22 January 2005 | OboeSaxIII
The problem with imagination
Overall, I am disappointed, though not surprised, by the negative criticism of this movie. Indeed, this criticism exceeds the offering of alternative viewpoints and the expression of other cinematic possibilities and sinks into the realm of bitter invective. So many armchair critics are currently competing with avid Tolkien, Jackson, and movie fans alike in order to espouse the "true" value of Peter Jackson's landmark movie trilogy. For it is a landmark event in cinema history based on its sheer size and careful attention, praise and evisceration apart. The issue that greatly irritates me and pushes me to write is that many of the negative reviewers on this website have such limited room in their imagination that they cannot conceive of a world outside their own narrow framework. I find that a most sad reality in light of the legacy of Tolkien, Jackson, and all good story-tellers -- to create, to engender, and to nourish the growth of any and all imaginative ventures.
The problem with imagination is that it is an individual event, a unique subjective experience that a single person experiences completely alone. Those who enter into the realm of Art, Fiction, Fantasy, and any degree of Story-telling agree (willingly or no) to take that personal act of creation and primal nature and share it with the community of human beings, each of whom has his or her own imaginative context. It is a bold act of sacrifice, self-confidence, and faith (spiritual, one could argue) to thrust the contents of one's subjective reality into (to borrow from Douglas Adams) the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash. People who do so deserve respect for the mere creative act, the ability to foist forward what they believe is true. From Homer to Bill O'Reilly, this concept of personal creation, what Tolkien called Sub-Creation, is the essence of modern human existence, and we owe it to each other to respect the right to creation history has granted us.
Therefore, in defense of both Tolkien (whom some on this website have maligned) and Jackson (whom many have maligned), I forward that both are imaginative creators in their own right, with different and completely acceptable offerings to the world. Those who cannot tolerate either for "mediocre writing" or "atrocious film-making" should offer forth their literary or cinematic offspring instead of cunningly-worded diatribes of their deep dissatisfaction with all that does not conform to their inner reality. Then, we few who believe in and trust the creative ability of all will be able to see how those critical inner realities (so authoritative in exposition) match up with the rest of our perceptions.
Tolkien was an enormously talented, intelligent, and imaginative man, one whose stories, though unpolished by experience, still managed to attract a worldwide audience and devoted following with their luster. Jackson's movies took the sheen and inherent value of Tolkien's stories and placed it in a visual medium, a place where fans of LOTR could witness and love the events and people they held so dear. Of course Tolkien's story is imperfect; of course Jackson's movies aren't as full as we wish them to be. Their great successes are that they still manage to capture our imagination, to move us, to take genuine truth and isolate it in a world outside our ken, a place where we see ourselves better against a foreign backdrop. Both have created and done so masterfully, with the intuitive grasp that is termed "genius." Tolkien would have had much at issue with Jackson's movies, where plot incongruities, lapsed character development, and visual splendor overshadow the philological and melancholic overtones of his book. Jackson admits he finds much at issue with Tolkien's book, including a lack of clear character motivation, extended and largely extraneous dialog, and heightened language not suited for Hollywood. But Tolkien, despite his perfectionist griping and loathing for any film version of his book, would respect Jackson for continuing the act of creation, for taking his modern-day mythology and spreading it to as many people as possible. Jackson has taken the beauty, the scope, the complexity, the richness, and the loss that permeate Middle-Earth and shared those leitmotifs with the world. Tolkien's characteristic "niggling" would have prevented any such attempt (even Jackson's), but in the end, his heritage lives on in beautifully conceived and executed films.
I do not ask others to stifle their opinions of this movie or any other. Indeed, continue to express the direst and bleakest of your frustrations with the creative power of others, as it may lead you to actually do some creation yourself. Remember though, that the great evils of history, from Satan to Hitler to Sauron, are never capable of creation -- only twisting, mutilating, mocking, deforming, and misapplying. Be open to the vision of others and what they have to offer, especially when that offering comes in the virtuosic shape of Tolkien's writing or Jackon's movies. Look for the True in the Secondary and how it manifests itself everywhere once you recognize it.
This movie receives a 10 from me because it not only maintains incredible faithfulness to Tolkien's themes (and yes, events may deviate in completely separate and dissimilar media) but it asks intelligent viewers to look deeper into the circumstances of its own creation and beauty. From the loyalty of Sam and the weight of epic history to the sacrifice of Arwen and the never-completely-won nature of war, Jackson's movies capture the essence and heart of Tolkien's tale, with the benefit of the director's own imaginative fruit as well. The world owes Mr. Jackson its gratitude, as he has created another world and another reality that so many can, do, and will cherish.
One final word: There are few who would not rather be wandering in a far green country rather than dwelling in their own Circles of the World.