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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tolkien, Not Jackson: Talent, Commitment, and My Pre-Desolation Thoughts

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug came to the theaters on Friday! And no, sadly, a trip to the movies wasn't meant to be. While opening weekend is out, I'll definitely be making one (or two!!) theater trips this week with family and friends.

Whenever I think about the fandom around The Lord of the Rings, I am always left in awe. Even when compared to the likes of Sherlock, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Star Trek, I feel like the LOTR fandom stands head and shoulders above the rest. I've never come across a friendlier, more talented, and more genuine group of people.

One thing that's different about the LOTR is that getting into this story isn't easy. Most (but certainly not all) fandoms are rooted in TV shows or movies, but the LOTR is rooted in reading. Supposed fandom members who haven't read the books aren't really considered 'true fans.' For many people, the movies are just an added bonus. The books are what drove us to The Lord of the Rings.

I think that what makes the Lord of the Rings fandom stand out is that we're all committed to Tolkien. We realize that it was Tolkien, not Peter Jackson (as much as we love him), that gave us Middle Earth. We want to respect Tolkien and his work, morals, and ideals. He really was a charming person, and most of us want to give back to the fandom while respecting him.

Not only are these qualities apparent in fans, they're apparent in the cast and crew of both trilogies.

I was in a Tolkien mood and so started watching The Lord of the Rings Outtakes videos on Youtube the other day. I was struck with the camaraderie of the cast and crew, and the relationships they formed throughout the filming. I mean, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan are real life Merry and Pippin. Sean Astin took care of Elijah Wood in the same way Sam takes care of Frodo. Ian McKellan was looked up to, and Orlando Bloom was (lovingly) laughed at.

The talent that went into the makings of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is crazy. Almost too obvious to mention, the casting has been perfect and each actor and actress totally brilliant. But just stop and think about the stunt-men, makeup artists, camera crew, editors, musicians, and writers. These people were just as committed to their art as any of the actors. These movies had a weaponry department, for pete's sake, where people made the armor by hand. Oh, and let's not forget about the fat-suit department (I swear I'm not kidding).

Like all great people, though, the cast and crew knew that talent is nothing without dedication. Each actor put every ounce of themselves into these movies; even when they weren't seen on screen. Andy Serkis was originally cast as a voice actor for Gollum. To create the right voice, however, he made drastic facial expressions and moved his entire body. Only after watching him did Peter Jackson realize that they needed human energy, not just an animator, behind Gollum. Andy Serkis went on to act out every scene, complete with spitting, and then be animated to the point of no recognition. Once he even slid under water and over rocks just moments after the crew had melted the ice off the river. Peter Jackson has commented that he's never known another actor to work so hard and yet never make it on screen.

I think the reason that The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was so successful was because of the commitment by everyone involved. They were committed to making a monumental movie that would respect Tolkien and his masterpieces. Their main purpose wasn't to create a new fan base, but rather to inspire an existing one with one of the greatest movie adaptions of all time. The books were kept to their rightful center throughout the production. No corners were cut. The cast and crew committed themselves to greatness, and they achieved it.

And yet, I've been worrying over these Hobbit movies. The atmosphere around them seems more about the money than the story. While the same level of talent is present, I'm not sure the same level of dedication is. They've taken too many liberties, and from what I hear, they're only taking more.

Instead of appealing to the Tolkien fans who have waited their entire lives for a movie adaption of The Hobbit, they're appealing to a more nonchalant crowd who couldn't even be bothered to read the books. Where is the commitment to detail? The respect for Tolkien? The respect for his readers?

I would like more than anything to be wrong.This past summer, I talked about my hesitations for this installment. I stand by those, but I'm trying to stay positive. I'm not going to lie, watching An Unexpected Journey the other night settled a lot of my fears. After all, I worried over that movie, too.

Elijah Wood hugging Peter Jackson on the last day of filming {via}
Tolkien has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was little, imaginary games were always placed in Middle Earth. Talking about the the books and movies has been an ice breaker when I'm being socially awkward. Watching the movies is always a much-awaited break from reality, and the books bring back memories like no other series does. Lately people have thought I'm getting a little over-sensitive, and maybe I am. But the simple truth is, I would hate for the movie adaptions of The Hobbit to give false feelings for the book. The movies should encourage a commitment to this fandom and inspire viewers to read the books for themselves. That's not going to happen if the movies aren't accurate portrayals.

In the past Peter Jackson has shown incredible taste and talent in his adaptions. I want to continue to trust him, because he's given so much to the Tolkien world. However, my commitment is to Tolkien, not him. Even if these next two installments are flops, I'll continue to be a LOTR fan. It would just be really, really nice if I didn't have to join the Percy Jackson readers and forget that certain movies ever happened.

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