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Fellowship of the Ring: Conventions of Genre, Sorta Kinda Part the Second

[ 181 ] January 24, 2013 |

(Actual Part the First can be found here.)

The answer to the question of why some films are more re-watchable than others seems, to me, a matter of unpredictability of shot selection. We can all watch episodes of Law & Order half-asleep because we all know that any close-up of one character’s face will reverse to a close-up of his or her interlocutor’s. (The possibility of deviating from the script-bible is basically asymptotic: the staleness of the formula makes it look increasingly likely but it can’t ever actually happen.) And despite my general objections to Fellowship I’ll admit that its iconic scenes are rightly remembered because Peter Jackson bucked his horror roots and embraced an unpredictability that verges on randomness. To wit, consider the scene-setting that preceded Gandalf’s most infamous exclamation, which begins half-way through the mines of Moria with a close-up on Gandalf:

Fellowship of the ring00004
Did I say “close-up”? I meant “extreme close-up,” because Jackson’s lopped off the top of his head. That might not seem so important, but consider it in more mundane terms, for example, if this were a picture you took of a friend at a party. How happy would your friend be with a photograph in which he’d been a “bit” beheaded? How would you feel about framing your friend’s face such that it shared the spotlight with a few lines of mortar and some unfocused negative space? This shot feels wrong because it violates the conventions that makes Law & Order and the like such successful soporifics. It’s an ugly and unbalanced shot, but I’d wager it’s meant to discomfit, if only because Jackson’s going to repeat it so frequently in the next three minutes that this is the last time I’m going to mention it. Just remember that it’s wrong to borrow chunks of people’s heads for rhetorical effect. From here Jackson cuts to Frodo:

Fellowship of the ring00008
I’m not even going to say it, but you see it. The expectation here is three-fold: you assume that this shot’s going to be followed by 1) an eye-line match, 2) a point of view shot, and 3) a reverse shot, and you’re not disappointed:

Fellowship of the ring00009
But because you assumed that this would be a reverse shot, you also assumed that you’d reverse back to your point of origin, Frodo, so that you could gauge his reaction to what you’ve just observed while cohabitating his head. Only:

Fellowship of the ring00012
Jackson upset the implicit continuity of the reverse shot in order to make it more difficult for us to predict shot sequence. This might not seem like such a significant achievement, but that’s only because you underestimate the power of convention. Imagine you’re watching a medical procedural in which a doctor, in a medium close-up, addresses an ill patient and says “Blah blah blah kidney transplant.” You’d expect a reverse shot of the patient, possibly in a close-up to better capture the pain of this revelation, but what if instead of that you were hitched into a roller coaster backwards and yanked thousands of feet into the air? Because that’s what Jackson does when he violently zooms from Gandalf’s face to, well, this:

Fellowship of the ring00013
Fellowship of the ring00013
Fellowship of the ring00013
The screen shots don’t do it justice. Few currently available experiences are comparable to the ride Jackson subjects you to there outside of 47 seconds into this, and even though your mind knows you’re just watching a movie, your eyes and brain are subject to a few hundred thousand more years of evolution and react differently. You may not be scared for your life, but you’re not entirely comfortable with your current perspective. Jackson will exploit this feature of perspectival preference for the remainder of this scene, much of which will involve placing the viewer in places no one not named “Clark Kent” can achieve. But he won’t do that quite yet:

Fellowship of the ring00036
He yanks you thousands of feet into the air, then punches you in the face by following that shot with a medium close-up of some hobbits looking frame-left. Note that when he was previously mid-air panning he was drawing your eye to the right, and that when he cuts to this shot, he knows your eyes will re-set frame-center, find nothing, focus on action, see Sam glancing backwards, and then follow his eyes to whatever they’ll be matched to. In short, he’s directed your eyes right-right-right, then center, then center-left, then left-left-left, then:

Fellowship of the ring00039
Here, to a canted shot, presumably from Sam’s point of view, of whatever’s following. It’s canted because some people aren’t that bright and hadn’t gathered that the Fellowship might be in a tight spot. Or because Jackson wanted to marry content and form in such a way that the knowledge of the narrative peril was heightened by the manner in which it was depicted. For our purposes, all that matters is that when he’s using conventional sequences (like eye-line matches) he’s doing so in a dictatorial fashion, yanking our eyes from one side of the screen to other with a disregard bordering on callousness. But when he’s not using conventional sequences, he’s creating an environment of uncertainty of the sort I mentioned at the beginning of the post: because there’s little logic in the shot sequence, the film becomes more re-watchable simply because it defies our defaults. For example, what do you think follows the above eye-line match from Sam’s point of view? Back to Sam?

Fellowship of the ring00046
Nope. So we’ll stick with Frodo?

Fellowship of the ring00052
Well, at least now we know who to follow, right?

Fellowship of the ring00054
God damn it. Jackson’s gone all MTV and started editing like a meth-addict, which clearly indicates that we’re in for a further succession of quick edits as the action intensifies and—

Fellowship of the ring00091

Fellowship of the ring00093
Fellowship of the ring00093
For fuck’s sake, really? Three quick edits followed by a head-level camera gently drifting rightward to capture the action? Speeding us up and slowing us down, are you, bartender? Serving us the cinematic equivalent of vodka and Red Bull, so now we’re—wait—we’re not feeling so good. Weren’t we level-headed with Gandalf before that CGI column obstructed our view? We were, and now we’re still following the Fellowship, only from a lower angle of framing, and—

Fellowship of the ring00105
He didn’t look that big before, or so up. Why’s he so up?

Fellowship of the ring00108
The dwarf too? The dwarf is up? Where are we? What happened to us? We were all level-headed with them, and now they’re all up, like we’ve—

Fellowship of the ring00118
That’s the ceiling. We’re lying with our backs to the floor, aren’t we? We most certainly are. It’s difficult to tell with the screen shots, but if you look at the film itself, it’s clear that as we passed behind the CGI column Jackson tripped us because that’s the fucking ceiling. But at least now we know where we are and can predict what shot’ll come next. We’ll get a slightly low-angled shot of the fellowship abandoning us to our inevitable—

Fellowship of the ring00119
Or Jackson’ll take a page from New Age out-of-body narratives and hover us a half-mile above our proxied body like the ignorant chump he’s proving us to be with every subsequent shot. Why is this sequence (and what follows) so re-watchable? Because even if you break it down before a class so often you think you can reconstruct it in your sleep, convention is the default, and you can’t escape it. So every time you watch it, you think you’ll know what it’ll be like, and every time you watch it, you’re wrong.

Tomorrow I’ll finish this up by writing more about how uncomfortable Superman’s director’s boots are and why wizards are more intimidating than 500 foot tall fire monsters.

