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November 25, 2003

Lazy blogging. Polytropos says everything I would have said about the extended version of The Two Towers, and does it more crisply than I would have, as well. Recommended: both the extended TTT and Polytropos in general.

In other news, Hugh Kenner is dead. Not many critics of 20th-century literature have been as much sheer fun.

UPDATE: Language Hat has more on Kenner. [09:31 AM]

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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Lazy blogging.:

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 10:55 AM:

IIRC, the versions of FotR and TTT being released for the warm up to The Return of the King are the extended editions. I wonder if we can look forward to both the DVD versions as well as a truly butt-numbing theatrical marathon in about a year?

Jon ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 11:21 AM:

Heck, Claude, they're already doing that this year.

Read something that said there's no scouring of the shire in Return o' the King, as Jackson never liked that section of the book. Didn't even film it, so don't bother looking for it on the DVD.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 11:41 AM:

*** mild Return of the King spoiler warning ***

According to Newsweek, the three biggest cuts Jackson made to the storyline of The Return of the King are:

* "The Houses of Healing," which was filmed and will appear in the extended DVD next year;

* The death of Saruman, also filmed, also set aside for the extended DVD; and

* "The Scouring of the Shire," never filmed.

Obviously, the death of Saruman has to have been moved to some other spot in the storyline.

I think "The Scouring of the Shire" is an important part of the novel's resolution, but I have no great problem with Jackson dropping it. Then again, I didn't mind losing Bombadil or the barrow-wights, either. Novels and movies: different imperatives. We've all been through this argument a hundred times; we can probably take all of our parts as read.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 11:45 AM:

Jon, I understand (as I posted) that the extendeed edition of the first two movies are being shown both individually and as a double bill over the next few weeks as a lead-up to The Return of the King. My question is if they will be releasing extended theatrical versions of all three at some point. Talk about a long dark day at the movies . . .

I say this as there was I seem to remember some brief talk last year after the EE of FotR did very well that MJ might just skip the whole rigamarole and just release a long version of TTT to the theaters to begin with. Obviously that didn't happen and apparently that is not going to happen with the next movie. It now seems quite probable that RotK will have an extended version as well, perhaps including the cut Saruman footage that Christopher Lee was so ticked off about.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 12:21 PM:

Not probable, certain. See previous post.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 01:16 PM:

Understood, Patrick -- I had not seen your post when I made mine.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 01:59 PM:

Bummer, too. Because in the Extended TTT, Jackson says (true at the time of taping) that RoTK would open with Gandalf confronting Saruman in Orthanc.

One wonders how the Palantir stone is going to get from the tower to Gandalf's bed....

Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 02:24 PM:

I think Jackson's problem with the Scouring of the Shire isn't that he doesn't like it—it's that the Scouring requires that you go from your Big Stirring Finish to a completely new storyline, one which would take a good chunk of screen time to tell.

I have trouble imagining this being done in the film without it feeling tacked-on, or without it seriously undercutting the impact of the hard-won resolutions in Gondor and Mordor. So, sorry as I am to see that bit go, I can understand why it had to be done.

As to getting the Palantir from Saruman...you're right, I've been wondering about that bit myself. Note that they're only saying that they've cut the *Death* of Saruman from the film, though, so Merry & Pippin smoking in the ruins may still be in there.

We've only got a few weeks to wait before we know for sure.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 02:41 PM:

After TTT (ditto everything on the extended version, by the way), I’m resigned to treating the theatrical ROTK as an extended trailer.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 03:18 PM:

It is an odd way to see movies, to be sure.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 03:21 PM:

I don't think the theatrical version / extended version is a totally cynical marketing move.

I finished watching the first disk of The Two Towers extended cut on Sunday. I *appreciate* the extra stuff, but I can understand why the cuts were made. The theatrical version had a bit more momentum, something quite necessary in 3 1/2 hour long film.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 06:22 PM:

I quite agree Stefan. Tolkien was not trying to write three books, just one long tale. PJ has faced the frightening challenge of simultaneously trying to:
- make three movies that each work as a single screen story for a wide range of viewers while staying coherent when taken together as a single work;
- satisfy the theater operators and various aftermarket channels (each with conflicting interests and requirements);
- make enough money to pay off New Line and their investors so he can start paying off what he owes his own investors for starting up Wingnut and WETA;
- avoid being gutted with an elf-forged blade by Tolkien fanatics;
- stay sane, have a good time, buy some new sandals, and move on to film King Kong.

