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Malaysian Press Talks LOTR

February 10, 2002 at 6:17 pm by xoanon  - 

Quistis Skywalker sends us two articles from the Malaysian press:

The first is an article in the Malaysian newspaper The Edge’s weekly supplement, Options. The second is from Galaxie, a local entertainment magazine from a column called Suzy Says.

Gone to Pot by Kam Raslan

-What doesn’t Harry have that Frodo Baggins does?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Lord of the Rings are both adaptations of books, both trilogies(sic) and both big, big budget productions. But one is better than the other.

Harry Potter

I didn’t read the book myself so I enjoyed the film. Those who did read the book found it a fairly workaday Hollywood holiday flick directed by the uninspiring Chris Columbus who not only discovered America but also directed Home Alone. The producers presumably gave him the job because he was thought to be able to direct kids well. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where the film falls down. The child acting has a certain charm but does not have the zing that Steven Spielberg seems to be able to draw from children. Having said that, the movie did manage to avoid the mawkish sentimentality that usually blights a Spielberg production.

But the kids are backed by some of the best character actors in Britain, although none of them are expected to push themselves too hard. Alan Rickman (the ladies’ choice) is darkly menacing and Maggie Smith is as good as ever. I can never decide if Richard Harris is a very good actor or a very average one. He apparently took the part in the movie only because his granddaughter threatened to never speak to him again if he didn’t. She’s a big fan of the books.

What I didn’t like about the movie was the fact that it was so damned noisy, The music only stopped on four occasions and only then for about a minute. These would be act breaks and it’s a moviemaking habit perfected by Spielberg. Wall-to-wall music makes me fall asleep. I fell asleep during one of the noisiest bits of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as the interminable pod race sequence of the execrable Phantom Menace and I had to fight back yawns during Harry Potter. (QS: And all of them had their musical score done by John Williams)

Throwing in copious amounts of music is a cheap trick. Music excites an emotional response and moviemakers try everything to augment the visuals. Unfortunately, it negates any chance of emotional or pacing contrast because everything is blanketed in a wall of sound. This doesn’t matter much these days because of the advent of the action movie where there is no contrast, merely a desire for a constant adrenal rush.

This first Harry Potter movie is not destined to be a classic children’s picture. It doesn’t deserve repeat viewing and all because it’s made-to-measure Hollywood. But at least it was set in its original English context and not transposed to the US as Spielberg apparently had wanted.

Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson is a much better director than Columbus. Lord of the Rings was his project as opposed to Columbus, who was brought in as a director for hire. And it shows. There is a palpable love for Tolkien’s mythic world of hobbits, elves and men and there is also a great love for the epic landscapes of Jackson’s native New Zealand.

The themes of the original books have been copied so many times in films like Star Wars, countless Playstation games and thousands of fantasy adventure books so it could now feel all too familiar. It is to Jackson’s credit that he has made it accessible as action-adventure and yet remained true to its spirit of legend.

Credit also to the actors. Elijah Wood is particularly good as the innocent and somewhat reluctant hobbit hero Frodo Baggins. Hobbits are supposed to be short so Wood would have been rarely, if ever, able to act on set next to actors like Ian McKellen or Viggo Mortensen who play normal-sized people. (QS: Guess he didn’t know about the forced perspective trick. ^_^)

In fact, this was a very beautiful, subtle and seamless use of special effect computer graphics. Motion-controlled cameras can repeat the same movement precisely so that the action filmed can be layered on top of each othr. This, the old fashioned use of very tall or very short stand-ins for over-the-shoulder shots and a very compelling storyline meant that this reviewer didn’t even notice many of the special effects until the second viewing.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings as an English myth to rival other European legends such as Wagner’s Germanic tales. He taught mythology at Cambridge and used his knowledge to give his story its mythic quality. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is written for children and plays on the fears and fantasies of the young and innocent in this suburban age of broken homes. It is perhaps unsurprising that Lord of the Rings should be a richer film although Columbus could have played the emotional core of the Harry Potter story better. Spielberg would have. ET is as much about the break-up of the family as it is a fantasy adventure. Harry Potter skims over these aspects as just so much exposition or plays them for laughs in its headlong rush for the usual disposable excitement.

Lord of the Rings is a beautiful film. As somebody near me in the cinema said during one scene, “Wah, cantik!” (QS: That’s Malay for “Wow, (it’s) beautiful!”) How often does that happen these days?

=============

Suzie Says

Bored of the Rings? Why should you be?

While everyone else is recapping their Top 10 movies/Top 10 TV shows/Top 10 celebrity divorces of the year, I’ve decided to recap my Top 10 Tolkien books of all time, which is a difficult task because he only wrote three.

I’ve long held the dubious honour of having read every single fantasy book since I was 18 years old, except Tolkien. But there’s a story behind it. When I was six, I picked up The Silmarillion, which is the weirdest, most ungainly, most boring fantasy book ever to be written, hence I was turned off from Tolkien for a good 27 years. And because the movies were due to be out, I gritted my teeth and bought The Lord of the Rings, which comes in three books, because if it comes in one, it would have been thicker than a phone directory with all the Chins in Hong Kong.

