Something A Little Controversial (If a Bit Nerdy)

Every so often a guest host will be selecting the topics about which I write. He mentioned one topic and then decided he didn’t want to hear about it (though I’m going to write about it later anyway), and would rather “like something lighter. Maybe even more controversial, similar to the star trek conversation that sparks debate.”

So I will oblige. He’s a good guy and he enjoys a good argument as much as I do. So let me get rolling. In fact, I’ll discuss something he and I were chatting about over lunch today.

Peter Jackson got away with murder on the Lord of the Rings movies.

Now let me preface this whole thing with a statement that will make it clear that I am not a hater like one or two of my friend (just one, really) who will read this and take it as some sort of validation that I’ve “come around” to their way of thinking. This is not the case.

I really and truly love the extended versions of the Rings movies. Therein, however, lies the crux of the problem.

The theatrical cuts of the films, the versions released into theatres, were a cheat. They relied on the audience having read the books, and they relied on the extended versions released just before each sequel came into theatres, to fill in storytelling gaps that were the result of sloppy editing and poor writing choices.

Let me start with what would seem to be a benign example: the Gifts of Galadriel. Naturally, anyone who has read the books appreciates the importance of these gifts. Galadriel, the Elf queen leaving Middle Earth for Valinor, gives the Fellowship a set of gifts as they depart Lothlorien. They are small gifts – like the vial that is ‘filled with the light of the star of Ëarendil’. This gift proves vital in the confrontation with Shelob as the light is abhorrent to her and drives her back.

In fact, the vial appears in the beginning of the film version of Return of the King (though it really was elsewhere in the sequence of books) and helps drive back Shelob (momentarily). In fact, nearly all of Galadriel’s gifts show up in the two later films.

The problem is, this moment was cut from the appropriate moment in the theatrical cut of Fellowship and we never see the vial given to our adventurers. The moment was restored to the storyline in the extended cut released on DVD; but the simple fact is, Jackson relied on the the target audience both knowing it ahead of time and having the fresh memory of the extended edition planted in their minds so that they forgot about the omission in the theatrical cut. Everyone else who wasn’t a Tolkien fan was really just lost half the time and didn’t give a hoot anyway.

Let me move on, though, to a more egregious example.

Once again in the beginning of Return of the King we see some of our victorious heroes travelling through the newly-moved Fangorn forest to approach Isengard, where the Ents have trapped Saruman. The problem is that once again, this entire moment in the story was completely omitted from the theatrical cut of The Two Towers. It was restrored (gratefully) to the…you guessed it, extended DVD edition.

And let me take an example of something that’s not even an omission from the books that was just bad film storytelling. Namely, the fate of Saruman. It’s nowhere to be found in the theatrical cut of Return of the King. Now, Saruman was the major face of The Enemy through the first two films. I could live with the fact that they would change his fate from the book plotline since I knew they were cutting the ending from what it was in the book. Fair enough. But you have a major villain who just…disappears.

They spend one line of dialogue on him. That’s it. Since it was Christopher Lee and he makes an appearance in the final two Star Wars films as Count Dooku (and my mentioning of them will likely draw even more criticism of my opinion, when it really has nothing to do with the topic at hand). He’s a major player, the revealed enemy of Episode II. What happened with Saruman (and again, I draw out this reference only because Lee played both parts) would have been akin to starting Episode III with someone just saying, “Oh, him? Yeah, um…he’s dead.”

At least have an appropriate ending for a villain, for goodness’ sake! (Speaking of which, they obviously didn’t know WTF to do with the Witch King of Angmar, but…oh yeah, he was put back in the extended version.) And though they had a great Denethor, they blew the whole Palantir thing with him, which would have made sense for goodness’ sake.

Also, Liv Tyler. Was she given any direction other than “cry”? I mean, come on. Arwen is at least likable in the books. Every time she appears in the movies you want to slap yourself in the head and sigh.

In closing, let me be perfectly clear that I really and truly enjoy the extended versions of these films. I own them. The music is superb, the majority of the acting is superlatively well done and the spirit of the books – if not the particulars – is preserved.

But Jackson got away with murder and it bothers me. Why? Because the films I love are pilloried for the supposedly same things on which nerds let these films skate, of which these films are actually guilty. And that drives me nuts.

(edit: removed a semantic ambiguity that would have allowed some to take what I was saying the wrong way)

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