“But they left out..!”

The Lord of the Rings, Part 1 film, also known as “the Fellowship of the Ring” (and hereafter called LoTR1 for ease of typing) is one of those that we call a “yet” movie. You don’t ask your friends if you’ve seen it; you ask them if they’ve seen it yet. It’s a foregone conclusion that you/they are going to see it, it’s only a matter of when.

I did not go to see LoTR1 when it opened, nor for a couple of weeks after it opened. As I’ve said before, I won’t wait in line for any movie, not even the Elfquest one. (One hopes I’ve managed previously to score a backstage pass for that one!) Also, I run hot and cold on sitting in audiences that are heavily fan-laden. On the one hand, if the film is a good one (the “X-Men” adaptation springs to mind), viewer reaction can be a pure hysterical hoot:

(Wolverine: “Hey, it’s me.”
Cyclops: “Prove it.”
“You’re a dick.”
And the crowd goes nuts.)

On the other hand no one, no group, can vivisect a film, even as it’s unfolding upon the screen, as can fervent celluloid buffs. The chatter of running commentary – particularly if the chatterers have already seen the movie and I have not – will drive me into a black humor even more quickly than the incessant crackle of Twizzler wrappers in the seat behind me.

So as I generally do, I opted to wait a bit to see what some were already calling “the greatest movie ever made.” (Which can’t be true, as we’re still working on that one.) It was a matinee presentation, which showings almost always afford the twin benefits of lower ticket cost and a kinder, gentler audience.

To say that LoTR1 is the greatest movie ever made is senseless; how do you compare it to, say, the harpstring-taut drama of “Twelve Angry Men” or the charming, geeky yet deep soul truth of “Defending Your Life”? To say, however, that the first installment in the Rings trilogy is mind-bogglingly visually stunning, crafted with more than enough narrative tension to keep one on the edge of one’s seat for every minute of the film’s too-short three hours, and infused with more love and respect for both J.R.R. Tolkien’s sagaand audience sensibilities than any other five recent movies, would not be overstatement. I was so overwhelmed by the sheer flood of visual and aural delights that I had to catch the film a second time, just to fill in the gaps. LoTR1 is about as good as it gets, and I await the second and third installments with high anticipation.

But wait, you say, they left out stuff! They didn’t even mention Tom Bombadil and they moved events around and they revealed Aragorn’s secret way too early and Galadriel gave the travelers more than just the one bottle and…

Exactly so. And exactly right.

But, you continue, how can you say that the film’s director and producers respect the audience when they’ve taken such liberties with the original story?

I was hoping you’d ask. A lot of people, over the half-century since it was published, have read and enjoyed and loved Tolkien’s richly-woven tale of hobbits and elves, men and dark lords, wizards and dwarves. And to those readers and fans, I believe the film’s director Peter Jackson and his helpers have said, in effect, “It’s impossible in a movie to present you the entirety of the Rings trilogy, for good and sensible reasons of cost and time, but we’ll give you as much as we can, as faithfully as possible.”

But many, many more people than have, have not read the story. (Or not read it yet, at any rate.) I’m one of them, and I like to think, in my own never-unnecessarily-humble way that I, even more than the Tolkien aficionados, represent the audience that the filmmakers were aiming for. To me and all those like me, I fancy Jackson saying, “All right, you’ve not read the tale so you don’t really know Merry and Pippin from Moxie and Pepsi. However, you have read enough books to know good storytelling from bad, and you’ve seen enough movies to know when something works, and when it doesn’t, even if you don’t always know why. And most important, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and allow yourselves to fly away from your world and into this new one. There are many hundreds of pages of original material. To keep the pace brisk, we’re going to distill acres of description into a mere glimpse of high towers, and to catch you up quickly, we’ll let you in early on some juicy secrets. From a million words, we’re going to extract everything needed – but not one whit more, for that would be a distraction – to weave for you a wonderful, meaningful, consistent adventure, that you need know nothing about before you sit down with your popcorn and soda to await the dimming of the lights.”

And for my money, twice, that’s exactly what he did, the director and his many helpers. As I sit here writing, I can’t call to mind the details of how long this incarnation of the Rings project took from inception to fruition. I do know that over more than twenty years there have been several attempts to bring Frodo’s quest to the big and small screens. Some of you reading these words are younger than the Rings movie project itself! Gollum alone knows how many inspirations, irritations, aggravations, negotiations, meetings, memos, phone calls, starts, stops and stumbles there were on the road from there and back again, finally to bring something true and beautiful to waiting eyes and ears and hearts. Ultimately, all the time, toil, heartbreak and frustration may be forgotten when the story – as true as can be – is written across the sky in thunder and skyfire.

Why, you might be asking, am I spending all this verbiage on the long and difficult but ultimately oh so satisfying path that Tolkien’s Lord of the Ringshas taken from print to projection when this is, after all, a web site devoted to Elfquest?

LoTR is a huge and sprawling epic tale told of many dozens of characters in many hundreds of pages; EQ is a huge and sprawling epic tale told of many dozens of characters in many hundreds of pages. LoTR took, it seems, forever to get to the screen. EQ is taking, it seems, forever to get to the screen. LoTR finally made its grand leap aided by the heads, hands and hearts of people who unquestionably love the story enough both to change what needed changing and to leave be what’s right. We love ours no less; we’re simply still on the road and sometimes there are orcs to fight.

Why, in a column about Elfquest do I hold a mirror to Lord of the Rings? Do you really need to ask… my precious?

Shade and Sweet Jujubes!

Richard Pini