence of the narrative
- Focus on what drives this narrative
- Single out primary characters as narrative forces and structure the “points of view” of the story around them
I think they did that rather well. For a book (-trilogy) which had been thought of as unfilmable, they should especially be cut some slack. Of course, we may now take it for granted… but The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a massive achievement, even if it wasn't a “perfect” adaptation.

By the way, many of my friends aggressively dislike all the hiking scenes (I think the “Honest Trailer” is making fun of that too), so I see that as sort of eye candy for those who like it, but its narrative significance is really just to demonstrate that the protagonists are “questing” and have to cover some ground for that (narrative) reason. Also, they got some great shots of the landscape… I still get goosebumps when watching the lighting of the beacons scene (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6LGJ7evrAg).

Generally, I'm rather lenient on adaptations taking lots of creative freedom. I see you also recently opened a great thread about Hollywood adaptations of webcomics, and while the posts there are hilarious, I really have to say that the ThunderCats reinterpretation was extremely (creatively) successful, from my point of view ;) I'm obviously not supporting dumbing down the source material, just saying that alterations should not be judged as flaws merely in virtue of their being (at times radical) alterations.
last edited on June 25, 2019 4:57AM
bravo1102 at 6:44AM, June 25, 2019
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The Lord of the Rings owes more to Ivanhoe than Siegfried.

Sorry to split hairs but among the academics who study such things Tolkien is “Arthurian romance ” not “Wagnerian romance” even if Wagner did a couple of operas with Arthurian themes and characters including his adaptation of the Wolfram von Eschenbach Grail story.

Something I've studied as I've played with doing comic adaptations of the Ring Cycle or Parzifal.
last edited on June 25, 2019 6:45AM
bluecuts34 at 7:42PM, June 26, 2019
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Late to the party but if you've got time I'd highly recommend Lindsey Ellis' video essays for a detailed breakdown of The Hobbit movies and why they're just Not Great. Link.

I've actually got Tolkien's translation of Beowulf, and read a lot of hisotrical lit, and it's fascinating to look at how old myths and epics influence LotR. It's worth nothing that novels as a form were only like, 100ish years old at that point (which is why imo they meander so so much), and fantasy a a genre didn't exist; but now it owes everything to Tolkien. Ozone's right, when you see why and when Tolkien wrote his works it's an even more extraordinary read. The influence of WW2 is also really obvious once you think about it (somewhat like Star Wars). The work should always be enjoyed with the author in mind imo.

I always thought it was strange that most fantasy seems to want to emulate Tolkien, while scifi (a similar-ish genre) tries to get away from what's been done before rather than imitating Frankenstein all over again. That fashion's changing in fantasy, so I really like the new things coming out to change it. Imitating what made Tolkien great is impossible to do unless you go to what he was drawing from, which is why so much fantasy feels hollow and shallow to me.

I think DnD and fantasy as a genre does need to change - I love weird and alternate interpretations of races. Dnd did start as an unlicensed LotR ripoff, and I do like it moving away. Tolkien did it first and best, so the rest of us need to carve out our own stories rather than trying to reanimate what he did.
bluecuts34 at 7:47PM, June 26, 2019
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bravo1102 wrote:
The Lord of the Rings owes more to Ivanhoe than Siegfried.

Sorry to split hairs but among the academics who study such things Tolkien is “Arthurian romance ” not “Wagnerian romance” even if Wagner did a couple of operas with Arthurian themes and characters including his adaptation of the Wolfram von Eschenbach Grail story.

Something I've studied as I've played with doing comic adaptations of the Ring Cycle or Parzifal.

I would cry literal tears of joy if there was a comic adaptation of Parzifal. I swear to god the only medieval lit people think exists is like, Mallory and the Canterbury Tales. Maybe the Faerie Queane if you're a Brit and were forced to study it.
bravo1102 at 4:13AM, June 27, 2019
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bluecuts34 wrote:
bravo1102 wrote:
The Lord of the Rings owes more to Ivanhoe than Siegfried.

Sorry to split hairs but among the academics who study such things Tolkien is “Arthurian romance ” not “Wagnerian romance” even if Wagner did a couple of operas with Arthurian themes and characters including his adaptation of the Wolfram von Eschenbach Grail story.

Something I've studied as I've played with doing comic adaptations of the Ring Cycle or Parzifal.

I would cry literal tears of joy if there was a comic adaptation of Parzifal. I swear to god the only medieval lit people think exists is like, Mallory and the Canterbury Tales. Maybe the Faerie Queane if you're a Brit and were forced to study it.
There's a modern novelization of Wagner's adaptation of Parzifal that condenses and focuses Eschenbach's epic. When in college I saw the opera at the Metropolitan opera and it always stuck with me. I read Tolkien's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which actually has a watchable movie with Sean Connery. Not great but watchable.

Right after I saw the 1930's MGM Alice in Wonderland and A Midsummer Night's Dream I dreamed about an Alexander Korda/William Cameron Menzies 1939 production of the Hobbit. Just imagine. And no, Mickey Rooney was not Bilbo. That's why I said Korda and William Cameron Menzies there was a British cast.

Yeah, just a dream, but movies had magic back then.

Though judging from Rooney's range in dramatic roles he could have carried it off, though he was too juvenile in 1939.
last edited on June 27, 2019 4:17AM
bravo1102 at 4:49AM, June 27, 2019
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Claude Rains as Bilbo and Basil Rathbone as Gandalf. Charles Laughton as the orc king. Cameo by Errol Flynn as Bard.

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