Saturday, December 1, 2012
Six Tolkien Scenes that others did better than Peter Jackson
I was introduced to Tolkien through that special, and later when I read the book, I was amazed at how faithful the little TV cartoon actually was to the source material . At no point did I have to wonder where the book went wrong. Sure, things were missing. But notably, nothing had been added. Except for some strange animation choices due to the animation work at the Japanese studios, I've always held the animated special in high regards, and still consider it the most faithful adaptation of all Tolkien's works, Jackson's attempt included. Oh, and I adore the songs, and consider the recited version of the Dwarve's lamentation over the fall of the Lonely Mountain to Smaug, narrated by the great John Huston and Hans Conried, to be one of the artistic high points of any filmed version of any of Tolkien's works.
Still, the modern Internet tendency of 'everything before 1992 sucked, isn't everything since 1992 so cool?' will no doubt play up the comparisons with the release of Jackson's The Hobbit in a couple days. This is in keeping with that post-Jackson fashionable trend to trash and hash every previous attempt at bringing Tolkien's works to life. I can't help but notice, however, that the critics who weep over Rankin/Bass's removal of Beorn or the Arkenstone, seem to overlook the myriad additions, plot holes, post-modernizing of the characters and general dumbing down of Jackson's versions. Oh, there was plenty that was good and watchable, especially at the beginning (dismissing Arwen, Warrior Elf Princess), but for every profound Tolkien dialogue or cinimatic wonder of Jackson's trilogy, we were beset with surfing elves and belching dwarves.
So in thinking of what the upcoming three part movie series based on The Hobbit will be like, I'm reminded that each and every attempt to adapt Tolkien's works has had some hits and misses. And in all due respect to Jackson fans, those hits were sometimes well beyond anything that Jackson, with all his superficial over-directing of CGI battles scenes, was able to overcome. Naturally I can't speak to upcoming The Hobbit, but based on his first three Tolkien films, the following are scenes that he filmed, but were done much better by previous attempts, at least IMHO.
In all, not necessarily the worst job Jackson did, it's just that Rankin/Bass did it so much better.
Sometimes the scenes Jackson filmed were six of one, half dozen of the other. Both journeys portrayed by Jackson and Bakshi had their merits, though Bakshi did better keeping things within the characters, while Jackson's tendency to portray the young as hip to things and the old as losing it, has Gandalf less the bold leader as often as the grumbling geezer who has to wait for others to solve his problems (see the puzzle at the entrance to the Mines of Moria).
To be sure, there were some places Jackson shined when he altered the material, most noticeably the destruction of the ring sequence, showing the sudden realization of the Fellowship regarding Frodo and Sam's plight in the midst of the destruction, immediately before the movie switches to two little figures shown running for their lives through a collapsing Mount Doom. And this isn't to say the Rankin/Bass or Bakshi versions didn't have their own problems. Sure they did. But again, if you dismiss those problems, as fans of Jackson are so quick to dismiss his, then they were great films, too. The point is, no attempt to bring Tolkien to the screen hasn't been without its problems. A plight not exactly confined to Tolkien's books either. There is going to be something that has to go. The best version so far, Rankin/Bass's 1977 animated The Hobbit, is good at keeping with the heart of the story, keeping basic elements of Tolkien-fare within the production, and not adding things that become cringe worthy after the first viewings. We'll see how Jackson does in a few days.