Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Heath and Mike Return to Middle Earth
Heath: You and I both love The Lord of the Rings, and I think those movies have eclipsed the Star Wars saga for both of us. That's really saying something. What do you think it is about the series that makes it so meaningful to you?
Mike: Wow, that's hard to say. LotR has meant different things to me at different times in my life. When I saw them theatrically, what excited me most about them was the actual filmmaking involved. It pushed every right button with me, from the music to the dialogue. The cast is fantastic, the special effects top-notch and the photography beautiful. Peter Jackson directed the hell out of those movies. I love when I can watch something and cannot wrap my head around how something was put together. The Helm's Deep sequence in The Two Towers, for example. If you were Peter Jackson, WHERE THE HELL DO YOU BEGIN? It's breathtaking.
While that might sound corny, they're all things that are important to me, and most of all they are lessons I want to share with my kids. I could go on and on, but I figure that's a brief, but accurate depiction of what LotR means to me. How about you? Were you a fan of the books before seeing the movies?
Heath: I was definitely a fan of the books from high school onward, but it wasn't until the movies that I really went crazy with it. Do you remember that first trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring? It was a teaser that showed the fellowship coming up over the crest of mountain in slow motion with snowy peaks in the background. After I saw that, I devoted myself to re-reading all of the books. I wanted to make sure that I was familiar with the world when I saw the films.
Like you, I feel like the story has aged with me over time and taken on new meanings. A decade ago I loved them for the same reasons you did. But living with them over the years revealed new meanings for me, just like it did for you. They speak about the importance of nature and the importance of balance. They teach the dangers of power and the complicated world of politics.
And I agree that they ultimately are about friendship and sacrifice. Star Wars is about all of those things too, but it feels broad, whereas LotR feels almost biblical to me. There's just so much in there that can be unpacked and thought about. There really is no end to what can be taken from it. It's remarkable that one man, J. R. R. Tolkien, was able to create such a universe, but it's also a miracle that Peter Jackson was able to translate that world from the page to the screen, arguably without losing what makes it so amazing. He realized the world so perfectly, and it feels so lived-in and accessible.
Do you feel like he's succeeding in doing the same thing with The Hobbit?
As far as whether or not I feel Jackson is pulling off the same thing with The Hobbit, I'm not sure yet. The thing is, I really like The Hobbit. I saw it a couple of times in the theater and have watched it a handful more times since then, and I think I enjoy it a little more each time.
But the truth is, I don't love it. That's not to say it's lacking in the themes or messages that LotR brought us, it is still Tolkien after all, it's just that failed to capture me the way Fellowship did right off of the bat. I think there are a handful of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that I just don't connect with the dwarves the way I did with the Fellowship. Gimli, while I like him, was always my least favorite of the nine. The Hobbit is filled with Gimlis. I just don't care or connect with them the same way. I still love Gandalf, and I think Martin Freeman's Bilbo is fantastic, but the dwarves leave me a bit cold. Does that mean he's not succeeding with The Hobbit? For me, not as much.
I know you're a big fan of The Hobbit, and you've covered this in a great piece you wrote last year. But now that you've spent more time with it, has your enthusiasm waned at all? Has it grown?
Heath: I totally love your Elijah Wood quote. We still quote the movies in our house regularly. For instance, every single time we cook potatoes, I can't help saying "po-ta-toes? Boil em, mash, put 'em in a stew?" Then there's "Is it secret? Is it safe?" It works for more than you'd think. We also frequently mention Elijah Wood's "I've Been Stabbed" face, which he gets to use alarmingly often in the movies. He opens his mouth, furrows his brow, and goes "unhhhhhhhhhhhh!", so when we're watching something else where someone gets stabbed, we will sometimes say "oh, they should have brought in Elijah Wood to do his stabbed face."
Thanks for the mention of my column on the first Hobbit movie. That was just like we rehearsed, and your check is in the mail. To answer you, I do still love An Unexpected Journey, but not as much as I love the other films before it. There aren't a lot of things that bother me about those first three LotR movies, but I find myself making a lot of excuses for what I've seen so far in this new trilogy. Even that -- the fact that it's a trilogy -- really bothers me.
