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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

I got to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy with someone I’ve known online for ages the weekend, along with one of her sons who was seeing the movies for the first time. It was a really good experience, though just as draining as these movies always are. It also got me thinking about the movie. Fanfic will hopefully follow over the next few weeks, because there is (as we all know) much to fix in those movies. Éowyn’s stew scene, Frodo’s sending Sam away and the whole nightmare that is movie!Denethor and more broadly, movie!Gondor, jump to mind. I’m sure other people have their own bugabears.

Rather than walk through why these individual things bother me so much – because, really, that’s been done already – I thought I’d take a larger view. I think a lot of the problems we get frustrated with can be chalked up to expecting characters to go on a journey. A great example of this is Faramir’s initially taking Frodo, Sam and Gollum to Osgilliath. In order for Faramir’s decision to give up the Ring to be truly credible and interesting, the thinking seems to go, Faramir must at first be so tempted by the Ring that he wasn’t g going to give it up. He has to be the kind of man who would take up the Ring if he found it on the side of the road, and only after seeing the way it affects Frodo at Osgiliath.

The Lord of the Rings is no Harry Potter, where the kids learn how to cast a wingardium leviosa just before Ron needs to knock out the cave trolls. Look at the language Tolkien uses. To give just one example, both the books and movies talk about Faramir’s chance to show his quality. Those of you who know me can probably guess which usage I agree with and which I have a white-knuckle death grip on the armrest when I watch. But in both cases, the point holds: Faramir is showing a character that he has developed over years, for good or ill, and that’s what sets him up to act the way it is. By the time the story begins, the characters and political conditions have to be more or less ready to do what you have to do.

There are some exceptions of course. In The Hobbit, Bilbo changes quite a bit over the course of his quest. Frodo changes, too, to a somewhat lesser extent IMO. But even there, the characters have an essential character that makes them be up to this change. The real ain traits, but in revealing you have them at the moment it’s needed. I think Tolkien recognizes the basic point that characters take time to develop. The Lord of the Rings is a fairly compressed time period and deals with adults. Harry and the gang (or, to a lesser extent the characters in The Hunger Games and other young adult books) actually have time to grow up. They’re also teenagers so they still are actually, you know, growing.

But if Faramir is going to develop the common decency and nobility that so marks him in the books, if Aragorn is going to grow into the kingship, that means in the beginning those characters don’t have those traits in at least some of their scenes (whereas in the books they clearly do, all along). It also makes them fickle. What, Faramir had never run across a situation like this where he needed a strong enough character to do the right thing? Aragorn didn’t know exactly why he needed to be king when he was fighting alone in the wilderness?

I have other major issues with the movies that can’t b chalked up to this. (Denethor, and Gondor generally, was simply bad and I’d need another blog post to flesh out why. I’m also not trying to deny the fact that the movie got an awfully lot right. (Our cinema broke into applause more than once, and rightly so.) But I’m wondering… do you guys agree with me on this distinction between character development and situations revealing what characters people always had? How much of our gripes with the movies would be avoided if the person wasn’t on some kind of a journey as they developed their character.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 9th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
I agree, this problem exists. I tend to think Hollywood is trapped in the perfect/imperfect spectrum of characterization: either the protagonist of an epic is understood as unrealistically perfect, or the protagonist is written as flawed because flawed =>not perfect, not perfect => shorthand for "realistic." Since Hollywood scripts tend to have a generic format of dramatic peaks that have to come at specific times, I'm sure that also promotes the tendency to invent flaws that can generate struggles artificially, in order to meet the demands of a restrictive genre.

Dec. 9th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about the mistakes--characterization was not PJ's strong point, and subtlety was DEFINITELY not. I think at every turn PJ, Fran and Phillipa were asking themselves "Will this work for audiences that have NOT read the books, or will we have to set up a lot of time-consuming backstory?" and sometimes I think they underestimated the intelligence of those viewers--even those who had not read the books.

It's interesting to me that so many people thought Viggo played Aragorn as indecisive. It never struck me that way until I heard others say that and began to look for why they did. The moments that other people complain of him being "weak" or "indecisive" to me simply show that he was humble, and that he was taking up the kingship out of duty and love rather than seeking power--but that he knew he wasn't perfect and wondered if he was up to the job. Even in the books you have moments when he laments his inadequacy and says "all he has done has gone amiss". Yet at every important moment movie-Aragorn takes action to move things forward.

I hear a similar complaint about Frodo, and there I think people do have something. Movie-Frodo is caught by the Ring a lot earlier than book-Frodo. And yet he keeps on moving towards the goal. Yes, he needs a lot more help from Sam than book-Frodo, but he still keeps going. Even at the moments when he says "I can't do this", he gets up and goes on anyhow. That's not weak.

You are certainly right about Faramir's story-arc. I think as characters, both Faramir and Elrond have the most to complain about how they were depicted. (I know you feel the same about Denethor, but since I disliked book-Denethor just as much as I do movie-Denethor, I don't feel so strongly about him.) And Elrond was a grumpy curmudgeon, certainly not as "kind as summer"!

Part of the problem comes with the fact that PJ made a conscious decision to make the Ring far more powerful than it actually was, ensnaring people and tempting them much more strongly and more quickly than in the book. And you know how I feel about the Ring.

But once PJ made the Ring stronger, it naturally had a warping effect on all the characters in its path.

That's why I simply choose to treat PJ's universe as AU fanfic. It's expensive and beautiful and has very pervasive fanon, but it's still fanfic.

And I will feel the same about TH. It will be beautiful and wonderful and I am sure to be inspired by the music and the visuals and probably even the casting of the characters; but it is still fanfic.

Dec. 10th, 2012 04:53 am (UTC)
Applauds. Very well said.
Dec. 10th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC)
I think you are making a great point. People do complain sometimes that there is almost no character development in LOTR (which is as it should be, given that a good fraction of characters have been around for thousand years and most of the rest model themselves after the former). Making Frodo barely adult (thankfully without introducing extra immaturity) follows same logic as flawed Faramir, indecisive Aragorn and grumpy Elrond. My most general objection to the beautiful movies is shifting the focus: the book is in third person limited to hobbits (and a little from Gimli's first person); the book is about hobbits in history. Aragorn should've been the hero, but he isn't - he gracefully steps aside, guides, helps and diverts attention, but he is not the focus of the story. The movie is very Aragorn-centric, because who will resist puting a handsome male with sharp object front and center? Tolkien, that's who. But not Hollywood, apparently.
Dec. 10th, 2012 04:55 am (UTC)
You make a very good point and I agree with you.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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