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Comments (181)

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  1. SEK says:

    Please point out any grammatical errors politely, as I’m just barely back on the blogging horse after long illness, and you’re not a mean person.

    • Hogan says:

      Maybe later, when my admiration has come down to a slow boil.

      (Metaphor selection determined by the fact that our POS furnace finally handed in its gas valve on Monday, and the new one is being installed today, during which time the outside temperature has dropped consistently below freezing. Get your chimneys lined, people. You’ll thank me later.)

  2. sibusisodan says:

    In short, he’s directed your eyes right-right-right, then center, then center-left, then left-left-left

    Somehow I feel sure that the result of →→→ ↓↓← ←←← should have been:

    FIREBALL!

    Did I forget to press something?

    (on topic: I rewatched this film only last week, and now feel like I must rewatch it again, bcs I didn’t have any awareness of any of this. So thank you for exploding my skull and pouring all this brilliance inside. Hurrah for LGM!)

  3. Jeremy says:

    Well, looks like I’m not going to get to bed til late tonight. Thank you very much, Mr. SEK.

    Also, well done.

  4. rea says:

    Or Jackson’ll take a page from New Age out-of-body narratives and hover us a half-mile above our proxied body

    What he’s done is shown us a ceiling crawling with orcs, and then shown us the Fellowship from the orcs’ point of view.

    (As a Tolkein purist, I have a problem with this scene, because it shows the Fellowship hopelessly trapped by orcs, and essentially rescued by the arrival of the Balrog–the orc numbers should not be quite so overwhelming, and the Fellowship should not be so surrounded that they need the Balrog’s intervention to escape.)

    • SEK says:

      What he’s done is shown us a ceiling crawling with orcs, and then shown us the Fellowship from the orcs’ point of view.

      Orcs can’t fly, though, and the camera certainly is. It’s not a point of view shot, but a lateral one floating a feet below the ceiling. It’s something that’s really difficult to show through stills, but I promise, if you re-watch the scene, you’ll see what I mean.

      • rea says:

        Orcs can’t fly

        But Jackson thinks they can walk on the ceiling–look at that ceiling shot, and you’ll see a thousand or so orcs.

        • SEK says:

          I promise I’m not being belligerent, it’s just that there aren’t any versions of the scene on Youtube, but I swear that if you watch the scene, you’ll see that the camera’s not acting as an orc-perspective, but in the same manner it will in the post I’ll write later today in which the camera floats above, below, to the left and the right as Gandalf takes on the Balrog. It’s a non-perspectival shot.

      • Hanspeter says:

        “From the orcs point of view” and “from a camera moving way above the ground, at a vantage point near to where the orcs currently are streaming out of” seems to be a distinction without much difference if the point is to 1) show you how much ground the Fellowship has yet to cover, and 2) that there are tons of orcs streaming down the columns.

        Here’s a crappily edited and cut video in Moria. The scene starts at approximately 1:00 and the cut in question is at around 1:17.

        • SEK says:

          “From the orcs point of view” and “from a camera moving way above the ground, at a vantage point near to where the orcs currently are streaming out of” seems to be a distinction without much difference if the point is to 1) show you how much ground the Fellowship has yet to cover, and 2) that there are tons of orcs streaming down the columns.

          It matters inasmuch as this scene, and the next, constantly move you in and out of the heads of the various characters. You’re right that in the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal, but at this particular moment, whose pair of eyes we’re peering through matters. (Moreover, it’d be the only time in the scene where we’d be in the head of a member of the anonymous horde.)

      • Woodrowfan says:

        I thought they were goblins, not orcs.

  5. FLRealist says:

    In our family, if we manage to get the eyes, nose and mouth of a person in a picture or video, we think we done good.

    I agree with Rea about the orcs – I also didn’t like the feeling I got while watching the scene because it made me think of cockroaches. The books didn’t give me the same impression of the orcs/roaches.

    • SEK says:

      One of my students (who’s presenting today) emailed me saying he was similarly uncomfortable with the depiction. He said it reminded him of “how Republicans talk about Mexicans.” It’s not my job to touch that with ten-foot poles, so I won’t, but I’ll note that the racial politics of the films are extremely problematic.

      • Chester says:

        Yeah.

        Peter Jackson has spent a lot of time promoting New Zealand, but you’ll notice he has done nothing to promote Maoris. The only Maoris in his film are cast as orcs. “But, Chester, all the characters are white, so it’s not like he can just change that!” Why not? He changed SO MANY things about the story, the characters, the overall themes – NOTHING in his movies is accurate, WHY NOT hire a few Maori actors to play in the film if he loves New Zealand so much?

        In contrast, George Lucas and the Wachowskis filmed some of their films in Oceania and, yes, they hired Maori actors – no, not in lead roles, but in speaking roles, and very important roles.

        And let’s not even get into his decision not to get Warwick Davis to play a Hobbit, but instead to spend millions upon millions on clever little camera tricks. The PERFECT roles for a little person, and Jackson makes absolutely sure to go as far out of his way as humanly possible NOT to hire little people for them.

        So if the representation of orcs reeks of racism…well…gee…

        • Chester says:

          Case in point:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Lees

          Nathaniel Lees, a New Zealander of Samoan descent: played Captain Mifune in the Matrix, a heroic leader who sacrifices himself to save his people. He is a beautiful man, with a beautiful voice. He is somewhat ethereal and would have been a fine Elrond, perhaps a fine Gandalf.

          Wikipedia tells us that he played……..Ugluk. An orc.

          Think about that. Watch the Matrix and look at how beautiful and heroic Mifune is. Then realize that Jackson looked at that man and said, “There’s my orc!”

        • rea says:

          It’s not exactly that Tolkien is racist. Rather, he’s writing from a sort of early Anglo-Saxon point of view–he was the great expert on Beowulf–in which other races of humans are virtually unknown. Orcs aren’t human–they’re monsters, like Grendel and Grendel’s mom. There are also dark-complected human “Southrons” serving Sauron (probably southern Europen types rather than blacks)– but Tolkien makes it clear that they are conscripts and not intrinsically evil. See, in particular, the scene in Two Towers where Faramir’s men defeat a force of Southrons, and Sam sees an elephant–Sam also reflects on the dead Southron warrior, concluding that he is just another human, and not evil.

          The casting problem, on the other hand, is far from unique to LOTR, and has no easy answer. Is a movie about Robin Hood improved by giving him a black friend? Did Louis XIII have racially-integrated musketeers? Can we suspend our disbelief long enough for Leontyne Price to make a plausible Madame Butterfly? Well, maybe . . .

          • Bloix says:

            The racism in LOTR is not white vs. black. The bad guys in LOTR are fake Turks and Arabs. They are dark-skinned with dark hair and eyes, but they are not generally racially black. The languages of the evil races are mock Turkic and Arabic – words like Mordor, Barad-dur, Nazgul, Uruk.

