Monday, February 13, 2006

Redemption on the Fields of Pellenor ...

Why have I taken so long to finally get around to writing about the film adaptation of "Lord of the Rings?" I guess I was just waiting for something to spur me ... and I got that during a brief exchange of comments with Jim at serotoninrain, in which I found out that he and I share a favorite moment, from a favorite film.

I remember, it started as a buzz when word first circulated that
Peter Jackson was going to bring J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" to the big screen, in a three-film adaptation that promised to be every bit as epic in its scope as Tolkien's original trilogy of books.

As the film went into production, that buzz became a rumble, and a source of growing debate around the world, from a variety of viewpoints, and in a variety of languages ... including Elvish.

All I knew, from watching the trailers was that, whatever Jackson may have done to the rest of the film, when it came to set and scenic design, costuming and props ... he NAILED it ... at least, in my humble opinion. I didn't have to wonder, "What's that supposed to be?" I knew, just in watching those snippets in the trailers, that that was Rivendell, that was Minas Tirith, that was Lorien, etc.

The feature-length films bore out my first impressions from the trailers, and I have seen all three installments a few times, in the theaters and on DVD.

Does that mean that Jackson has produced a literal adaptation of Tolkien in every aspect of his films? Well, no, he doesn't. Though they haven't stopped me from enjoying his films, I have had some problems with the direction his story takes, and with his general treatments of characters. Jackson, I believe, does not allow for so broad, or rich a variety of characters - motives and values, thoughts and beliefs - as Tolkien did.

You see, for all the perception some have of Tolkien as some kind cloistered intellectual of the 'ivory tower' variety, he was actually very much a man of the world ... and he encountered a great variety of people ... saw them at their best, and their worst ... and all of that is reflected in his writings. True, they are set in a fantasy world, but it's one populated by real world characters.

In Tolkien's world, some women were warrior princesses, while others stayed home and sewed. He saw it first-hand as everyone in Britain did something to support the war effort (WWI). In Jackson's (Hollywood's) world, women do NOT
stay home and sew, especially if they are given a role in the film way out of proportion to their role in the book ... Arwen Evenstar, daughter of Elrond and beloved of Aragorn.

In Tolkien's world, there are many kind of heroes ... the unlikely hero, the ironic hero, the anti-hero, and the true hero ... not so in Jackson's world, where Aragorn shuns his heritage, flees from it, denies it until it finally thrust upon him ... a far cry from the character in the book who, at times, was the lone light in the darkness, the remnant of the glory of man, and the last prophet of the Return of the King.

But, in the scheme of things, this seemed like quibbling, and I have enjoyed the films again and again ... all the time looking forward to the third installment, when my own, personal favorite character, Rohan's King Theoden, would answer one last call to glory in my own, personal favorite moment of the story.

It's a moment that Mr. Jackson, once again, NAILED

It is that moment when, at the head of his massed waves of horsemen, he sees the hosts of Mordor filling the fields of Pellenor, and breaking through the great gate of Minas Tirith ... instead of riding off, "skulking in the hills," he instead leads his men (and one woman, and one hobbit), on a wild charge into the very heart of Sauron's forces ... "a sword day, a red day, 'ere the sun rises."

All too red ... Theoden finds his death on the Fields of Pellenor ... but he also finds his redemption ... he has long since acknowledged his failings, his shortcomings, his sins as a king ... and he now trods, almost eagerly (though still short of a berserker's mindlessness), the road to salvation that lies before him ... he goes to join his fathers, in whose company he shall not now be ashamed ...

Much has been made of the Christian themes one finds in the "Chronicles of Narnia," written by Tolkien's good friend and fellow Inskspot, C.S. Lewis ... yet many of those same themes can be found in LOTR, as well ... and that includes the idea of redemption ... sometimes obtained at great cost, as Thorin Oakenshield learned in the foothills of the Lonely Mountain, as Boromir learned on the banks of the River Anduin, and as Theoden learned on the Fields of Pellenor ...


Jim said...

Well done, Jeff. An excellent discussion of the films. Because of the differences in the film and book story lines, I made sure to listen to Jackson's commentary on the DVDs. While I still wish he had made some different choices in constructing the films, I found his explanations in the commentaries to be extremely well thought out. He and his wife and Philippa Boyens really went to school on Tolkein, and not just LOTR but all of his Middle Earth stuff. I was impressed.

My favorite visual adaptation: Moria and the confrontation with the Orcs and the Balrog in Fellowship, especially the chase through the great hall. It actually exceeded the images I constructed in my mind while reading the book. Talk about shock and awe!

Jeff said...

Welcome, Jim.

I agree absolutely about Moria ... an awesome scene, indeed.

There was evident, in much of the film, something more than just an attention to detail ... there seemed to be a genuine affection and regard ofr the original work.