Actually, I think Jackson has done a spectacular job so far, well beyond what I thought possible -- and the structure of theatrical/extended releases have contributed to that. Jackson did not invent the idea, but he has taken it farther than almost anyone to date. And I do think that he has deservedly leapfrogged (shorts, bare feet and all) right up to the top tier of bankable producer/directors.

My oncerns over the "Scouring of the Shire" are not simply those of still yet another LotR fan who, understanding the basics of the history of the work, knows how important that chapter was to Tolkien. I think that chapter in an important way completes the story for the hobbit characters by bringing all the big events from the outside world back to the Shire, and makes the transformation in all four hobbits evident in a special and important way. If Jackson can get to the same place in a different way, then more power to him.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 08:06 PM:

Claude: I'm not at all sure PJ sees the LOTR as the 4 hobbits' story. Nor would most people who know only the book, or the movies, and not all that goes before and whent into the whole thing. This is neither bad nor good just different.

We've decided to buy the extended TTT tomorrow and watch it, and possibly TFOTR during our quiet, at home, Thanksgiving. Unless there's a reallly good football game on of course.


Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 08:57 PM:

Unfortunately, Mary Kay, my copy of TTT does not show up until sometime late next week. As we will either be at my in-laws or working iside on the chapel team on T-day, it doesn't matter too much -- we wouldn't get to it anyway.

And I tend to agree with the idea that PJ has moved the center of attention away from the hobbits to Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo as central characters, especially in the theatrical cuts. All he has really done is pulled in some of Aragorn's backstory from the appendicies of LotR and other books to show him as a developing character across the movies. It seems to work, which is why I'm not sweating the issue at this point.

By the way, have you seen Master and Commander yet?

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 08:59 PM:

I agree with those who feel TTT is substantially improved with the new materials, much as I enjoyed the theatrical release.

Mary Kay, as familiar with LOTR as he is, how could Peter Jackson not see the hobbits' story as central?

I agree with Claude; I'm willing to believe he might have found another way to give us that payoff than Tolkien did, but I don't see how some version of it can be avoided without a letdown.

But after the last two movies, I trust PJ enough to put myself in his hands with ROTK.


Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 01:41 AM:

Has anyone watched the supplemental material on the Extended Edition yet?

I'm bringing the set with me when I visit my folks next month. I'm wondering which of the documentaries are "must sees."

(They totally loved the Fellowship DVD and features, and astonished me by going to the theater to see The Two Towers . . . one of maybe three movies they saw last year. But I don't want to overload them.)

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 03:38 AM:

Hell with all this elfy-welfy stuff *grumble, harumph.* Hugh Kenner--besides being a great, imaginative, funny writer, Kenner was, I've always felt, responsible indirectly for my getting into publishing. It was a neighbor across the street from me when I lived in Seattle, who'd studied with Kenner at UC-Santa Barbara, who got me my first job in publishing. I think it had a tleast a bit to do with the fact that I not only knew who he was, but could actually enthusiastically discuss The Counterfeiters and HK's fascinating takes therein on Babbage and Turing, among others, that helped me get a recommendation. The rest is history. My neighbor, last I heard, had gone on to become a Microsoft millionaire...

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 06:07 AM:

Claude: Yes we saw Master and Commander last week. I rather enjoyed it, but I am almost completely unfamiliar with the books. Russell Crowe is incredible, but I'm almost getting used to that. What I didn't like was the way the story stopped rather than ending. Our Genial Host here informs me this is characteristic of the books, but I still don't like it.

Laura: A good and salient point. I have an incohate and formless idea of how to answer it but it may take a while for it to filter into words. My brain works like that alas. Also while PJ obviously knows and loves the books, I don't know his history with them. I don't know how much he knows about some of the attitudes underlying and shaping them. I don't know when he first read them, which, to my mind, makes an enormous difference in how your understanding of them is formed. To the cinematographic eye, the hobbits are not especially interesting (though he did a really good job with Hobbiton and Bag End), but great charges, desperate battles, and epic scenery are. The hobbits are all about the homely virtues and small pleasures. Right up until they aren't. I wonder if you could make that believable in movie form? I haven't seen much evidence yet of change and growth on the parts of Merry and Pippin, and I really need to see TTT again before I offer an opinion on Frodo and Sam. They do a deal of growing into the challenge in the 3rd book it's true, but there are significant developments in the 2nd. Perhaps it's as simple as PJ thinking it would be easier for people to understand and identify with the human characters rather than the hobbits, but if so he's seriously misunderstood Tolkien. My, I've gone on at length for someone who didn't have the words yet haven't I?