            This is the “one ring” inscription:

            Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

            and here’s a snippet of Turkish poetry:

            Bir gok var ustumuzde
            Yildizlar bir ipte dizi
            Bizi gozetleyen varsa yukarda
            Neyimiz var ki gizli.

            And the bad “men of the South” who side with Mordor look and fight like North African corsairs.

            If you’re looking for historical analogs, you should look to Christendom vs. Islam, not whites vs. blacks.

            • daveNYC says:

              Don’t even have to bring religion into it. WWI and stories from the Gallipoli landing (he wasn’t there, but his unit was) will do the trick. Although the Ring’s inscription as read in the film sounds nothing like Turkish.

              I thought I had read somewhere that he made the Black Speech specifically to sound harsh on the ears. I did find an actual quote by him saying that it was a agglutinative language, which is cool because those are the best languages.

              • Leeds man says:

                “I did find an actual quote by him saying that it was a agglutinative language”

                So is Finnish, which apparently was his inspiration for the Elvish languages (though they sound more like Welsh to my tin ears).

                • Paul Clarke says:

                  Depends which one you mean. Quenya is supposed to have Finnish phonetics, while Sindarin has Welsh phonetics.

                • gmack says:

                  Just to display my nerd cred: Sindarin has a very “Welsh”; Quenya has a more Finnish feel.

              • Lurker says:

                Concurring with Leeds Man, agglutinative language is not necessarily “harsh on ears”. Latin is agglutinative language and most people don’t find it very “harsh on ears”, although I have heard it described as “Latin, that language of men, sparkling like a clash of swords”. Even early Germanic was agglutinative, as far as I understand, although I find at least old English and old Swedish really barbaric-sounding.

                “Harsh on ears” means essentially that the language has a large amount of consonants, with a rich selection of guttural phonemes.

                • Hogan says:

                  Neither Latin nor any Germanic language is agglutinative.

                • daveNYC says:

                  The point I was trying to make was that Black Speech was specifically designed to sound harsh and gutteral, not that agglutination causes languages to be harsh and gutteral. Hell, the only reason I mentioned it at all was that Turkish is an agglutinative language and the original comparison was between Black Speech and a chunk of Turkish poetry.

        • sibusisodan says:

          “But, Chester, all the characters are white, so it’s not like he can just change that!”

          I don’t think that’s quite the point. It’s more that the different races of Middle Earth need to be both mutually distinct and internally consistent – probably in a slightly exaggerated fashion, to boot – for story-smoothness functions.

          So, once Gwyneth Paltrow as been cast as an elf, that sets your elf-model. Ditto Mckellen for the Istari.

          Which brings us to the question of why these A-listers were cast in those roles (I’m assuming they were cast first, and could well be wrong about that), and why pretty much all of the A-listers in general are white. To which the response ‘because Jackson’s a racist’ is a bit of a non-sequitur.

          I also think your characterisation of the Maori actors is a bit narrow. Lurtz (Lawrence Makoare), for example, was a wonderful cameo. Brutal, calculating, menacing, graceful. Fine acting.

          And, to be honest, such casting would have been wasted on an elf. Keanu Reeves could have played a good elf (heck, Orlando Bloom played a good elf).

          • Chester says:

            The Istari were gods, not elves. A person of any race could have played Gandalf and argued it away as “he’s a god.” And even if you want to claim that Blanchete set the “template” for the elves, there were multiple ethnicities of elves, and making them each a different real-world race would have made that clearer for the audience.

            My point isn’t that Jackson is racist – he may or may not be – my point is that he failed miserably where other moviemakers have not. Thor, Star Wars, the Matrix, the Harry Potter films – all films who used multi-ethnic casts, including little people where appropriate. All of Jackson’s non-whites are covered in prosthetics and cast as literal monsters who rape and pillage. Gee, not a single racist undertone to THAT.

            And Lurtz? You mean the character that Jackson completely invented out of his own imagination? The character that wasn’t in Tolkien’s original work? That horrible, horrible fight scene that had nothing to do with anything, aside from how cheesy and stupid it was?

            So, Jackson was fine using a Maori in a scene that wasn’t in the book, to portray a character that doesn’t even exist, for a fight scene that is out of character with every single thing Tolkien wrote – but he can’t cast a Maori in a lead, speaking role because it would be “inconsistent”? He can create a whole new monster character for a Maori to play, but he can’t cast one as Gandalf?

            That’s not even getting into the fact that the mindless barbarian Lurtz is basically a walking, talking stereotype whites have had of Pacific Islanders for centuries and that casting a Maori as one is so heavily loaded with racist undertones that, sure, I guess Jackson might not be racist, but he’s not smart enough to notice the racist undertones of his work, which means he is blundering through life doing racist shit without knowing it.

            • rea says:

              “Lurtz”–the name is Jackson’s invention, but the character is in Tolkien, called Ugluk.

            • chris says:

              Thor, Star Wars, the Matrix, the Harry Potter films

              Only one of these was based on books, and in that one, the books actually did have some nonwhite characters. Each character’s race was preserved in the movies; no white character became nonwhite to give a nonwhite actor a better role (and, in fact, all of the nonwhite roles are quite small).

              If you want to blame someone for the racial problems in LotR, blame Tolkien. But he’s been dead for decades, which only points out that the reason for the racial issues is that the work is _old_.

              • rea says:

                And you know, cross-racial casting is just problematic in a historical context, although sometimes it can be made to work. But, could a black actor make a credible Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey? Would anyone accept a white actor cast as Shaka Zulu? Could Samuel Jackson have played Abraham Lincoln?

            • Leeds man says:

              “The Istari were gods, not elves.”

              Well, angels more like (lesser Valar or Maia, IIRC).

              Larger point taken though. I see no reason to stick with Tolkien’s Wonderbread racial schema. Why not black elves?

              “spend millions upon millions on clever little camera tricks”

              Actually, not so clever when the hobbits were viewed at a distance from the rear.

            • sibusisodan says:

              That horrible, horrible fight scene that had nothing to do with anything, aside from how cheesy and stupid it was?

              You take that back!

              I’ll have you know Sean Bean acted very hard in that scene! You can see him trying!

              Other actors would have been content with only four near-death-arrow-spasms, but not our Sean. He’s method.

            • john says:

              “my point is that he failed miserably where other moviemakers have not. Thor, Star Wars, the Matrix, the Harry Potter films – all films who used multi-ethnic casts, including little people where appropriate.”

