Kristin Thompson, author of the very successful Frodo Franchise was a guest on last Sunday’s broadcast of ‘Fictional Frontiers with Sohaib,’ on WNJC 1360 AM, Philadelphia at 11AM ET. As always, it was broadcast live via the internet via the WNJC website. A full transcript of the radio segment can be found below (thanks to Deleece Cook!). TheOneRing.net is featured every other week on Fictional Frontiers.
Transcription 14th December Session 16 TORN Radio Segment
Fictional Frontiers with Sohaib Awan – The Kristin Thompson Interview.
This week Sohaib talks to Kristin Thompson author of the very successful Frodo Franchise.
Sohaib: And were back on Fictional Frontiers with Sohaib. ‘The Perfect Storm’ – seamen and fishermen often use this phrase to describe a combination of smaller storms in various directions. Transformed into a (?) and unassailable night. Lord of the Rings Films by Peter Jackson are this millenniums cinematic and pop culture perfect storm. And of course, to navigate through such a storm, we need a worthy Captain. And who could be more worthy than Kristin Thompson – the author of the Frodo Franchise, and what would be the best map for a journey through such a storm – that would be the Frodo Franchise book itself – actually recently released in paperback on July 31st I believe by the University of California Press, and it is the definitive work on the film phenomena that is or was and it will be, the Lord of the Rings franchise – Kristin welcome to Fictional Frontiers.
Kristin: Thank-you very much I’m glad to be here.
Sohaib: To begin, can you talk a little bit about your academic background and how this actually led to your love of Tolkien’s work. Because obvious – to produce such an impressive work as the Frodo Franchise, you obviously have to have a certain degree of passion – but there also has to be a certain level of academic acumen as well, so can you talk a little bit about your background.
Kristin: Yeah, I’d be happy to. I actually read Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – back in the 60’s when it came out in paperback, so that preceded my training for the film story. I already loved Tolkien, by but I got into film courses and realized this is what I wanted to do for a living, so I got a MA degree at the University of Iowa in Cinema Studies and come up here to the University at Wisconsin Madison and got a PhD in 1977. And I had published 10 books up to this point –so, Frodo Franchise is my 11th book.
Sohaib: So it’s your 11th book – obviously you were a fan of Tolkien’s, I know when Peter Jackson was announced as the Director of the new franchise and obviously initially we didn’t know if the series was going to be 2 films or 3 films but, thankfully it ended up being 3 films – How did you feel when you had heard that Peter Jackson was announced as the Director of the Project? What were your initial reactions? Were you concerned? I’m just curious because you obviously have a great love for Tolkien’s work –
Kristin: I don’t think I had any adverse reaction to the idea of Peter doing the films. I had basically just heard of him as the Director of Heavenly Creatures and I knew that was a well respected film although I hadn’t seen it at the time – but just the whole idea of making a film just to me seemed a little bit dubious – it wasn’t really cool with making it – but just the fact of making it – it seemed so impossible.
Sohaib: When I first heard it – there are certain things – I don’t want to say certain projects but I always viewed the Lord of The Rings as the Un-filmable series, and actually it’s funny – because there’s another project that’s going to be released next year called the Watchman – and in the Comic industry that’s sort of the Lord of the Rings of the Comic book genre and there’s a film based on that work that’s coming out next year and I wonder how well they’re going to be able to translate the work over but,
Talk a little bit about the Frodo Franchise itself, because obviously it deals with the phenomena that is the Lord of The Rings film franchise – and as I eluded to at the beginning – I feel the millenniums definite work – and I don’t want to say it’s something akin to The Wizard of Oz, so to speak, because again I think to put the Lord of The Rings films in such a limited category as Fantasy, I think the films touch so many different topics and deal with so many other issues that to me I would almost compare them to the films of David Leigh, but what led to your serious side of work on the Frodo Franchise?
Kristin: Well there’s so much that you just described it, that I didn’t intend to write a book at first – then the first film came out and I actually didn’t like it and I went back and front to the theatre several times.
But as all this was happening I remember hearing about what a wonderful website for example they had to promote the film – the internet campaign was so brilliantly handled – they had a theatre trailer up that’s got the largest number of hits in one day at that time. And I heard about how the video games were doing down in the very innovative way – I was just hearing all these things about different aspects – not to the film, but just everything around it – and I thought ‘this is going to be something major, it’s going to be so influential in many ways, somebody’s got to write a history of this’ and I thought ‘Oh, OK. Well, maybe that has to be me’.
