Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (extended dvd version)

I watched the extended editions of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings over the past two weekends. I have come round to agreeing with some of my friends that these films are really quite an amazing achievement. “As good as any opera” is what my partner said. In some places – particularly the first film – there were some extended scenes that were rather dodgy (not to mention the abrupt shift from day to night in Lothlorien). Throughout, I found some of the extended scenes could be a tad ‘soap-operaish’ – and they could slow down the narrative. On the other hand, they made all the various subplots hang together a lot better – Arwen and Aragorn’s love, for example, stuff to do with Eowyn… the extra scene between her and Grima. It made the whole thing more like an HBO series rather than films per se. The interweavings of these subplots – some of which were given far more stress (or invented entirely) than in the books – seemed to me skilfully done. This time round (I’ve only ever seen the films once before and that was in the cinema) I was far more appreciative of how Jackson had found cinematic ways of expressing literary aspects of the books… Gollum’s internal dialogue stood out as being particularly brilliantly realized. I still find the portrayal of the elves and their settlements (Rivendell, Lothlorien) rather weak… too much ‘arts and crafts’, too many candles lit on perfectly sunny days, too many scenes that looked like adverts from some lifestyle catalogue… not to mention the execrable ‘art’ – the concrete statues, the AWFUL murals at Rivendell (contrast these with the fabulous ones in Pella, in Oliver Stone’s Alexander – a film that in so many other places is so weak) – the whole effect for me was to often make Rivendell look like some kind of garden centre. I could also have done without Legolas’ ‘skate-boarding’ exploits.

All this said, Jackson really has pulled off some kind of miracle. He has not only filmed the unfilmable, but done so in a cinematic way that is true to the books while not being slavishly so – in my opinion, in various places, even managing to improve on Tolkien’s narrative.

14 thoughts on “Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (extended dvd version)

  1. By and large I agree…
    For me, the movie had some issues (the ‘contemporary’ humour, some lack of passing of time esp in Moira). The elfs were slightly too human (I must say though that Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett were getting in the direction of having an otherworldly ‘glamour’ quality). The designs of the elf places were pretty much down to “official Tolkien illustrators”, and could be explained as illustrating Tolkien’s ‘vision’ (which would undoubtedly be influenced by Arts & Crafts, William Morris and the whole Pre-Raphaellian Brotherhood painting stuff).

    Where the movies improved on the books was in making real flesh and blood characters out of Tolkien’s pieces of cardboard, and getting the women a bit more to do.

    At the official Dutch press screening, some “Tolkien fans” were LIVID, exclaiming: “Well! I do NOT know what book Mister Jackson has read, but it’s NOT the same book that I have read and loved!”, while I found most characters in the books rather tedious and the book heavy going (skipped a bundle of pages when they’re seemingly forever trudging through the marsh. And I don’t miss Tom Bombadil (and his yellow wellies) either.

    One of the scenes that really worked, cinematographically, was when Sam and Frodo are cold and hungry and tired, on a mountain ridge, and we get a ‘flash back’ to Hobiton – it suddenly becomes clear how much the tone of the movie and their lives has changed.

    1. Liv Tyler worked best for me – Cate Blanchett less so… As for Hugo Weaving, though I like him, I don’t think that Elrond would have such bad skin and lank hair. The weakest parts of the films for me were the elves, whereas I feel they are one of the chief glories of the books.
      I entirely agree with the improved roles for women and the rounding of characters generally. Of course this latter aspect is automatic when they are ‘actually’ being represented by people… Still, the sub-plots, particularly those concerning women, were much improved on the books… though somewhat lost in the non-extended, cinema releases…
      As for accurately representing the book down to the tiniest detail – I’m not interested in that. If Jackson had done this, he might well have made something that was lifeless… besides, cinema is a different medium to books and thus things have to be treated differently… As you indicate, the exchanges between Sam and Frodo – and, of course, Gollum – are perhaps the most striking aspects of the films – where the reality of the power of the Ring to corrupt is brilliantly demonstrated… What I find revealing is that, like many people, the endless tramp through the marshes in the books is really rather dull… in the films it is mesmerizing…

  2. In general, I would say the films give the novel momentum where Tolkien sometimes rambles and the novel lends depth to the films. Having said that, I agree that LOTR is about one of the best cinematic adaptation achievements – emotionally it captures it very well, and despite the black/white dichotomy I find that you can still relate to the characters. Even though it seems a bit simplistic in our world of greys these days, such polarizations are very effective in making us realize how much emotion we can actually experience – how much we can care for something, because honestly if you didn’t, you would drop that 1000+ page book without another thought. Yes, our world now is more nuanced and grey, but sometimes I think it means we’re missing out on the passion that we can have for some things.

    I’ve still to watch the extended edition, but I probably should. I really enjoyed the movies and while I doubt I’ll ever reread LOTR all in one go again, I’ve rewatched the films many times. It does capture the emotional heart of it I think. And at the end of the day, a film is a film – if it simply recreated the book without fleshing out other aspects it has no autonomy as a fine piece of cinematic work in its own right.

    1. I suppose I have to agree that Tolkien rambles… and, while the books lend depth to the films, the opposite seems to me also true… but isn’t there a danger that the films will replace the books…? That the characters are black and white it’s because they are, surely, (Jungian) archetypes – and, as such, we cannot but help relating emotionally to them… My tendency to argue for ‘greying’ the archetypes is to bring them a little closer to ‘real life’… I don’t believe that this diminishes their archetypal power – rather it clothes it in greater cognitive subtlety – this last being a quality of ‘literature’ – and, of course, I believe that fantasy (and speculative fiction in general) can aspire to being literature – by which I mean writing that appeals to the intellect – while all the time retaining psychic weight and truth…

  3. When I first saw the extended versions of the films on DVD, I thought that they were so much better than the cinema versions – especially the second and third part. This was due to the fact that there was more room for story-telling rather than action, and some of the sub-plots that had cut from the theatrical release made all the difference.