              I don’t think I would be giving too many props to The Matrix movies. All the people on the bad-guy side are white. And naturally, the more white, the more evil. On the good-guy side, the whites include a traitor, an unimportant female character that dies early, an ineffectual nerd that also dies early …

              Other than a racially ambiguous lead and his non-blond, non-blue eyed girlfriend, it’s pretty much white=evil.

          • Bloix says:

            Gwyneth Paltrow? Surely you mean Cate Blanchett?

        • SatanicPanic says:

          And let’s not even get into his decision not to get Warwick Davis to play a Hobbit, but instead to spend millions upon millions on clever little camera tricks.

          Warwick Davis had his chance in Willow, not buying him in a lead role.

        • Ropty says:

          I think it best not to hold up George Lucas as an example of racially sensitive film making. I don’t think the creator of Jar Jar Binks and various and numerous offensive characters has any sense of the role of race in fantasy story telling.

          • SatanicPanic says:

            I think it best not to hold up George Lucas as an example of racially sensitive film making.

            I agree. Who is doing that?

          • Chester says:

            No, that is my point exactly. EVEN George Lucas, with all that’s problematic in his work, managed to hire some non-whites. I would point out Daredevil, too, a movie universally agreed to be really, really bad that cast a black actor in a white role.

            So, yes, George Lucas has some problems in his movie, but at least he tried.

          • Chester says:

            Jar Jar is certainly a fair point, but even Jar Jar was a lead, speaking role played by a non-white actor (in CGI “makeup”). We can talk about how racist it is to have a black man playing a minstrel-type character (Boss Nass was played by a fat white man, so…), but we can also acknowledge that Lucas tried. He also had Captain Panaka, a minor lead role, played by a non-white, and had various non-whites sprinkled throughout his extras.

            On top of that, Lucas later took a masked character (Boba Fett) and gave him a Maori face, “That guy’s Maori. He’s Temuera Morrison’s son.” And he went back and edited Empire Strikes back – thoroughly committing to Fett-as-Maori – and told the world, “Deal with it. Fett is not white.”

            He may not understand race in storytelling, but he makes an effort to get a diverse cast. He himself might have problems with racism, but you know what? He’s TRYING. Jackson isn’t.

            • Malacylpse says:

              but we can also acknowledge that Lucas tried

              Oh hell no.

              He may not understand race in storytelling, but he makes an effort to get a diverse cast

              The same can be said of D. W. Griffith.

      • Woodrowfan says:

        “how Republicans talk about Mexicans.”

        Orcs do yardwork?

  6. Michael57 says:

    I don’t agree that Jackson is racist or that anything in the films suggests racism. “Fighting racism” and “looking for trouble where none exists” are not the same thing. But it is certainly true that Tolkien himself shared the particular racism of his time and class, and that does show in the books, and in Tolkien’s correspondence. So if there is any black/white dynamic in the films, it comes from being faithful to the source material. Regrettable but true. Bringing LOTR to the screen meant bringing its imagery to the screen.

    Good analysis on the pre-Balrog scene, very entertaining.

    • SEK says:

      For the record, I’ve done this dance before with the man who eventually became the head of my professional organization (because I’m a genius like that), so I don’t actually think that Jackson himself is a racist so much as he’s put in an untenable position by his source material. The fact that he always seems to choose source material that puts him in such a position, however, is curious.

      • Anonymous says:

        The fact that he always seems to choose source material that puts him in such a position, however, is curious.

        That’s not a ‘it would be irresponsible not to speculate’ is it?

        • SEK says:

          It is, actually, but since we’re not in the realm of partisan politics, it’s a slightly denuded one. I do think we should ask why the source material he selects involves debased versions of non-white races, but I don’t think we should condemn him out of hand for doing so, given that the majority of pre-1970-or-so literature and cinema does so too, and he is a lit and film buff.

          • Ken says:

            Well, now you make me want to see him do Lovecraft adaptations.

            (Not that anything could ever compensate for Guilermo del Toro postponing At the Mountains of Madness, especially since – if the rumors are true – it was because of Prometheus.)

      • I don’t know that better source material would help him, given the track record of Hollywood whitewashing characters. Ursula LeGuin’s experience with Earthsea dramatizations, for example….

    • Chester says:

      You’re going to have to show us the racism in his books or his correspondence, because I don’t see it. The black and white symbolism is not racially related (speaking of “looking for trouble where there is none”).

      As for bringing Tolkien’s imagery to the screen, Jackson didn’t. He wasn’t faithful to the source material at any point in his films. He felt perfectly comfortable adding jokes about “dwarf tossing” to his movie, why not mix up the cast a little?

      I’m going to need someone to tell my why “dwarf tossing” is faithful to Tolkien, but a black Gandalf isn’t before I really accept that Jackson isn’t a racist tool.

      • Cody says:

        Well, tossing a dwarf is a change in the events in a world. One can simply assume it wasn’t told in the original.

        Making all the elves black is a change in the world itself, as in the books they’re “fair-skinned”.

        That is the most obvious example that comes to mind.

        • Chester says:

          Yes, because Jackson changed absolutely nothing that Tolkien explicitly described in the books, and by george, if Tolkien called them “fair skinned,” then we can only cast white actors!

          How about the fact that Arwen wasn’t at the Bruinen Ford? Or the fact that no staircase led to the bridge on which Gandalf fought the Balrog? How about the fact that Gandalf never went near the beacons? Aragorn was never dragged off by wargriders? The shards of Narsil were reforged before the fellowship left Rivendell, and it was Elrond’s sons who brought Aragorn the banner that Arwen made for him later?

          I could go on and on and on and on about essential details in the story that Jackson changed with little or no reason or justification.

          Oh, but he called the elves “fair skinned.” It would be a shame to be inaccurate about that and cast a non-white in a role as an elf.

          • Malaclypse says:

            How about the fact that Arwen wasn’t at the Bruinen Ford?

            To be fair, the elf that was at the Bruinen Ford had also died more than 5,000 years earlier at the fall of Gondolin. So even Tolkien was not consistent (leaving aside issues of Christopher not actually being the same writer as JRR).

            • Andrae says:

              Tolkien himself admits that he did this in error, he just needed an elvish name and forgot to check Glorfindel wasn’t already taken. He chose to resolve this by retconning possible reincarnation from the Halls of Mandos—not too much of a stretch as his mythos already had dying elves congregating there, so why not allow one or two to return.

          • gmack says:

            The “fair skinned” issue wrt the elves, along with the dark skins of the orcs, is pretty central to Tolkien’s point. Tolkien’s work here is, among other things, a reflection on the etymology of words. He is trying to tell a story using only the linguistic meanings available to a pre-Norman English. So, for instance, etymologically speaking, the word “black” for the Anglo-Saxons did not really refer to a color at all (let alone a race), but rather connoted something “burned.” So in describing the orcs (or Sauron, or Morgoth) as “black,” he means to associate them mythologically and symbolically with fire, volcanic activity, etc.*

            This is why the issue of race in Tolkien is really tricky. It’s certainly easy enough to read the stories as having clear racial connotations (everything beautiful and good is white and comes from the north or west! Everything bad is black and comes from the south and east!). However, too much focus on this stuff can miss a lot of what he was up to in the texts.

