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Kino Korner April 22, 2004
 
Bad Hobbit
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 

The charges: treason and sabotage. Jackson's three Lord of the Rings films are designed to sabotage all the most noble and unworldly elements of Tolkien's story, depriving poor Middle Earth disciples of their last dream refuge. Jackson's motive for this odious crime is in part simple lust for fame and money. He may not have set out to destroy Tolkien fans' capacity for faith in the trilogy; the poisoning of their mental Middle Earths may be, let's say, "collateral damage" in Jackson's campaign to make a version of LOTR which, by reversing the charge of Tolkien's books, would reassure and flatter "real-world" people, the ones who read the Financial section and like sports -- in the process creating a sort of cinematic deprogramming for the faithful, an anti-LOTR. Or was it malice?

After watching the three films, the real-world types will exit relieved and confirmed in their heresies, while the true soldier of Middle Earth will feel bewilderment followed by depression, then at last the withering of one's precious, private Tolkien shrine. Worst of all, most Tolkien fans will suffer this without understanding how evil Jackson's films really are, because he has created superficially "faithful" versions of the trilogy, with dialogue largely taken from the books, and narrative pretty much scene-for-scene from the original. It is via more subtle devices like purposeful mis-casting and shifts of emphasis that Jackson envenoms the three films.

Jackson's first betrayal is one of emphasis: he consistently tilts the story toward what is little, away from what is most high, difficult and anti-real in Tolkien. Above all, he defiles the elves, Tolkien's finest creation. In this, at least, Jackson seems to show real malice rather than simple lust for mass popularity. He truly hates the elves, and loves their philistine antithesis, the hobbits.

Jackson is on record as saying he "identifies with" the hobbits. As many adoring Jackson profilers have pointed out, he even looks like a hobbit: he's short, fat and hairy. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. True Tolkien fans are often no feast for the eyes--because ugliness, sexual ineligibility, is one of the most-traveled paths leading people to reject the actual world for Middle Earth. I should know.

Jackson's affinity with the hobbits is ideological; he's simply most at home with what the hobbits represent in LOTR: the cozy, low, quaint villages of the Shire. The part of Middle Earth which Jackson can't grasp, let alone depict convincingly, is the high and alien doom of the elves.

Tolkien's elves are a rare instance of successful twentieth-century sublime. They have nothing in common with the malign Sidhe or Victorian "fairies in the garden." They are tall, distant, virtually immortal, and heartbreakingly beautiful. And, like all the most precious things in Middle Earth, they are already on the decline, making way for "the age of men." If you can't do the elves properly, you can't do LOTR. You end up with what Jackson, in hobbit-like affected modesty, has said he made of the trilogy: "action films."

While slighting the elves, Jackson pampers his wretched hobbits. They become a sort of cultural flypaper; every distasteful fad in millennial low culture sticks to their furry pelts, lovingly showcased for the philistine viewer to cuddle. For example, the voguish cutesied-up Celtic vogue is indulged when we meet Pippin and Merry, who trot out every Celto-cliche going, from vaguely Irish/Scottish accents to red hair, hearty appetites and charming fecklessness. When Pippin sings a quasi-Celtic song to the Steward of Gondor, you'd think you were listening to a Lucky Charms commercial.

To be fair, Jackson didn't entirely impose this cornpone on the story. It's there in Tolkien's characterization of the lesser hobbits: something archaic, quaint, arising from Tolkien's Tory anti-industrial, feudal bias. And to some extent, "rural" and "archaic" shade into "Celtic" -- though Frodo and Sam are utterly English.The other crypto-Celt is Gollum, ne Smeagol -- a Celtic name for a stock character in British literature: the vindictive, whingeing Gaelic rebel.


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