I was about to be proven right by my Tolkien phobia, when– in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book– the first 250 or so pages turned out to be as exciting as tea with an earthworm. I felt like I was reading Alice in Wonderland: The really prolonged director’s cut, with all its Mad Hatter-like characters (Tom Bombadil, who sings nasty trees to sleep), it’s myriad hobbit relatives who seem to proliferate like ghastly rabbits, and a quest to destroy the Ring that never seems to get started because everyone was too busy singing songs and recounting stories about dead people to each other.

And then– something happened. When I got to the part where the fellowship was formed at the council of Elrond, I was hooked because they added so many other interesting characters to the mix. From then on, the story becomes more interesting as the nine members of the fellowship moved through peril after peril, from Moria to Lothlorien.

Book 2 (The Two Towers) had incredible battle sieges and a great villainess — Shelob the Spider. Book 3 (The Return of the King) had a heartbreaking story of two jilted people: Faramir– Boromir’s brother, forsaken by his father, and Eowyn– Princess of the Rohan whose love is unrequited by Aragorn. The pace never slackens then. But only if you can get through the first 250 pages. But what of the much hyped, much Hotlinked, much Burger King tied-in spectacle of the movie?

Improvement

I know Tolkien die-hards will rip me from limb to limb for this but I think Peter Jackson, the director, possibly improved on Tolkien in his movie. J.R.R. Tolkien was an Oxford professor who specialised in Norse mythology. He was the world’s leading expert on Beowulf, an expertise which comes in handy in feeding the world’s millions, for all the good it might do.

Because Tolkien was a mythos professor, he borrowed elements from English, Norse and Germanic lore, especially language, names and types of entities (elves, dwarves) to put them into his book. He has been credited for being ‘the One’, the father of fantasy, who started it all.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t totally original either, as the ideas have all previously existed in myths. But it’s OK not to be original. The greatest movies are not original. Star Wars was far from original. Raiders of the Lost Ark was not original. The Matrix (which shares the same producer with TLOTR) is not original. Gladiator borrowed heavily from Spartacus and Roman history cliches.

Whimsy

Nope. Tolkien, while being a great storyteller, simply isn’t a very good writer. He has two different writing styles in the books, almost schizophrenically so. Aragorn’s adventures are written in archaic prose, where every paragraph begins with, “And so, Punitha, Galaxie’s editor, harked upon her minions, and bade them enter. ‘Hear thee well,’ she intoned, ‘For mine tidings are grave. Verily, I say unto you, thine bonuses will be withheld.'”

Frodo’s adventures, on the other hand, is written almost in whimsy, like Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. The events that take place in the Shire read like a darker version of Mr. Meddle. Tolkien is concerned that we, the reader, must be ascertained to know every single aspect of hobbit life, including whether they are able to cut their toenails through those toe hairs. Which is why he managed to make the first 250 pages of a great epic like TLOTR monumentally dull. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great, great story, rich with characters both noble and evil, racial discrimination and epic battles. In my opinion, Peter Jackson simply told it better.

This is how I think the movie improved on the book:

The pacing:

As I’ve said a million times, the first part of the Fellowship of the Ring (or Book One) is dull, dull, dull. The movie skips through all these unnecessary parts, compresses time like a DeLorean (because the first part takes almost 20 years where Frodo inherits the Ring when he’s 33, and lives in unknowing bliss until he is over 50. At the time of the Party, Merry and Pippin were still toddlers) and sets Frodo off without fuss. Before we know it, we’re at the Council of Elrond. (For examples of books with great pacing, read Harry Potter.)

Deleting Tom Bombadil

This is one character who completely jarred me and set me off tone in the book. He’s supposed to be an ageless immortal kind-of-wizard who has a wife called Goldberry, who rescues the hobbits from a hungry tree. He reads like he’s straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Oh, he also sings a lot. Putting Tom Bombadil in the movie would render it most uncool to eight-year old non-musically inclined boys.

Expanding the role of women

TLOTR was written before 1960s, before Gloria Steinem and Jackie O and Madonna’s cone-shaped bras, where women were considered not that important in fantasy books. Arwen Undomiel is mentioned in one page only in the first book. She did not, in the book, save Frodo from the Dark Riders (that thingie with the horses and the river was aptly done by an elf called Glorfindel, who was also omitted on celluloid and Elrond himself), uh, actually, in the film, it was done by special effects, but you get my drift. Galadriel also has only a cameo role. And there’s another blonde woman, Princess Eowyn of Rohan, who will appear in the second book, who has a bigger role to play than either Arwen or Galadriel put together. All in all, these women make up, gasp!, a remarkable 0.2% of the story.

Today’s fantasy writers find this sacrilegious and have sought to include women in very prominent roles, sometimes even dwarfing that of men (Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series).

Continued Next Fortnight: More on how the TLOTR movie improves on the book. And how the book is better than the movie in some aspects.

Posted in Old Special Reports on February 10, 2002 by

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