            *By the way, I’m not really expert on this; one of my friends here specializes in Medieval English and has a really strong interest in Tolkien (she teaches classes on the subject). My analysis is a second-hand version of her argument.

          • Mark D'ski says:

            didn’t Tolkien leave a “ton” of material regarding Middlearth? Wasn’t he always rewriting it over and over again? What is Jackson being “faithful” to, the published books, or the whole of his written material?

      • SatanicPanic says:

        Some of the dwarves were very clearly meant as comic relief in The Hobbit, so it’s not like the idea came from nowhere.

  7. Paul says:

    Tolkien himself shared the particular racism of his time and class, and that does show in the books, and in Tolkien’s correspondence. So if there is any black/white dynamic in the films, it comes from being faithful to the source material.

    The racism charge is a long convoluted thing and better left alone, but I say class not so much. Since Sam emerges as the ultimate hero of what is except for him a party of Aristocrats – I not so sure I see a class bias. In any even moderate realist pre-modern world its kind of hard for the hoi polloi to just drop everything and go adventuring…

    Compare say the fairly accurate depiction of the fate of Aryia Stark by GRRM as a nobody she goes nowhere unless somebody with clout/power/force/or station taker her somewhere.

    [SEK here: Added that “blockquote” tag for you.]

    • NonyNony says:

      Now wait a minute – don’t conflate modern ideas of class with what it was like in England during Tolkien’s day. Tolkein’s father worked for a living, he wasn’t landed gentry. Sure his father managed a bank, but he was a paid employee – as far as the class system of England was concerned he was superior to a gardener, but would have still been seen as lesser than any aristocrat. IIRC that would put him on the level of skilled professionals like doctors or lawyers – respected, but not upper class. Even a dirt poor aristocrat who had lost his home would have been superior to Tolkien by the backward standards of the class system of his time. As you say, Tolkien’s hobbits are all “aristocrat” analogues except for Sam, and it’s not at all surprising to me that he would pick Sam out for heroism, given that Sam essentially comes from the same class level as himself. (Hell I’ve read accusations that Sam is essentially a Mary Sue character for Tolkien, though I don’t see it myself).

      • rea says:

        a party of Aristocrats

        Aristocrats isn’t quite the right word, either. They’re English country squires, not lords.

        Sam is essentially a Mary Sue character for Tolkien

        Tolkien saw himself as Beren, not Sam, and his wife as Luthien.

        • Malaclypse says:

          Tolkien saw himself as Beren, not Sam, and his wife as Luthien.

          I never knew that – thanks.

          • rea says:

            Tolkien was Catholic, and his wife was raised protestant, and opposition from both families to their marriage gets translated into the human Beren marrying the elven Luthien, to the horror of both families. The scene where Luthien dances for Beren in a flowering grove, and Beren falls in love, also reflected a real-life event early in the Tolkiens’ relationship.

        • NonyNony says:

          Aristocrat is the wrong term, though in my defense to Americans the difference between “aristocrat” and “landed gentry” is sometimes blurry.

          But Frodo, Pippin, Merry and Bilbo are all obviously supposed to be of the landed gentry class. They make their money through managing property that they’ve inherited, not through labor (even as lawyers or doctors or other professionals). Sam is clearly lower class in comparison and given Tolkien’s background he would have had (class-wise at least) a lot more in common with Sam than he would with Frodo.

        • Paul says:

          I agree I was being a bit broad – but both Mary and Pippen are in fact the heirs to what is more than just Gentry – they both have a hereditary potion over Buckland or the Took clan and what is more or less residual vestige of the old Royal system and what passes for a military in the Shire.

    • Njorl says:

      The class bias shows up in the orcs. The inspiration for orcs comes from coal miners, covered in black dust.

      Even in Sam’s heroism Tolkien’s classism shows. Sam can’t carry the ring, but he can carry his master. His heroism comes from knowing his place.

      • daveNYC says:

        In the book, Sam does a fine job of carrying the ring (Sam as Ringbearer and Frodo facing down the nine at the fjord are the two ‘small’ scenes that I miss). It’s just when he gets back with Frodo he hands it over because Frodo is the Ringbearer. You can read classism into that, but I take it as Frodo focusing on nothing but honoring his oath to get the ring to Mount Doom.

  8. rea says:

    Tolkien himself shared the particular racism of his time and class, and that does show in the books, and in Tolkien’s correspondence.

    That’s perhaps unfair to Tolkien–yes, he was a man of his time, but he also expresed disgust with apartheid and anti-semitism.

  9. John F says:

    The racism charge is a long convoluted thing and better left alone, but I say class not so much. Since Sam emerges as the ultimate hero of what is except for him a party of Aristocrats

    Years ago a friend of mine once said you can really tell who read the whole trilogy and who did not if they correctly identified Sam and not Frodo or Gandalf as the hero of the stories.

    • Leeds man says:

      It’s not about reading the whole trilogy. It didn’t even occur to me until the third or fourth reading. About the same time (age) that I realized the heroes of The Worm Ouroboros were arseholes.

    • SatanicPanic says:

      I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t really fair to Frodo. Yeah, he’s weak and corrupted by the end, but Sam only has to carry the ring for a few hours, while Frodo’s got it around his neck for months.

      • Leeds man says:

        Yeah, but Sam has to endure the whiny little bastard for the whole trip.

        • SatanicPanic says:

          That did require genuine heroism on Sam’s part. Part of me wishes that Sam would have pushed Frodo into the Crack of Doom when he saw him put the ring on.

        • rea says:

          Frodo in the book isn’t nearly as ineffective and whiney as in the movie.

          • Chester says:

            Jackson changed the personalities of each and every character in almost every way imaginable. I don’t recall Frodo once being “whiny” in the books, especially as Tolkien very explicitly described the psychological burden the ring put him under, which Jackson clumsily portrayed by having Frodo whine a lot.

            Oh. And Sauron isn’t a giant flaming eye. The flaming eye was a SYMBOL of Sauron, and the way his power manifested in the Palantir and in people’s minds. It was a hallucination, really. It was never in any way shape or form an actual flaming eye. Sauron was also not a giant man in spiky armor. He was a deceiver, not a bruiser.

            In other words, Jackson got every character wrong in some of the stupidest possible ways imaginable. The movie is a really bad place to get information on the characters.

            • The movie is a really bad place to get information on the characters.

