LOTR: Book vs. Movie

We're currently rewatching the Fellowship of the Rings movie, and having recently finished the book Return of the King, I'm finding myself more aware and more critical of the types of changes that were made. The last time I watched the Fellowship, I remember thinking that it was a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. This time around, however, I feel that I have a slightly better idea of what Tolkien himself would have thought of the movie and its additions and deletions. (Luckily, this time through were watching it with the Rifftrax, and so Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy are helping us through).

Here are some comments Tolkien made about a previous attempt in his lifetime to adapt LOTR for the big screen. I'm only posting the comments that seem immediately relevant to the Peter Jackson film. These comments can be found in his collected letters.

Dialogue

...this document, as it stands, is sufficient to give me grave anxiety about the actual dialogue that (I suppose) will be used. I should say...the constructor of this s[tory] l[ine], is quite incapable of excerpting or adapting the 'spoken words' of the book.

Now, on the whole, I think the dialogue in the movie is fairly close to the book. But there were so many sections of great dialogue in the book that I don't see why it was, in some places, deliberately changed. I'm thinking especially about the scene with Strider at the Prancing Pony, but there are others. Also, this time around, I'm noticing that several "modernisms" have crept into the speech and mannerisms of the characters, something I believe Tolkien would have loathed.

The Shire

Why should the fireworks display include flags and hobbits? They are not in the book. "Flags" of what? I prefer my own choice of fireworks.

While the movie doesn't contain fireworks shaped like flags and hobbits, the fireworks scene is changed enough (with Merry and Pippin) that I don't know how pleased Tolkien would have been. These little details bothered him greatly.

Timeline
Here I may say that I fail to see why the time-scheme should be deliberately contracted. It is already rather packed in the original, the main action occurring between Sept. 22 and March 25 of the following year. The many impossibilities and absurdities which further hurrying produces might, I suppose, be unobserved by an uncritical viewer; but I do not see why they should be unnecessarily introduced...

Seasons are carefully regarded in the original. They are pictorial, and should be, and easily could be, made the main means by which the artists indicate time passage. The main action begins in autumn and passes through winter to a brilliant spring: this is basic to the purport and tone of the tale...The Lord of the Rings may be a 'fairy-story', but it takes place in the Northern hemisphere of this earth: miles are miles, days are days, and weather is weather.


I can honestly say that had I not read the book, I would have thought that the time-lapse between Bilbo's going away party and the time the hobbits arrive in Rivendell was a few weeks at the most. It would have been easy to indicate by a line that eleven years have passed when Gandalf returns. It would be just as easy to indicate that Rivendell is not in fact two or three days from Bree.

Weathertop

Strider does not 'Whip out a sword' in the book. Naturally not: his sword was broken...Why then make him do so here, in a contest that was explicitly not fought with weapons?...The Black Riders do not scream, but keep a more terrifying silence...There is no fight...Why has my account been entirely rewritten here, with disregard for the rest of the tale?

Anyway, by now you should be able to see how curmudgeonly Tolkien was about his book (and with good reason!). His notes go on to complain of the shoddy treatment of the Ents, the unlikely death of Saruman at his tower instead of in the Shire at the end, and the emphasis of Saruman as hypnotist or sorcerer over and above his ability to speak persuasively (the real danger). I don't think he ever foresaw Tom Bombadil being excised, Glorfindel being replaced with Arwen, a very modern love story being inserted which did not exist in the book, elves at the Hornburg, the making of both Elrond and Faramir into jerks, or the extremely emphasized power of evil in the movie, so much so that good is almost wholly eclipsed. I was reminded of the latter last night at Bree when I realized for the first time, how sinister the Prancing Pony seems in the movie, versus what a charming and jovial place it was in the book. Almost all joviality and warmth outside of the Shire has left the movie, to emphasize the omnipresence of evil. Not a very balanced view, and certainly not what Tolkien had in mind.

Comments

Erica said…
Poor Tolkien. I would suggest that God let him come back and haunt Peter Jackson, but then Peter Jackson may take it as a sign to direct The Hobbit...
Although...I did like Merry and Pippin setting off the fireworks :-)