Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Peter Jackson et al vs. J.R.R. Tolkien

I have a rather peculiar, if not unique, view of J.R.R. Tolkien's children's book The Hobbit. I read it aloud about a dozen times to children in my language class in the course of the career which I pursued parallel to my professional musical one.

I'd first made my way through The Lord of the Rings as a teenager and it's about the only Fantasy writing I've ever read.

Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen)

I encountered The Hobbit when I first read it aloud."Read-Alouds" are an intrinsic part of a balanced reading program and teachers frequently read favourite titles that are too hard for most of their audience to read themselves. I know teachers who read Children's Literature for pleasure and must admit that I could never stomach it. I tried to read two of the Harry Potter  series myself and didn't like them much.

The Hobbit is pretty slow going as a read-aloud. I had class set of the novel and offered a copy to children, usually better readers, who wanted to read along. It went over much better with boys than girls. A couple of times I just gave up with groups that hadn't the collective attention span to make sense of the long passages of description.

In any event, I went this afternoon to see the most recent Peter Jackson movie (3D IMAX), one of the perks of not having to work in the daytime. The theatre was surprisingly full of quiet, mostly older, people. No children.

This is an epic story, as is The Lord of the Rings which Tolkien wrote later. Lots of it is "over the top", but that's what's called for in any epic. Jackson and his team don't follow the book very closely at all. I'm quite sure that this would have bothered me more if I'd read The Hobbit more recently. As it was, I enjoyed it immensely although I'm not going to see it a second time any time soon.

I had read Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth and, not long after, I saw the TV mini-series. I was horrified. It seemed to be all hyperbole, the subtlety of the story completely written out. I watched it again recently on Blue-ray. No ads, no stopping and several years from the reading. I had a completely different impression. It was an impressive piece of story telling.

Matthew McFadyen from Pillars of the Earth

There's no doubt that adapting art from one medium to another is an incredibly challenging process and there's no winning. Artistic decisions must be made in virtually every frame: change the story, re-order it, cast actors who bear little (or no) resemblance to the characters in the original version, cram the dozen or more climaxes of a book which might take a week to read into a two hour film.

Someone, somewhere, will object to every one.

These are the decisions adaptors have to make in the course of producing an artistically and commercially viable product.

I watched Avatar again recently and the effects, CGI and otherwise, are jaw dropping. The same can be said of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, indeed of many current movies. It's all part of the repertoire of film makers these days and audiences expect to see it.

From James Cameron's Avatar

The difference, of course, is that these are brilliant films by experienced, dedicated film makers. The same technology is available to anyone, experienced, dedicated or otherwise, with the money to use it. Many crappy though technologically sophisticated movies have been, and will be made, and will disappear into the world of DVD and on-demand release.

In closing I'll mention Howard Shore's score. It must be a good one because, aside from the recurring quiet Celtic-inspired melody which I recall from the LOTR films, I don't remember any of it. You're not supposed to notice film music. Too bad for the composers, I guess.

Howard Shore

No comments:

Post a Comment