For the Fans: I Like Jackson’s Trilogy, Part I

The banishment of Sauron to Mordor: a scene
referenced in The Hobbit and LOTR, fully 
explored in Jackson's latest trilogy.
Considering how much money Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has made by now, there are regrettably few people with whom I can share my love of the movies. So to any fans who might read this post, this is for you. (If you want to discourse on how awful it is, there are other websites!)

I like this movie--and Jackson's!
(I prefer "and's" to "or's.")
I recently reread the book (second time in a year; fifth or sixth time in my life so far) and was struck all over again by Tolkien’s plotting and perspective. The book is lighter in tone than the trilogy but not quite as light as criticisms of the trilogy often imply. If you are in search of that particular approach, I recommend the delightful Rankin production—it is a faithful adaptation, tightly plotted, with great songs!

Although aimed at children, the book itself is filled with dark edges. Nothing in the book reaches the sheer exhausting terror and despair of the Mordor chapters in The Lord of the Rings. However, even as a kid, I recognized the unusual anti-hero elements, not to mention the dramatic and shattering chain of events that lead up to the destruction of Laketown and the final battle. The book is remarkably political, a factor that Jackson captures well. Thorin’s fear that the mountain will be overrun by hoarders is justified. At the same time, the people of Laketown have rights to the treasure. The Elf King’s claim, though less meritorious (in the book and in the movie), still carries weight. Tolkien handles the resulting conflict with a deftness that belies its complexity—but the complexity is there.

Likewise, the lightness of Tolkien’s touch is not intended to disguise the greed, anger, fear, and self-interest of many characters. The Elf King is indeed "less wise and more dangerous [than the elves at Rivendell]."  Likewise, the Master possesses a cunning mind (as Baldrick would say). His conman-like assessment of Thorin & Company (it takes one to imagine one) permeates those chapters as they permeate the film, more than validating Jackson’s interpretation of Laketown politics. In fact (speaking of Baldrick), Jackson intelligently gives the Laketown scenes a Monty-Python/Blackadder feel and humor that is somewhat atypical for his films but perfect for the venue (and Stephen Fry). These scenes are very English.

Speaking of Laketown, Jackson is often criticized for adding to/expanding on so much of the book’s material. Since nothing is eliminated, my response here is the same as Frasier’s:

“If less is more, imagine how much more more will be!”

That’s how I feel about the trilogy: Give me The Hobbit plus all the stuff referred to in The Hobbit and LOTR plus Tolkien’s extra material plus the invented stuff Jackson decided to throw in. I’ll take it all!*

Adaptations of a book to film can take several routes: the slideshow or strict rendering (boring), the interpretation (more interesting), the other viewpoint (fascinating), the make-a-place-for-myself (problematic but often insightful), and the “all we used was the title” (pointless). For instance, Howl’s Moving Castle is an interpretation and a make-a-place-for-myself, not a strict rendering. Yet nothing is lost. Hey, it’s Miyazaki!

LOTR, which I greatly enjoy, is an interpretation. With The Hobbit trilogy, Jackson gave himself permission to combine interpretation with other viewpoint (The Hobbit inside Tolkien’s larger universe) plus make-myself-a-place.

He had fun! And I am very grateful.

*Even Legolas’s superhuman abilities don’t bother me. In fact, I enjoy the barrel scene as one of Jackson’s few “less is more” action sequences. I’d rather watch a Spiderman leaping on people’s heads for five minutes than people mashing each other with swords for twenty. (Best action scene ever made: John McClane blowing up the building in Die Hard: no muss, no fuss, and it lasts about a minute.)

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