    There is one other movie where I can highly recommend the extended DVD version to the theatrical release: Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. Here, too, there are additional subplots which add a lot more texture to the movie.

    1. These extended versions, or director’s cuts, can swing both ways. When, years ago, I finally managed to get my hands on the 4(?) hour version of David Lynch’s Dune I was appalled by how bad this turned out to be. I became viscerally aware how editing can turn many reels of dubious film footage into something remarkable. The absence of many of the political scenes in the latter half of Gladiator made the theatrical release lopsided – starting well, but degenerating into melodrama… Of course there are all kinds of reason why we end up with one version or another – most of them, I suspect, commercial… In the case of Dune this pressure forced Lynch to produce something that is patchily brilliant out of an unpromising mish-mash… Gladiator on the other hand was mutilated by the need to be of a length acceptable to who, the distributors?

      It occurs to me that the general move of media into digital forms, by freeing them from the limits of their original physical forms will destroy those forms. Films will come to exist in many different versions. In music single tracks can now have a life of their own. Many bemoan the demise of the LP… but they seem to forget that this was only a result of artists responding to the limitation of a vinyl disc of a fixed size. The LP concept – as a number of related tracks – can now be extended to twined tracks… up to however many an artist might want to use… This too is likely to be the fate of books. Quite possibly, new forms may emerge that occupy the space between the short story and the novel… Novels, short stories and other prose forms can be strung together to form complex works… Recently, Simon my editor told me that the Stone Dance was probably to big to be released as a single (paper) volume – however, as an e-book this limitation would become irrelevant…

  4. hmmm, I agree, not every movie should be extended. But what you are saying about movies or books diversifying into different formats depending on the media, that’s already happening. Both LOTR and Kingdom of Heaven were shot with extended DVD versions in mind. Dark Knight was shot with extra IMAX scenes.

    Oh, and about books: there are rumours that Apple will start selling e-books via iTunes once they bring out their touch screen tablets. Seeing how they are spiffying up CDs with multi-media content (and calling them LP’s), they may extend books in the same fashion.

    1. my point about films and books was slightly different… when I said “versions” I didn’t mean ‘formats’… what I was meaning was versions cut in all kinds of different ways… different lengths, for different purposes… Of course, in film, this is already happening with director’s cuts etc… However, books have not yet reached this stage… I can even envisage a time soon when people will have version 2.1 of a book and that they can update this to 2.2 which might have been furhter corrected… or version 3 which has been completely re-edited…

      I’ve been following the rumours of Apple’s tablets and am rather excited about them. Without ever having had a Kindle in my hand, I don’t find them convincing… nor Sony’s e-book reader either… I have no doubt that they will begin selling books on iTunes – thus really jump starting the whole e-book revolution… I bet Apple wishes now they had forseen where iTunes was going and thus chosen a more generic name… *grin*

  5. Do you see yourself doing ‘director’s cuts’ of your books then, depending on how they are published? Seems like it might be distracting from moving on to new work. Unless of course this was planned from the start.

    By the way, I know at least one author who brought out a version 2.0 of some of her books: Storm Constantine gave her Wraeththu books an overhaul several years ago when she started her own publishing commpany. And Michael Moorcock seems to be fiddling with the Elric stories a lot as well.

    1. I don’t imagine that I would… my agent would hire a hitman! I didn’t know that Storm had done that… I must talk to her about it… I suppose I might be tempted to do some re-editing later on… but I’m not sure that I should give in to the temptation… currently there are too many problems – not least that my publisher’s are unlikely to be happy with being asked to copyedit a new book. On the whole, I think it best to leave these books well alone. The Stone Dance is SO complicated that fiddling with it might well break stuff… That said, if it were released in digital form primarily, I might be tempted to make tiny corrections as and when they’re pointed out to me…

  6. So a book is like a painting, eh, it’s never finished? 😉

    As a reader, I think one of the best experiences would be if the ebooks got enriched with additional material – I mean pretty much all the material you put on your website about the Stone Dance could be linked to from the book. Also, if the book is not a one-time purchase, but sort of like a subscription, new material could get added to it (unless of course someone like Amazon decides to delete the book overnight from your device).

    (I realise that this discussion would now be better placed in the e-book thread you started…)

  7. *grin* in the case of an e-book, dangerously so, perhaps… I would be wary about linking to the kind of support material I have on my site directly from the book – the danger would seem to me to be that making a novel too multi-media could kill the ‘submersion’… I certainly think that this would work brilliantly for non-fiction… As for Amazon, they rather brilliantly demonstrated that e-books MUST be released in a non-proprietary, open-source format… (you’re right that this might have been better dealt with in the e-book thread… I’ve just tagged this thread with ‘e-book’…

  8. Yes, I can see where links out of a book would distract from the reading experience. Obviously, there are always the appendices…

    A few years ago Tad Williams tried to sell a book, Shadowmarch, chapter by chapter through the internet. You paid for the whole book, and you received a link for each chapter once it was up. It was published in html. The attempt wasn’t very successful, as the Williamses wrote afterwards, and Shadowmarch was subsequently published as a ‘propre’ book. Could be that people just weren’t too keen on reading the text on a website. I could imagine that a scheme like this could work, ‘though, if there was a propre reading device available.

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