Sohaib: [Laughs] .. You say you didn’t like the first film but now in retrospect, now that you’ve seen all the films … because I actually don’t look at it as 3 individual films; I look at it as one film Lord of The Rings. What’s your feeling about the films from a personal standpoint, and what do you feel about the legacy of the films as not just films themselves, but actually as representations or manifestations of Tolkien’s definitive work?
Kristin: Well I know that Peter Jackson and his colleagues acknowledged that not every Tolkien fan can accept everything that they did, in fact, every Tolkien fan will have some objections, and I do, but I do think they did a very good job and I have to admit that in some places I think the film is better than the book – they did improve on certain things – and I agree with you, it’s going to be a classic. Some people have compared it to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and it’s quite possible people will be watching it 60 years from now in whatever form people watch movies in those days.
Sohaib: I agree with you because it’s funny, when I look at the films themselves and they are my favourite films I’ll be honest with you, there’s a little bit of bias there but, to me, I love the original book obviously by Tolkien and I read those as most people probably did in their High School years – I did not think he (Jackson) would be able to translate them well into and onto the Silver Screen but, then after seeing them I can’t remember a single project where so many variables came together in such a near perfect fashion that – you know, you had phenomenal acting, the score was amazing, the special effects obviously, and then again up to that point you really didn’t have that many films – the only one that I can really think of that maybe you can thank James Cameron for that – Titanic was the first film that sort of harkened back to the 3 hour length epic films and I think the Lord Of The Rings brought all of those together, but also brought a lot of human elements to the films themselves. I think personally one of the reasons why these films are going to resonate with audiences in the future is because you take away the special effects and it’s again about the themes, the underlying themes for the most part that I think Tolkien was trying to address. Would you agree that that’s a legacy? What do you think are the dominating factors – given your expertise, I’d be interested to hear what you think are those factors that have and allow the film to resonate – not just with fans, and not just with non Tolkien fans, but with critics around the world?
Kristin: Now I can really agree with this that some of the aspects of it are really, really just great. I mean I love the score, I love the cinematography – the acting, the casting is just pretty close to perfect I think. And in fact when I heard that Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett had been cast and I started thinking this sounds like its being done a very intelligent way. And I have to give Peter credit too, for being able to pull together 3 really long films in the course of 2 years basically – I mean they came out December-December- December which is what they had announced that they would do, and it’s just unthinkable in today’s Hollywood that somebody could turn out 3 x 3hour plus films in that length of time, it’s just an amazing accomplishment.
Sohaib: Oh Yeah, And obviously that leads us to the new films. Actually I saw that this week you had made an announcement yourself on your website as well as the OneRing that Peter Jackson and his team along with Guillermo del Toro were signing their lives away [Laughs] I see for the foreseeable future basically jumping aboard the ship leading back to Middle-earth. What was your initial reaction when you heard (A) That they were going to actually do a ‘prequel’ film based on the Hobbit and Tolkien, and then (B) What was your reaction to Guillermo del Toro being chosen as the Director of these two films?
Kristin: Well when I first heard that Peter was not going to Direct it I thought ‘well OK keep an open mind because after all when Peter was chosen a lot of people found that that was an absurd notion. And del Toro has turned out very, very good films. I remember watching Kronos when it first came out in 93 in our local art theatre and liking it. So I have been watching his films since early in his career and I think he’s a very good choice and I’m quite happy with that combination of Peter Jackson as Producer and screen-writer, and then del Toro as Director. And I’m very glad to see the contract signed as well – all Summer and really some of Spring as well, people kept saying ‘well, Ian McKellen’s coming back and Serkis is coming back, all these people are coming back and yet all the people kept saying ‘well I haven’t signed a contract yet – no there are no contract as yet’. Now we finally have the first contracts that have been announced on this project. So I do feel we’ve passed a little landmark this week.
Sohaib: Right. I’m an Attorney by trade, and until anything is signed on the proverbial dotted line your always a little bit wary of getting your hopes or your anticipation at a reasonable level but I’m hoping that now we’re going to be moving forward and we’ll start seeing some of the cast decisions being made in the near future. But, I know you alluded to earlier – you said here were certain things that you didn’t like about the original film – that were not as good – What are those things? Maybe you could go into some semi-detail – give me a little bit more detail about those and what you would like to see in the new films. Maybe there were some problems that can be addressed in the new films or they can alleviate your concerns by dealing with those in the new films.