But then as soon as I admit that, I feel really terrible, because I love the world so much. I'd take it over anything else. As soon as the familiar music starts, I feel like I'm home. The first time we watched An Unexpected Journey, my wife fell asleep. She said it wasn't because she was bored, but because she felt so at peace being back in Middle Earth. The stakes in The Hobbit aren't for the entire world, they're much more character-based, so it feels a little safer. But having said that…the trilogy aspect feels very forced and artificial. So neither of us are quite as crazy about The Hobbit as we are about Lord of the Rings, even though we both like it. Is that because we've had so long to live with the original three movies, or is it due to shortcomings in the movie? Aside from dwarves (who never did anything to hurt you, I might add), can you point to anything else that doesn't quite work? Either in The Lord of the Rings or in The Hobbit? Maybe something that rhymes with Smadagast?
Mike: While my love of the LotR movies has increased as time has gone by, my affection for them was strong from the very beginning. They actually made me want to read the books, Heath! THEY MADE ME WANT TO READ! I hope that as time goes by I hope to like The Hobbit more and more (that's already started), but I have a long way to go before I would want to throw in An Unexpected Journey before any of the LotR movies. Besides the dwarves, there are a number of things that don't work for me as much. First and foremost is the lack of practical effects.
As someone that read the books, do you feel the movies did the books justice? Do you like the changes that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens made to the story?
Heath: I just don't know, Mike. It depends on the day, you know? As I'm writing this, I'm watching part of the nine hours of appendices on the Unexpected Journey extended edition Blu-ray, and I'm thinking that the everything about the movie is perfect. When they're talking about all the decisions behind the movie, they make perfect sense. Peter Jackson says that The Hobbit was far more difficult to adapt because of the number of characters and the nuances of the story. And I'm watching this and I'm thinking, "Yeah! There are thirteen dwarves, and each needs a completely different personality. And of course each one of the three movies needs distinct acts and closure before we can go on to the next one." Then, later, I'll be somewhere else, thinking about the book and how simple it is, and I get kind of upset, because it has so little of those things. Only a few of the dwarves are fleshed out with any personality. The plot is short, simple, and straightforward. All these new elements in the movie about the rise of Sauron and the return of ancient evil have been manufactured specifically for these movies because they come after a famous film trilogy and must reference what has come before. And I don't like that at all.
But Peter Jackson is such an amazing filmmaker that he makes me forget about my convictions when I'm watching these movies. In fact, it's not just Peter Jackson -- it's the entire team. Watching the special features, it appears that Andy Serkis directed hours of these movies as the second unit director, and there is a SECOND second unit director who shot a bunch of stuff, too. But it all feels like a whole, and it all has the exact same feel.
So I'm being totally hypocritical about a lot of this because I'm really torn. I like some of what Peter Jackson has added, and I don't like other things. I don't like Azog as a through-line. I don't like Radagast being used for comic relief. That's completely manufactured. Radagast is spoken of in the books only in passing. Now we have a goofy character who rides a sled drawn by bunny rabbits? WTF?!
And I REALLY don't like that they're bringing back Legolas for the next movie. It's like you fellas talked about over and over on the podcast when you talked about the Star Wars prequels. When you explain EVERYTHING, you shrink the universe. By bringing in so many characters that we already know, they're shrinking the universe. And Middle Earth doesn't need to be smaller, because it's HUGE. That's all just for people to come to the movies and go "I know that guy!" Which is no reason to throw characters in where they don't belong. I'm actually quite worried about the next two chapters of these movies, the third more than the second. There's just not that much story, and there seems to be a lot of manufacturing going on here. Tolkien wrote THOUSANDS of pages of the history of Middle Earth. There's a twelve-volume book set that's just a fictional history of it. So there's NO NEED to make your own story up.
I've written a TON, and now I've gotten myself a little worked up, too. Can you steer us into happier territory? Did you know that the original Lord of the Rings trilogy played a huge part in my becoming a pipe enthusiast? Or that the ladies call me Wormtongue? That's a lie.
Mike: You've left me no room to add anything. YOU'VE USED ALL THE WORDS. All I can say now is that while I didn't love An Unexpected Journey, I loved being back in Middle-Earth, and I'm still looking forward to the sequels. My hope is that the next two will be so good that they'll actually enhance my enjoyment of the first. Of course I said the same thing about my hope for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith...