22 December 2001 | Yrneh
Greatest `Fantasy' Book become greatest `Fantasy' film
I think it is important to remember that Peter Jackson took up this film not in order just to make a film of `The Lord of the Rings' but because he wanted to make a 'fantasy just like the `The Lord of the Rings'" as he himself put it. After repeating that phrase on a number of occasions the question popped into his mind: "Well, why not the `The Lord of the Rings' itself?". In doing this he, of course, set himself an enormous challenge: he had to make a really good `fantasy' film, one which would stand on its own and be true to what he had originally wanted to do but he would also, and here the task he had set himself was enormous, be true to the original book and to make a film which the legions of people who have loved this book would feel happy with. In the latter task he was certainly not helped by the author or the book: Tolkein, it would seem, hated cinema. The book itself is `HUGE': this was not going to be the kind of task that the James Ivory team set themselves, or Scorsese nor the kind of task facing Branagh with Hamlet; nor was it going to be like the puny task that faced Columbus with `Harry Potter' who had the bigger budget ($130 million for one film as compared with Peter Jackson with $300m for three).
I have just seen the first `volume' and can say without hesitation that he has succeeded in both his goals. It is not the book but a reading of the book which is inventive and fascinating. It is the kind of experience that makes you want to go back and reread the whole thing in the light of the emphases that Jackson has brought to the story. He focuses on the corrupting influence of the ring and, through this focus, the character of the chief protagonists of the story are revealed. Clearly those most tempted by it are mortal men (Boromir and even, in one moment, Aragorn), those who already have power (Elrond - `The ring cannot stay here'; Galadriel; Gandalf and Saruman), and, of course, those who would not normally desire it but who by accident become ring bearers - Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo. I can see why, in this reading, Jackson decided to leave out the Bombadil episode. Bombadil, like the Balrog, is beyond the ring but the latter is important to the unfolding of the story of the fates of all the characters, Bombadil isn't.
It is a miracle of this reading of the first volume of the book that one can see where Jackson is going and one can get a feel of how the reading is going to unfold. In a sense, Jackson's real trial - as far as those who know the books are concerned - will come with the second film in the series. He has lived up to our expectation by creating even bigger ones: how can he handle the story of the chase andrescue of Merry and Pippin, the storming of Isengard etc - stories which don't really add much to the core theme that is emerging. Or is he now going to add the theme of the great contest of good versus evil to the unfolding reading?
All of this points to the fact that the film, even though it is a feast of special effects, focuses on character. And this also explains why Jackson chose the actors he did for their roles: they are not `big' names - no `Sean Connery', no `Alan Rickman', no `Brad Pitt', no `Sam Neill'etc. He didn't want them getting in the way of the story of character. Ian McKellan's talents, in particular, are used to tell a large proportion of the story: an enormous amount is conveyed simply through his facial expressions and even by the language of his body. The other miracle in all of this is Elijah Wood. Like many others, when I first heard of Jackson's choice, I groaned: but Wood has been extraordinary. He brings, as one friend said, a strange kind of androgyny to the role and this is just perfect. McKellan has already been knighted: give Wood the Oscar.
And then there is Middle Earth: this is, as someone put it, another character in the story and the New Zealand landscape, digitally enhanced on occasion, lives up to its role too.
Enough. See this film! Greatest film ever made? How can one make a claim like that! Silly really; as silly as claiming that `The Lord of the Rings' is the greatest book ever written. Can't one simply love a story, enjoy reading it a number of times amd lose oneself in it. One CAN claim that it is the greatest work in its genre as is the film.