Here at TheOneRing.net we are of course huge Tolkien fans. We’re also fans of FANS – we really enjoy sharing the passion of other Middle-earth lovers! Recently we heard from film fan Brian Callahan, who, at his blog PSH for President, shared his thoughts about (as he puts it), ‘Jackson’s role as a cinematic steward of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.’ Here (after the break) is what he had to say:
One Ring, One Director (Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films)
While watching a live behind-the-scenes special of the new Hobbit film, on March 23, I realized how fitting it is that Peter Jackson has been the one to bring Tolkien’s works to the screen. Filming out of his native New Zealand, Jackson has given the films the requisite grandeur that one can feel in a rugged landscape on the edge of the world, while weaving in a sense of home, of familiar comforts and intimacy. The Misty Mountains seem taller when you think of Bagend. Bagend seems smaller when you remember the Misty Mountains. I remember an article I read a while back¹ that talked about the visual tricks employed by Jackson to make the hobbits seem smaller and characters like Gandalf the Grey appear taller. It is with this care and ingenuity that Jackson has made these modern classics. The big and the small, conflated in the same picture.
For buying the DVD combo-pack (includes everything except the code for the light beam, Bat Signal viewing), I received access to a code for a live special behind the making of the next installment of the Hobbit. Optimistically cautious, I logged onto the site and watched the event. I haven’t heard the masses’ take on the special but I thought it was a treat. Jackson and Jed Brophy (who plays the dwarf Nori) led the viewers through Weta Workshop studio, leading us past a bunch of cool posters (including old movies such as Dam Busters and The Blue Mex and giant prints of Sean Connery Bond films), and people working on different parts of the film (at one point, the camera went up to a 3-d image of a dragon on a computer that looked more Puff the Magic Dragon-esque than anything you would expect to find in these films; Jackson said, “you don’t think we’re really going to show you Smaug do you?”) before settling in a viewing room where we saw multiple cuts of a scene where the dwarves and the hobbit are on a boat (“Never travel east!” Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins says repeatedly, punctuating his train of thought with various inflections) and saw fans and cast members ask video recorded questions (including Evangeline Lily, aka Kate from Lost, who will be playing an elf warrior in the next film). At the end, Jackson threw us a bone and showed us a scene from the new film of Gandalf and Radagast the Brown searching some crypts for ye olde necromancer. Like the master of suspense, Jackson knows the thrill is in the anticipation.
“What is it? What do you smell?’ ‘Man flesh!”
If I had a question, it would have been: What’s going in the third film? From the footage shown in the live event, along with the assumptions one can make about the next film’s title, I think it is safe to say the third film will focus on the Battle of the Seven Armies and more appendix stories that connect this trilogy to the Lord of the Rings².
My other question, and perhaps the more necessary one, is: “why for the love of the prancing pony has the ‘Battle of Evermore’ not been used yet?” Apart from being my favorite Led Zeppelin song, can you imagine how sweet this would be at any point in the next two films?
There was a period of time when it looked like Hellboy auteur Guillermo Del Toro was going to make the Hobbit movies. Del Toro is still credited as one of the screenwriters for the project, and traces of his style remain in the design of An Unexpected Journey, which has an episodic structure much like Pan’s Labyrinth³, where you go from one fantastical encounter to another. I wonder what the film would have been like with Del Toro at the helm. The film probably would have been more bizarre and free-wheeling and maybe with less of the tangential storylines.
As it is, Jackson, who had been involved in much of the production as more of a hands-on Executive Producer, stepped in when Del Toro decided to spend his time on other projects. Perhaps there were creative differences, or more behind-the-scenes stuff we are not privy to. Whatever the reason was, the cards fell to an able hand. Jackson has managed to tell both the essential aspects of The Hobbit story and how the events fit into the larger narrative that will ultimately result in the conflict of the LOTR.
For all the epic qualities of the four films so far, they are stories anchored in the protagonists’ sense of home. Bilbo and Frodo are quite comfortable where they are yet go into the wild world when the time demands it. Jackson stresses the pull of home for the Baggins’. “I want you to focus in on the pottery,” my mom said the last time we watched the film along with my sister. “The pottery?” I thought to myself, “What about the riddles in the dark? The wargs? The eagles? What about the White Council?” What about all these things? What do they matter to Bilbo if he cannot use his love and sense of home to help the dwarves in their quest?
One of the many things that stand out from reading Tolkien is his incredible sense of detail. Characters’ bloodlines are plotted out over thousands of years. The tiniest grain of black sand on the slope of Mt. Doom becomes compressed into the terrain as Samwise and Frodo struggle uphill. Watching the films gives me a similar sensation. The many elements of Middle Earth are somehow pieced together like a giant, three-dimensional, linearly progressing puzzle diorama, with small dyes streaking across as lines on soup bowls, no less important than the towering rocks cutting into the clouds.
Of course these films are not the product of just one man. The Weta Workshop team is truly phenomenal, an exemplar of the body of people who are truly affected by film piracy and the smothering encroachment of the digital age. I bet as much care was put into stitching Eowyn’s pre-Witch King slaying maiden rags as there was in the metal of that demon’s mask. The ultimate sentiment here is not that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. The whole is the sum of its parts, working as furiously as Saruman’s orcses to produce films that will live as long as the light of film shines strong.
I am not really sure why I wrote this piece. The next Hobbit film is months away. The Lord of the Rings is far gone. Yet they linger in memory.
We cover film after it happens and rightly so. If I was being published through a major news medium then my readers could justifiably question my intentions. As so, they still can. These films need no more publicity or public lauding. Yet I do think they are worth appreciating, if only for the fact that they mean people are being employed to produce high-quality art for the populace.
So maybe this is a thank you to Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop. You have brought more people into the realm, and made us the better for it. It is a fight worth fighting, to Mount Doom and beyond.
¹ I know I know where’s the link, I have no idea where it is, not in my “Film” bookmarks folder, but somewhere, so if you wrote that article I apologize, your analysis was really spot on and insightful, and if you are mad that I am not citing it, well this isn’t a term paper, and you’re here so you’re probably chill anyway and I apologize again.
² I have mixed feelings about adapting the appendices. By nature of what they are, shouldn’t these be relegated to the four-disc special edition DVD? The story of The Hobbit exists beyond these appendices, which were extra material for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and not this story itself. Part of me, okay a big part of me, liked not knowing exactly where Gandalf was going or what he was doing when he disappears. A skill for any good fantasy writer is to create a world that seems to extend beyond the pages of the book. J.R.R. Tolkien created a world filled with countless stories that could not be contained on the limited pages a person can write in a lifetime. I love movies (obviously) and I love the imagination of filmmakers like Jackson but I also worry that they colonize our imaginations, like a photo on a trip takes you away from the immediacy of the moment itself (see Fleet Foxes self-titled liner notes), and make us one step closer to becoming robots, and yet I digress.
³ Please for the love of Paul Newman see this fantastic movie if you have not already done so. Easily one of the best of the modern age.
Originally from Boxborough, Massachusetts, Brian Callahan went to the University of Maryland in College Park, and writes the PSH For President film review blog. You can read his blog here.