              That’s true of the books as well.

            • Malaclypse says:

              The flaming eye was a SYMBOL of Sauron, and the way his power manifested in the Palantir and in people’s minds. It was a hallucination, really. It was never in any way shape or form an actual flaming eye. Sauron was also not a giant man in spiky armor.

              There is some ambiguity, I think. Galadriel saw an Eye in the mirror. OTOH, Gollum saw four fingers on the Black Hand. The one place Tolkien seems to be clear is in the Akalabeth, where Sauron can change forms, but after Numemor sinks, he cannot appear “fair” to Elves or Men.

            • John F says:

              Sauron was also not a giant man in spiky armor. He was a deceiver, not a bruiser.

              There’s a description in the Silmarillion of Morgoth fighting an ELF in hand to hand combat, if you squint you can see the similarity between that description and how Jackson portrayed Sauron in the movie beginning flashback

            • Murc says:

              Sauron was also not a giant man in spiky armor. He was a deceiver, not a bruiser.

              Okay, now I’m curious.

              If you were going to come out of your tower and fight Elendil, his kids, and Gil-Galad, what the hell form would YOU have put on? Would you have put on the form of some sort of wily deceiver, or would you have made yourself a fucking ten-foot-tall bruiser in spiky armor?

              • guthrie says:

                Weeelll, spikes on armour are dangerous and pointless (Yes I know). You occaisionally see some on armour, but most didn’t because they can get in the way. What he should have done was get someone to look at real surviving suits of armour then made them look more impressive and effective, as brutally so as possible. The purpose of armour is to stop someone stabbing you in vulnerable bits thus giving you that extra time to stab them in their vulnerables.

          • Leeds man says:

            “Frodo in the book isn’t nearly as ineffective and whiney as in the movie.”

            True. I should read the book again to purge Elijah Wood and John Rhys-fucking-Davis.

    • catclub says:

      “correctly identified Sam and not Frodo or Gandalf as the hero of the stories.”

      The fact that Sam is also effectively unchanged, in that Frodo says he is still whole, while Frodo is damaged, is odd for heroes, though. Aren’t they usually changed by their ordeals.
      Sam is still a gardener.

      Of course, Ulysses just wanted to go home to his family.

      • Hogan says:

        Sam at least succeeds in his mission (getting Frodo home safe). Frodo fails at his; the Ring is destroyed pretty much by accident.

        • Malaclypse says:

          The Eagles, and not Sam, get Frodo home. Sam’s success is ever bit as accidental as Frodo’s. More so, in that Frodo’s success results from the deliberate choice he made to show mercy to Gollum.

        • daveNYC says:

          The mission was to destroy an all-corrupting evil (with bonus points for not getting killed along the way), and at the end of things the all-corrupting evil was destroyed. I’d have to say that everyone succeeded, with the key point being that nobody did it by themselves.

          • McAllen says:

            Furthermore, the ring was not destroyed by accident. It was destroyed because Frodo, and before him Bilbo, was merciful to Gollum. The book is pretty explicit about this.

            • Hogan says:

              But Frodo didn’t destroy the ring. The last time he had it in his possession, he was getting ready to use it. And I think knowing that is part of his melancholy at the end; he couldn’t give it up, and the knowledge that no one else could have done so after carrying it for so long seems to be little in the way of consolation. He set up the bit of luck that saved the world, but it was still luck.

              • Malaclypse says:

                But his actions led to the Ring’s destruction. The heroism was in his mercy, a point very consistent with Tolkien’s Catholicism. The result of mercy was anything but luck.

                • daveNYC says:

                  Not to mention that he managed to take it all the way into the mountain and was about to pitch it in before he gave in to the dark side. If he had decided to put the ring on while outside the mountain no amount of gollum ex machina would have saved the day.

                  The main thing is that the climax of the movie has a lot of heroic activity, but not much that sets up one character to be the big hero. Aragorn and crew are just being bait, Frodo manages to get the ring to the mountain but can’t pull the trigger, and Sam provides moral support which ultimately doesn’t stop Frodo from putting on the ring.

                • Hogan says:

                  DaveNYC’s last paragraph is a lot of what I mean. Showing mercy to Gollum gets him to Mount Doom; it doesn’t guarantee that he dances off the edge of the cliff.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Showing mercy to Gollum gets him to Mount Doom; it doesn’t guarantee that he dances off the edge of the cliff.

                  Providence, and mercy, guarantee it. Also, the need for a non-crappy ending.

                • Ken says:

                  Don’t forget the curse Frodo put on Gollum. “If you touch me again, you will be cast yourself into the Cracks of Doom,” or something along those lines, said while clutching the Ring.

      • rea says:

        Sam is still a gardener

        Sam is, afterwards, the hobbit who heals the Shire (using Galadrial’s gift, the last vestige of the power of an elven ring), the Shire’s elected political leader, and the author (in succession to Bilbo) of the books that Tolkien translated into English, not to mention, Frodo’s heir.

        • Malaclypse says:

          And isn’t Sam one of the only Mortals to sail to Valinor, after Rosie’s death?

          • Murc says:

            Pedantry: only wuasi-Valinor.

            The various mortal ring-bearers and buddies (including Gimli) got to go to Tol Eressea, which is NEAR Valinor but doesn’t actually count as going TO Valinor.

            There’s some materiel in HoME and the Letters in which Tolkien says he had an idea that sometimes mariners would end up getting there by accident (this is retained in published works only in a couple lines of the Silmarillion indicating people sometimes stumble across the ‘Straight Road’) and end up there; he was envisioning it as a sort of Avalon-equivalent. In a practical sense, it let him keep the whole ‘Valinor isn’t for mortals, it will fuck them up’ thing, while having a place that people who were extra special could go to.

  10. SatanicPanic says:

    I need another discussion of racism in Tolkein like a hole in the head. Loved how you broke down the shots in this post though.

  11. Bloix says:

    The racism is not as simple as “white good dark bad.” The racism is that one’s personality is determined by one’s race. Dwarves act this way, elves act that way, hobbits are like so, orcs etc., etc.

    Obviously these “races” are all stand-ins for different human nationalities (generally referred to as “races” in the 19th and early 20th c’s.) Different human “races” were viewed as having national characters: Germans – hard-working, militaristic, humorless; Italians: romantic, tempermental, unreliable; Jews – intelligent, greedy; Swedes-depressive, self-reliant. Etc., etc.

    Tolkien took this racial conception of human character and exaggerated it into the various races of his fictional world. His fundamental conception of Middle Earth is, literally, racist.

    • Njorl says:

      That’s interesting, but I don’t think it’s correct. The different races are more likely representative of different classes – Hobbits agricultural – Orcs unskilled industrial labor – Elves, an idealized aristocracy.