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 07:48 AM:

Basically, the Aubrey/Maturin books are mostly just portions of a gigantic, never-finished twenty-volume novel. You can't eat just one. Ar har har.

Of course, the actual protagonist of The Lord of the Rings is Sam.

Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 08:36 AM:

Stefan: The documentaries are fine, but they don't have the goshwow jaw-dropping impact of the FOTR documentaries, because... well, it's basically the same movie-making process, so they have a lot less new to say. The most interesting ones, I think, were the Gollum one and the locations one.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 09:09 AM:

Yep, Mary Kay, O'Brien's endings are interesting -- you are in suspense as to the resolution of the first novel Master and Commander until the last, brief, perfect paragraph.

I loved the movie -- my wife, who is working through the books for the fourth time liked it a lot but I think would prefer that they just started filming with the first book and work their way through them all as written . . .

bob mcmanus ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 10:54 AM:

Yes, I have the Extended TTT over there, waiting for a free afternoon.

But Hugh Kenner is dead. He helped me read "Ulysses" RIP

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 12:25 PM:

Not many critics have been as much fun as Hugh Kenner, but Marvin Mudrick deserves a mention.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 02:58 PM:

I'm definitely in the "nice, but not entirely necessary" faction when it comes to the extra footage. The additions were nice, but they didn't really transform the movie for me.

Most of the Merry/Pippin/Treebeard stuff was just cheap comic relief (and didn't help with the pacing issues in the middle part of the movie), the scene where Gandalf explains the whole plot for those who were out getting more popcorn was clunky, and the Aragorn/ Eowyn bits didn't really do anything for me.

The only extra footage that really improved things was the stuff involving Faramir, which made that storyline somewhat more coherent. That did tend to pull him a little closer to the character in the books, which was an improvement. But as I've never been a Faramir fanatic, I wasn't overly disturbed by the original theatrical version.

I would say that the Two Towers extensions were better than the Fellowship ones, mostly because I thought the long introductory bit about hobbits dragged really badly. The real bonus features, though, are the commentary tracks-- some of the things Peter Jackson points out are fascinating, and the cast comments are really funny.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 04:34 PM:

We'll have to see how PJ manages without the Scouring of the Shire, but if the ending is Frodo and the other Ring Bearers leaving Middle Earth, and Sam going home, alone, I think it can work without the details.

We see so much of how Sam and Frodo change, and will see so much more, It may be an old and hoary idea, but I can see the last shot being Rosie almost combat-hugging the warrior-like Sam, and centering on his face, seen over her shoulder, haunted by his experiences.

Well, that's one way of ending it. Sam and Rosie in Bag End, and Sam grieving for all that is lost, even if the Shire is saved.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 04:48 PM:

Mudrick: And I wonder why people who write about style almost never have one.

Teresa, remind me never to get into an online argument with this gentleman -- I'm definitely not packing enough heat . . .

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 04:54 PM:

Patrick, I can accept Sam as the protagonist -- so many other things work better when you posit that. But the confusion on that issue for many may come from the LotR being written largely from Frodo's point of view.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 05:34 PM:

Completely evading the topic of the movie, I just want to point out that when someone has already written everything you wanted to say, and you can link to it instead of writing it all again, that's not laziness, it's just an effort to avoid redundancy.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 05:49 PM:

Mary Kay, I think your point is well taken that the humans and their story are more cinematic than the hobbits and theirs. I'm just hoping and praying PJ gets it right...


Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 06:23 PM:

I'm a bit croggled at the stuff about 'who Peter Jackson thinks the heroes are'. I think it's clear that he personally identifies with hobbits (to the extent that his and Fran Walsh's pictures hang over the mantlepiece at Bag End, and he bought the set so he could build it into a hillside sometime). And there's lots of context in TTT (especially in the extended version) to suggest that he too sees Sam as the protagonist of the tale. Added to which is the fact that...

