This was originally written when it first came out - the very night I saw it. So any issues with this post are because I was young(er), and I accept no responsibility. I realise there could be context problems if you haven't read the books or watched the movies eighteen times, in which case I suggest you go do that, and then come back and read it.
Mostly original review:
Warning #1: Long. Really long. For an email (2010 edit: blog post) anyway. But it was 11pm, and I had no one at home awake to debrief me, so I just had to write it all down. Also I have a BA (Hons) English, so this is my instinctive reaction. Discuss. Compare and contrast.
Warning #2: Contains spoilers – some film spoilers, so if you have read the books but haven’t yet seen the film and would like to find your own things to pick on, don’t read this. Yet. Not so many story spoilers … well, some. So perhaps you should also wait if you haven’t read the book and haven’t seen the film yet. Also, go read the book already!!
Right. Well, I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. (where is that line from, anyway?) I felt extremely deprived at the end of the movie knowing that I have to wait twelve months for The Two Towers and then ANOTHER twelve months for Return of the King. Who decided that anyway? Still, I did see a Star Wars: Episode II trailer and that comes out in May… *sigh* that will have to do. Silly title or no silly title. Anyway, FOTR.
This great love I have for FOTR is not an unqualified love. (ahhh… sighs the audience. I knew it was too good to last.) So this is less a review (technically speaking) as some of the little things I liked, and some I didn’t but that I can live with. At least until my ego boundaries snap back into place.
I was interested by the different possibilities available in using a different medium. Some points which Tolkien had to state were able to be hinted at, and vice versa. Mind you, I think a lot of the things which Tolkien foreshadowed could also have been foreshadowed in the film rather than stated outright. Dumbing down, I think. Still, there was some mystery left.
I was quite happy with the casting. I know Liv and Cate were somewhat controversial but elven beauty is supposed to be otherworldly, and I’m not a guy, so the fact that I can’t really see either of them as being the Spring and Autumn of female beauty doesn’t bother me so much. I thought Cate acted well, particularly in the scene where Frodo offers her the Ring. (Niggle #1: you could hear her footsteps. It is a basic law of fantasy that you can’t hear elves, especially not when they’re walking in their own wood, for goodness sake. I’m not even going to go into how noisy the hobbits were).
Liv… well, my concerns are not so much with Liv as with Arwen, and her rampant cannibalism of several minor characters. Not to mention stealing scenes from other main characters. We all know it should have been Frodo who called on the river at the Ford. What was with her incantations anyway? This isn’t Harry Potter, kids. And then there is the arcing up of the whole romance thing with Aragorn. Dude, I think we might have understood the romance without the gratuitous kissing-and-swearing-to-one-another scene. And she should have given him an emerald. In Lothlorien. Indirectly, too, not just handing it over. Its one of Aragorn’s symbols for goodness sake, not some wussy brooch with pearls or whatever in it. I always, always liked Tolkien’s sublety with these two. I thought it suited both the characters and the story, and emphasised how much both had sacrificed for duty and honour. But in the film… pffft. “Quick, there’s not enough romance and there’s no kissing…” well, we can’t have that now can we?
I do wonder whether Arwen’s increased presence is a form of affirmative action. When I re-read FOTR recently (so I could be picky enough to notice the lack of emeralds and so forth) I did notice the dearth of female characters. Without Arwen, we would only have had a brief glimpse of Rosie (she wouldn’t have had any lines, either) and Galadriel. I suppose it keeps things a little simpler, too. Why have random elves coming in and out when you only need one or two? Very Shakespearean – minimise the number of actors necessary as much as possible. I don’t really have a problem with that - this is just a movie; one version of a story that probably won’t ever be adequately captured by a film. Or nine films for that matter.
Going back to Aragorn and the emerald, I also missed The Sword that was Broken, and the mystery concerning Strider / Aragorn’s identity and his royalty. The Sword should have been reforged in Rivendell, and I’m sure we don’t find out that Aragorn is royal for a while yet. I did think Aragorn was well played. Nice casting. Verrrrry nice casting… (ahh, says the audience… so that’s why you didn’t like Arwen! No, that’s not it. At all. Completely different.)
While we’re on casting and so forth … Elijah Wood. I feel a little sad for him, because he is going to have to do some really impressive work for me to not see him as Frodo from now on. He was so good – the change in Frodo from the opening scene to the closing scene – wow. His love for the Shire, the burden of the Ring, the burden of loneliness… nicely done. Some people (girls) I’ve spoken to are elf groupies (Legolas) but I have to say I was pretty impressed with Elijah. Elves are just alien, man. Nice hair though.
Frodo did seem to lose a few of his more active scenes. But then he also lost some of his ‘doing stupid things’ (i.e. wandering into barrows) scenes as well. I thought this balanced out to convey how unlikely a hero he was. Quick poll: in the scene in Rivendell just before Frodo volunteers, the Ring? or Sauron? whispers to him and I’m wondering if this is a suggestion that part of his motive for volunteering is to hang on to the Ring? Anyone?
Boromir was a very impressive match to my own mental images. The other main characters were well done too. Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli … tick. Good job boys. I thought Elrond was a little too grumpy… he was supposed to be distant, not grouchy. On the other hand, the Lothlorien elves weren’t grumpy enough, and I’m sure the Rivendell elves sang more.
Some of the Saruman storyline irked me also: Saruman taking direct orders from Sauron… don’t remember that bit, I must say. And the palantirs turn up in The Two Towers, not Fellowship. Sheesh. Let alone Saruman bringing down the mountain… it was just a nasty mountain OK? Not everything in the book is caused by the bad guys.
While I’m being picky, why stop? Not that this is in any way a definitive list – although I’m sure someone has written one. What happened to the hobbits already living in Bree? The assorted minor characters in the Shire who helped them escape? The barrows? (While we’re on the barrows, my brother pointed out that without the barrow scene the hobbits didn’t have swords. Director: OK, they’re about to face the Riders. Hang on, they don’t have swords. Quick, new scene: ‘Aragorn gives the hobbits swords.’ Phew, that was close. NOT.) Tom Bombadil? I wanted to see Tom. I know, I know, it went for three hours as it was, and like I already said, compressing some characters made it flow more smoothly as a film.
Finally, Aragorn’s last line - ‘Let’s hunt some orc!’ I laughed out loud. Why not just get Gandalf to say ‘I’ll be back!’ And the Uruk’hai ‘All your base are belong to us.’ Please. Aragorn (when he spoke) was very articulate in the books.
Hmm, actually, was that line ‘let’s hunt some orc?’ Perhaps it was just ‘let’s hunt orc.’ Or ‘let’s go hunt orc.’ Perhaps I’d better go see it again... just to make sure, you understand.
For Princess Bride fans: several times when Frodo was asked for the Ring I had a mental image of an elderly bishop; “Have you … the Wing?”
For Robert Jordan / Wheel of Time fans: The WoT books all begin “The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.” Galadriel finished the intro with a similar line about history fading to legend, and forgetting things that should not be forgotten. Chicken or the egg? But let’s not look too closely at the WoT / LOTR similarities, hey? That’s a whole other topic.