      Even that doesn’t hold up. He probably consciously allowed his class views to color his races, but I don’t think he did so rigorously. They colored his stories, but were never the point of his stories.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Actually, I think it is a variant of the Culture and Personality Anthropology common at the time. Instead of “culture is personality writ large,” in Tolkien, personality is culture writ small. And I don’t think you can avoid racism, or at the very least racial essentialism – Aragorn is noble because he is of the line of Isuldur. Gondor declines as they intermingle with non-Numenoreans. The Stewards can never be as noble as Kings, because of lineage. And once lineage carries inescapable characteristics, I don’t see how this is functionally distinguishable from racism.

        • Njorl says:

          So in Ivanhoe, are the Normans racist for despising Saxons?

          • Malaclypse says:

            You are asking me if a conquering tribe is racist for despising the tribe that they subjugated? Was Cotton Mather racist for despising Pequots? Is there any answer other than “of course”?

            • Njorl says:

              Not all prejudice is racism. They were both mongrels descended from multiple Germanic and Celtic peoples with a smattering of others. Norman isn’t a race. Saxon isn’t a race. The Normans were hateful bigoted bastards, but their hatred of Saxons wasn’t racism.

              • Malaclypse says:

                So, “functionally indistinguishable from racism,” then?

                Norman isn’t a race. Saxon isn’t a race.

                Neither is “black” or “white,” biologically. If Normanism is socially constructed as a race, it is a race.

              • Bloix says:

                They aren’t races to us. But they were races in the 19th c. Type in “Saxon race” at google books and you come up with stuff like this:

                “The early Saxons: or, The character and influence of the Saxon race,” published by the
                American Sunday-School Union in 1842.

        • Murc says:

          Gondor declines as they intermingle with non-Numenoreans.

          This is flat-out untrue and it’s a slur on the work.

          In Tolkien’s histories of the Kings of Gondor, ELDACAR, the half-caste heir to the throne born as a result of race-mixing, is the hero. Castamir and his buddies, the racist purebloods, are the evil villains.

          • Murc says:

            And to expand on that, Gondor declines as a state because of civil war, plague, external threats, and some bad decisions made by its leaders.

            The Dunedain ‘decline’ as a people because the special gifts the Valar gave the Numenoreans are slowly being withdrawn on account of how the Numenoreans turned out to be assholes. But they only decline in the sense that they don’t live for 250 years anymore.

            Tolkien is pretty fucking clear that nobility of spirit comes from within, and that it trumps literally everything else. This is why all of his huge heroes are NOBODIES. All of the badass Elves in the First Age tend to be arrogant fuckups and its the humans who save the day. When the humans get their shot, its the hobbits who save the day.

            • Malaclypse says:

              All of the badass Elves in the First Age tend to be arrogant fuckups and its the humans who save the day.

              Now this I will fight over. Most (not all) of the sons of Feanor were arrogant. So was Thingol, but if you were married to a Goddess, that might go to your head as well. Turgon, maybe. But Fingolfin? Finrod? And the savior(s) of the day were Eärendil and Elwing, who were literally no more human than Elrond was, given that he was their child.

              • Murc says:

                You raise some strong points.

                Fingolfin wasn’t arrogant, per se, but he was a fuckup. Him challenging Morgoth to single combat was a ballsy move and Tolkien managed to make a one-page fight more epic than it should have been, but he basically left his people leaderless at a time when they needed him most because he’d lost a major battle. The ONLY battle he’d ever lost. It was like he expected the war against Morgoth to nothing but a string of victories.

                Finrod… trickier. He sort of gets sucked into Turin’s orbit of ‘everything I touch withers and dies.’ But when you found a stronghold that’s supposed to be super-secret and whose strength depends on that secrecy, building an enormous fancy bridge that leads right to it is probably dumb.

                I would also note that Finrod is primarily ennobled via his interaction with Men. His big moments all involve Barahir and Beren.

                As for Earendil, the only reason he wasn’t human is because of his wife. The race of Man has always claimed him as one of their own and the Elves have accepted that claim largely.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  It was like he expected the war against Morgoth to nothing but a string of victories.

                  Morgoth was scared to accept the challenge, which must mean that Fingolfin could have won, and ended the whole damn war then and there.

                • Murc says:

                  Except for the part where Sauron walks out, finishes off a wounded Fingolfin, and takes over.

                  That notwithstanding, I’m not sure you can really kill a god that way. Morgoth may have been afraid of fighting Fingolfin just because Morgoth is a craven who fears pain.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  That notwithstanding, I’m not sure you can really kill a god that way.

                  Not when the author is both a competent storyteller and omnipotent. But from inside the story, I still give Fingolfin mad props.

                • Murc says:

                  But from inside the story, I still give Fingolfin mad props.

                  Funny story; I was discussing the conclusion to Wheel of Time with a friend the other day, and I pointed out that a lot of the final confrontations were a lot of sturm and drang with very little meat on them. He was skeptical that you could convey an epic battle of a long hero against a singular evil presence in just a few lines.

                  I referred him to Fingolfin v. Morgoth. There’s more menace and evil in ‘And Morgoth came.’ than there is in entire volumes of lesser work.

          • Malaclypse says:

            Okay, I can swear I remember reading something like “the decline of the bloodlines of Gondor” in the Appendixes, but I do yield to your greater nerditude in remembering Castamir.

            That said, the longevity of the Numenoreans does decline as they intermingle with “lesser men.”

            • Murc says:

              That is true. The term ‘lesser men’ does get bandied about a lot.

              It’s problematic. On the one hand, as I said, Tolkien usually makes it clear that bloodline doesn’t matter when it comes to personal worth; you can be lowborn as fuck but your inner nobility will raise you high, and people born as the scions of noble houses who are quasi-gods (looking at you, Feanor) can turn into evil fuckwits.

              On the other hand, he does make it clear that there are special gifts that do transmit racially. Dwarves, for example, are the only race that can’t be corrupted against their will; they can even resist the evil imbued in their Rings. The Dunedain really do have some special sauce in their blood.

              To which I can only say, well… if there really were an ethnic group that lived to be 250 years old as a matter of course and enjoyed magical protection of their environment, those guys could make a credible claim to their genetic structure being a cut above most other people.

      • rea says:

        And “races” is perhaps the wrong word, although I think Tolkien himself uses it at times. But elves and dwarves and men and hobbits and ents and orcs are different species.

      • Bloix says:

        Definitely, LOTR is also an allegory of the good rural agrarian past struggling against the evil urban industrial future, and the two allegorical battles don’t correspond very well at all – Sauron is a despotic Oriental monarch, but his ally Saruman is an industrial robber baron of the Gilded Age.