(possible small spolier for RoTK)

we know that Elanor Gamgee is played by Sean Astin's daughter.

catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2003, 01:43 AM:

Of course, the actual protagonist of The Lord of the Rings is Sam.

Yah, and if Sean Astin doesn't get a best supporting actor Oscar for his role, I'm going to be *bitterly* disappointed. I love the movies, I love all the characterization, but man, I *believe* Sam.

I am, of course, anticipating bitter disappointment. Hollywood awards systems aren't set up to handle an ensemble cast like the LotR has. I expect a huge influx of awards for the third movie which will be retroactively fitted to the previous two, instead of the trilogy sweeping the Oscars for three years running like it should've. Hmph.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2003, 08:11 AM:

Sorry to see the departure of Hugh Kenner. I read his book on Chuck Jones, and even got to converse with him a time or two when he came to a regular weekly chat hosted at Harry McCracken's web page (Harry has posted two tributes on his message board). Not having seen the man, I imagined him to be ten or twenty years older than me, and learning that he was 80 was quite a surprise. (Note to self: Must look into Kenner's "other" books...)

Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2003, 09:18 AM:

On the linked subjects of who's the protagonist and the centrality of hobbits, in the documentary footage on FOTR I'm fairly sure that PJ says the editing for the theatrical release of that film was entirely dominated by the process of making and keeping Frodo central -- if it didn't move the Frodo story then out it went. The EE works better as a film, and as an adaptation, because it relaxes that constraint.

A problem with the centrality of hobbits became very clear in the theatrical TT, in that Merry and Pippin are pretty pointless in that part of the story. The screenwriters' response was to turn them into semi-trickster figures in order to get the Ents on side, which those of us who are moderately pro-Ent saw as a bit of a liberty, if not a shameful travesty.

The fact that... *very minor spoiler*

...ROTK apparently begins with a flashback to Smeagol's fall from grace suggests that small-people's-stories are very much on PJ's mind. Incidentally, it is very cool, I think, after 7 and a half hours of "previously", to begin the last film with a flashback to something not previously shown.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2003, 12:21 AM:

Perhaps it's as simple as PJ thinking it would be easier for people to understand and identify with the human characters rather than the hobbits, but if so he's seriously misunderstood Tolkien.

Mm. Or maybe it means Jackson understands 21st-century movie audiences better than Tolkien did.

One bit about LotR (the books) that annoys me is how Tolkien uses Gregorian months, and sticks the Middle Earth months in an appendix. A modern fantasy author, of the sort that I92ve gotten used to, wouldn92t do that, and Tolkien92s approach makes me feel condescended to.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2003, 12:29 PM:

Me, too. In fact, it's an insult to my intelligence that the book is written in English at all. It should be in Westron, printed with a Tengwar font.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2003, 01:52 PM:

The Shire month names are the old Anglo-Saxon month names, though, not actual inventions. So it's a reasonable act of translation.

Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2003, 05:53 AM:

And if Tolkien hadn't translated into Gregorian months I suspect even fewer of us would notice the meaning of the dates, as elucidated by Tom Shippey: that the fellowship leaves Rivendell on Christmas day and that Sauron falls on the 25th of March, traditionally the date of the crucifixion, the Fall and the annunciation (and also, accounting for a shift from Julian to Gregorian, the start of the UK tax year...)

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 11:47 PM:

To follow the tangent to Far Side of the World ... I liked it, but with great reservation.

It suffered from all the things I thought it would, most notably the huge amount of subtext which was lost by starting so late in the story.

I also think Russell Crowe, while doing a very creditable job, has a great handicap in being so (to my mind) physically wrong for the part. Maturin, well protraying all the contradictions in him is impossible(we know he is not as horrid as he sees himself, and how can his carelessnees about his person, as well as his just plain miserableness be shown?).

But I think the greatest failure was the lack of rhythm to the days on shipboard. So many details were packed in (from hither, and yon, in the series) that all was hustle and bustle from beggining to end. Even the bits of ritual they put in to show the measured pace made things look busy.

I suppose what I miss the most is the sense of how normal he made a completely alien world seem, from the sea, to the shore, the internal and external verities of the protagonists were made plain, and comprehensible in the books, and they are gone or opaque in the film.

But hope springs eternal and I will pray they fix it in sequelae.

Terry K.