Kristin: Well I guess one thing is Gandalf is my favourite character and I think of his as the second protagonist of Lord Of The Rings – Frodo and Gandalf as two protagonists – and essentially what was done in writing the film was they took Aragorn and made him the other protagonist – it made him more important than he is in the book I think. And I can see that – they needed to have a romance or at least they think they did – so that became an important element. But, I was sad to see Gandalf become a little bit more a conventional wizard and a good helper figure – not quite as prominent as he is in the book I think. That was one thing.
And I guess like so many people I was upset about the treatment of Faramir – making his character much more negative than he is in the book – even though he comes through in the end, he’s a good fellow – but, I did not enjoy those scenes I think, as much as the rest of the films.
Sohaib: On the other side of things. How do you think they improved on the books? Because a lot of people eluded that fact that they feel that the Scourging of the Shire … I actually thought the ending in the Return of The King was much better without the Scourging of the Shire …
Kristin: Yeah, I mean the whole last section of Lord of The Rings after the destruction of the Ring is I think 6 whole chapters, and that’s a [laughs] very large section to keep peoples interest up there. And I think Tolkien does it in the book, but it would be very hard to write a script just based on that. But in terms of what I thought was better in the film, I found the characters of both Boromir and Legolas a lot more vivid for me – you know compared to the book – especially Boromir. They did a wonderful job with his character – big death scene and so on – much more effective than in the book.
And just little touches like that moment when Gandalf blows out the smoke in the shape of a ship – not in the book at all although he does have fireworks in the shape of a ship. But it’s a very brief way of signalling him as a magical character – hey, he’s a magical guy. And that little motif – the swan shaped ship, that’s what they depart on at the end, and Galadriel has the same sort of little boat at Lothlorien, so it becomes a motif. So I thought that was just very clever of them.
(No sound, distorted recording)
Sohaib: [Talking about Sean Bean] … I know he tried out for the role of Aragorn at first – they thought he didn’t fit that role, but he was so good as Boromir.
I guess what I want to do is the Frodo Franchise, and again, I highly recommend to our listeners who are fascinated by just the phenomena that has been Lord of The Rings, and again, as we have eluded to during our segment here – is on the horizon again because hopefully now, with the contracts, at least the main creative forces behind the film have signed on the dotted line – I think this is going to be a very nice appetizer in a sense and also to see what will happen in the near future as far as the other film.
Kris, this is something, because I know you’re one of the foremost experts on the Lord of The Rings films and as well as the works of Tolkien. I know it’s a sort of a cliché, but I’m going to go through a list of names of individuals and if you could just give me the first one, or two, word which come into your mind about these individuals involved with the film. I think it will be a lot of fun for our listeners to see; ‘OK, What’s the first thing that comes to mind of an expert on Tolkien’ – so here we go! [laughs]
Sohaib: Peter Jackson?
Kristin: Incredibly able to bring people together to do a great job.
Sohaib: Guillermo del Toro?
Kristin: Extremely imaginative and manages to combine humour with almost everything he does.
Sohaib: Viggo Mortensen?
Kristen: Just terrific. I thought he was perfect as Aragorn.
Sohaib: Ian McKellan?
Kristen: [laughs] Err, err, an utterly charming man!
Sohaib: Howard Shore?
Kristin: I listen to those sound tracks almost every day.
Sohaib: Elijah Wood?
Kristen: Ummm Hmmm – that’s a rough one. [Sohaib laughs] I enjoyed his Frodo even though he looks nothing like the description in the book.
Sohaib: and the last two, I guess I have theOneRing.net?
Kristen: A fantastic group, dedicated and they really have kept going, even after the films came out at a marvellous level.
Sohaib: I would agree with that. And last but certainly not least, J. R. Tolkien himself?
Kristin: Fantastic! I mean an absolutely unique author. I mean as a scholar I’m kind of amazed that he managed to be such a wonderful scholar, brilliant teacher and so on – and yet do this sort of on the side.
Sohaib: You know, I think you summed it up perfectly as teacher is the first thing that comes to my mind.
So, you know it’s going to be a fun couple of more years Kristin we’d love to have you on again, and continued success, and again you can purchase the Frodo Franchise on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, you name it everywhere – paperback was released by the University of California Press on July 31st of this year.
Kristin: And there a blog in the same name.
Sohaib: Ah yes! There’ a blog in the same name. [laughs]. Kristin we’ll talk to you in the near future. Thank-you again!
Kristin: OK. Thank-you!
Transcript by Deleece Cook (Elven tornsib at theOneRing.net)