[I have finally finished rereading my Tolkien. There is much I am tempted to write about and many precious (boring) thoughts I will be happy to share with you. Only some of them, though, are directly related to roleplaying. The first mini-series is about Peter Jackson’s adaptations.]
Let me be clear about it: most of the following posts are going to be pretty harsh on the LOTR movies. First, though, credit must be given where it is due: Peter Jackson did remarkably well in many ways. In fact, I suspect, this is precisely the reason why many old Tolkien fans (even self-described “Tolkien purists”, which I am not) were comparatively happy with the Fellowship of the Ring when it was released. In short, everything looked right. Everything looked like most reasonably smart, imaginative readers could have imagined it to be. Not necessarily like the author meant them to be: in fact, it is no secret that consultants Alan Lee and John Howe were the de facto authorities in matters of scenography and (to some extent, I guess) costumes. These two illustrators did contribute in shaping our Middle Earth imagery, at least since the mid-Eighties. So when I watched FOR in a theater, I felt that most places looked more or less right: the Shire, Bree, Rivendell, Moria, Lothlorien. The influence of the above mentioned artists, plus the occasional inspiration by Ted Nasmith or Roger Garland, was obvious and beneficial. The costumes were also right or at least good-looking. I have already pointed out on the blog that weapons and armour were definitely not what Tolkien had in mind, but that is a minor flaw for anybody who is not a rabid archaeologist.
The casting was also fundamentally right. The actors were all very capable (not to be taken for granted in an adventure movie franchise, not at the time at least) and most of them were perfectly suited to their respective characters. Mortensen had the physical presence, but also the right degree of grunginess to interpret Strider/Aragorn. McKellen and Lee were the perfect wizards, Weaving and Blanchett two imposing and charming elf-lords. Bloom and Gimli’s actors were given stereotypical (and unfaithful: Legolas was pretty surely dark-haired in the books) looks, but look pretty decent nonetheless and are, obviously, competent actors. As for the hobbits, Bilbo was outstanding, and Merry and Pippin looked plausible (they were horribly written, though). Sam was fine, I shall say. The only problem was Frodo, and was pretty closely related to the flawed writing choices that I will discuss in future posts. Frodo was made dramatically younger than he was supposed to be. In fact, the four hobbit are shown as roughly equal in age. In the novel, they were not, and it showed. So in terms of Tolkien’s story, Frodo looked wrong. In terms of Jackson’s screenplay, though, he did not. So I will not blame it too much for this here.
Is that all? Well, yes. But it is a lot! These days, we are pretty accustomed to see fantasy novels adapted in movies or TV series. We know that many changes happen in such cases, but we also expect some (modest) degree of regard for the fanbase. At the time, nothing could be taken for granted. Being a fan himself, Jackson made the effort to make movies that were at least superficially faithful to Tolkien, but this was not the way the studios usually worked. That was a surprise, and was great.