    • Anonymous says:

      As one would expect, Bloix’s comment breaks down after the word “Obviously.”

    • SpaceSquid says:

      “Obviously” strikes me as a stretch. It’s not so much that I can’t see any given trait of Tolkien races matching up with at least one stereotypical portrayal of given nationality during his era, as “broad-strokes potrayal” and “lazy, racist assumptions” are bound to have so large an intersection that arguing the former follows from the latter requires far more than simple assertion.

      On the more general subject of fantasy (and indeed sci-fi) races seeming to all act more or less the same; I’ve always wondered whether it really is particularly unreasonable to assume that another race might be so outside of our ability to comprehend in specific terms that we might only be able to see them in the most broad sense. From my admittedly limited understanding, one of the primary objections to this thinking as regards different human nationalities and races is that it attempts to impute a sense of “the other” to elements of our own species, and we now recognise that as racist bullshit. Does it follow though that it must also be entirely unreasonable as regards what is actually a thoroughly different species.

      Or, to put it another way, if cats could talk, would I be racist to suggest they tend not to give a shit about anything but their next meal?

      • Malaclypse says:

        On the more general subject of fantasy (and indeed sci-fi) races seeming to all act more or less the same; I’ve always wondered whether it really is particularly unreasonable to assume that another race might be so outside of our ability to comprehend in specific terms that we might only be able to see them in the most broad sense.

        You should read Elizabeth Bear’s stuff.

      • Bloix says:

        Tolkien’s races map fairly well onto European stereotypic races. Hobbits are English country folk. Dwarves are Germanic. Elves are nordic (and somewhat god-like.) Orcs are like Turkish mercenary armies at the gates of Vienna. Men can be northern and western – tall, light-skinned and eyed, ie, Viking-like -or southern and eastern, short and dark, like Arabs – or something in the middle – the riders of Rohan, who are like Cossacks.

        • jackd says:

          the riders of Rohan, who are like Cossacks.

          Cossack might be a decent analogy, but the language and culture as depicted in LoTR says they’re idealized Anglo-Saxons with horses. A good number of the names of the kings of Rohan come directly from Anglo-Saxon terms for nobility.

  12. John F says:

    Anyway, time for my favorite Tolkien related anecdote, from College in the 80s, a professor recites a student’s (without identifying the student) comments regarding LOTR, something like this:

    “A big problem with the story is a complete lack of dread or danger, Tolkien writes about ‘unspeakable horrors’ and stuff going on in Sauron’s dungeons, but Tolkien is polite and upper class British, you just know that to him a horror is unspeakable because he can’t actually imagine or describe anything worse than his Tea time crumpets being stale”

    The professor responded along these lines: Tolkien was a young man when World War I occurred, he served in the army and experienced trench warfare, literally every single childhood/school friend he had died in that war, many of whose deaths he likely witnessed- do you know what trench warfare entailed? The real life horrors and deprivations that Tolkien actually saw and experienced, are by all odds far worse than what this dismissive reviewer can imagine.

    • rea says:

      Yeah, a guy who spent years as an invalid due to an infection contracted from lice in the front line trenches isn’t exactly a hoity-toity aristo.

      • Anna in PDX says:

        In the foreword to LOTR he reminds people that by 1918 all but one of his best friends were dead. He is trying to say that he did not mean it to be an allegory for WWII and anyhow the war he was the most intimately involved in was WWI.

  13. Conrad says:

    I don’t think Jackson as a pakeha director has any obligation to cast Maori or Pacific Island actors in positive roles. There are quite a few Maori directors making movies who can do that should they wish to. For Jackson to play the champion for Maori actors could be seen as pretty damn presumptious by the likes of Lee Tamahori, Taika Waititi or Toa Fraser.

    As for Nathaniel Lees I think he (or maybe Kirk Torrance) would make a fine older Ged if someone ever gets round to doing Earthsea as written. Polynesians seem a pretty natural fit for a Le Guin’s archipelago world.

    • Chester says:

      I honestly don’t recall if the big pro-New Zealand aspect of the movies was something Jackson pushed or if it was something that was attached to the movie by New Zealand’s tourist board.

      The thing is, one way or the other, the movie has come to be seen as a representation of New Zealand – and the Maori actors are cast exclusively as blood-thirsty monsters. And you know – people LOVE to talk about Jar Jar Binks, but no one ever bothers to talk about the problem of having all your Maoris playing monsters. Why? Because Maoris aren’t known to many (whtie) people around the world. They’re invisible. And that’s the way Jackson made sure they would stay – invisible behind orc make-up. Does he have a responsibility to Maori actors? That’s debatable, but the fact is that he had a chance and he didn’t take it. That speaks to his character and tells us what he TRULY loves about New Zealand.

      It would certainly be presumptuous of a stupid person to “play champion” for another race, which is why it would take some informed, intelligent, and sensitive casting decisions. Again, he doesn’t have to “play champion,” he just has to give a bare minimum effort.

      • Leeds man says:

        Because Maoris aren’t known to many (whtie) people around the world. They’re invisible.

        Whale Rider? Once Were Warriors? The All Blacks? I’d guess they are one of the higher-profile (if not better known) First Nations of the white-colonized world.

  14. Paul says:

    [QUOTE]That said, the longevity of the Numenoreans does decline as they intermingle with “lesser men.”[/QUOTE]

    Actually it does not and the Good Guys who did not start the ‘race war’ live longer than purist looser side.

  15. SEK says:

    You know, the last time I wrote about Tolkien I specifically told everyone not to talk about race, and everyone replied that they wouldn’t have if I hadn’t mentioned it. This time I took everyone’s advice and didn’t talk about race so as to avoid the conversation about race, and what do I return home to find?

    One hundred and fifty comments, the majority of which are about race. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you people.

    • daveNYC says:

      Non-race related question then. A major point of your post is that the sequence is effective because it breaks with the standard sequence of shots that one would expect from a scene like that. If that’s a correct take on your post, how effective do you think the sequence would be on someone who isn’t as genre savvy (visual genre savvy, so to speak).

      • SEK says:

        Equally. As I tell my students every quarter, they’re very good at watching film and television, have been doing it all their lives, and they’ve got an implicit sense of how it works. When I hand them the sixty-six film terms on the second day of class, they might not know the words, but they have an intuitive understanding of the concepts behind them.

    • rea says:

      Mythological creatures face serious discrimination in our society, despite the prominent role orcs play in the Republican majority in the House. Tolkien is responsible for many of the offensive stereotypes that perpetuate this legacy of oppression.

  16. njorl says:

    My theory of art and entertainment is that what is most enjoyable is when I encounter that which I should have expected, but didn’t. It’s interesting how it works for a punchline of a joke, a variation on a musical theme, and now, it seems, shot framing for movies.

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