Purism and liberalism reconsidered

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Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Eldorion on Mon Dec 12, 2011 11:12 pm

This is an inadvertently rambly and essayish post that I wrote for another forum that turned into an excuse to muse about the nature of debates over the movies. I'll admit that there is a bit of armchair theorizing going on, so I'm curious for the perspectives of people who both agree and disagree with my position on the movies as to whether I'm off-base or not. Very Happy

I think it's always been a given that the films are not/will not be "canon" since they are - obviously - their own work and not 100% Tolkien. What I don't understand, however, is people who continue to (especially since "the Tolkien Professor" Corey Olsen endorsed this point of view) insisted that it doesn't matter if there are changes because the books and films are "separate". They're not separate. It doesn't matter if people want them to be; but adaptations and the works they are based on are by definition related. Making it all the more odd is that the film-makers freely admit this relation, refer to it numerous times in documentaries and interviews, and even received awards for their work on adaptation.

I'm actually okay (in principle) with the idea of making changes during the process of adaptation. Sometimes I even prefer the changed versions to the original (the movie version of Kick-Ass comes to mind) and sometimes I just find it an entertaining alternative version (the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies are an example of this, though I suspect I'm in the minority here on that point!). In other cases, including The Lord of the Rings, I find the changes to be poorly thought-out and detrimental to the overall quality of the work, regardless of medium, even if I still find the adaptation to be overall enjoyable.

However, after having discussed and thought about this topic for about three years, it seems to me that many simply can not admit that they like both an adaptation and the original if there were substantial changes. Considering fandoms I'm familiar with, I've seen people go through some truly breathtaking mental gymnastics to try to claim that various alterations to the stories and characters of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter did not constitute true changes, usually by appealing to some Platonic ideal of the story or the "spirit" of the story that more often than not exists only in the minds of fans. I will admit that I am baffled by this position. In retrospect, many of the infamous "purist vs. revisionist" debates here seem to boil down not so much to "was making changes to the films acceptable?" but "were meaningful changes actually made to the films?"

Getting off this tangent and back to the original topic, it appears to me that the idea that the books and films are "separate" is another attempt to ignore the changes that were made in order to preserve some sort of mental harmony. Either by claiming that no changes were made, or that changes are irrelevant, people are able to like both the adaptation and the original while ignoring the many changes, additions, and deletions that the film-makers made. However, I think the more intellectually honest way to look at the films (as a fan who dislikes the idea of significant changes) is to say that they were not the most faithful adaptation possible but the movies were still enjoyable nonetheless. Few people seem to have trouble admitting that they enjoy movies despite certain flaws when those flaws are purely cinematic, but it seems few people will admit the same when those flaws have to do with changes in adaptation.

Perhaps I'm totally off-base here, but this is something I've thought about for a while and I'm curious what other people think. I don't want to speak for anyone and I realize that the movies have inspired a very wide range of reactions, so this post is not an attempt to shoe-horn anyone or everyone into certain categories. It is merely an observation I have made about a few of the more common perspectives that tend to be expressed on forums such as this.

Smile

Note: this isn't directed at anyone here; the people I had in mind when writing this are ones who post on other sites, including TORn. I'm just looking for feedback since I've piqued my own curiosity but recognize that my ability to be objective on this matter is somewhat limited since I've spent so much time and emotional energy discussing it in the past. study
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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Orwell on Mon Dec 12, 2011 11:50 pm

I confess, I'm not an either or person on this. I'm "more" Purist than "revisionist", but the idea of 'some' changes to the story do not offend me.

Examples: Purely unnecessary and vain changes irk me, like hyenas instead of wargs, and fights with them that never occurred.

But things like "Arwen" taking "Glorfindel's" role sit okay with me. Transferring her into a 'cameo" role (as Glorfindel's role is in the book, to some degree) was fine by me. Though PJ should have had her play Glorfindel's role as it was in the book. When Aragorn and Arwen's relationship was shown a little later, it would have worked perfectly well in my opinion.

Overall, PJ made up too much - and left too much out. Petty's Mega-edits throws this up in a clear light - he took four hours out. If we could have used those four hours to put in vital things like Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow-wights, and the Scouring of the Shire, the movies would have been both a better adaptation, and a better movie.

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:00 am

Well speaking as someone who found both cinematic and adaptive flaws in the films, enough to spoil them for me as either I have to say you don't go far enough Eldo, to wary of offending the PJ sympathisers I'll warrant. One must be bold.
I think they are remarkable technical accomplishments as films but also find them to be neither good films as films seperate form the books, nor good adaptations when taken in light of the books.
I find my own megaedit more watchable than PJ's cut but though its less offensive its still not in my view a good film, although thats not to say it does nt have good moments, it does just nowhere near enough to make up for the gaping flaws.

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Kafria on Wed Dec 14, 2011 7:19 pm

I have to say, claiming that a book and it's film adaptation are unrelated and separate seems completly daft to me. Even if you have not read a book you are likely to have heard of it by reputation (even if it's just "it's based on a book!"), and are aware in some context of the main thrust of the story.

In the case of the big name films you are talking about it is an even more ridiculous position to take, in large part the audiences that went to see these films went because of the books and the story they wanted to see. If they are separate then as long as Harry is a wizard and goes away to school anything else goes! (Or Frodo inherits a ring that everybod wants!)

I find myself somewhat torn on the subject of changes. The two media are completely different and so some changes in aid of making a good film are necessary. (I know it is not cool, but actually the twilight films are a good example of this, the first film was the least faithful to the books, panned by the fans, but to me is by far the best of the films as a film in it's own right. The more faithful to the books they have become the more unbearable they have been to watch.).

Changes in terms of omissions (such as Bombadil in FOTR) are acceptable to me, it is a shame not see it, but we can always imagine those sodden, nervy hobbits have just arrived having survived the barrow wrights, not simply from the riders. Reductions in peripheral characters and in some cases swtiching action from one of these to a more major character I can understand in terms of the pacing and time requirements of films. It is the changes that alter the overall tale (Faramir .... Blergh!) that I dislike.

Having said that I did enjoy the films when I saw them on theatrical release, still do and I think this comes from the suspension of disbelief with which I sit down to watch them, let the story take me in and carry me along, so yes I subscribe to the 'I can see the flaws, but still enjoy them' school of thought!

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Orwell on Thu Dec 15, 2011 5:57 am

The Bath time at Crick Hollow, The Old Forest, Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil and the Barrow wights are pivotal to my enjoyment of the books. Indeed, the build up of the Black Riders too. All of it is important and would make excellent viewing. "Peripheral", Kafria?! I'm this minute cancelling our date in 2014. Mad You've trangressed once too many times! Rolling Eyes

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Kafria on Thu Dec 15, 2011 7:27 am

I'm not saying they are unimportant or unenjoyable, I am saying in a film were pacing and time requirements have to be considered that things have to be lost. If someone asked you to talk about the books and what they are about and you wished to give then a concise answer I think your answer is likely to be about frodo, the ring and a rich landscape of men, elves, dwarves in an alliance againsts the dark lord and his minions, possibly something about the experiences of the 'ordinary man' in extraordinary situations. It is this that the film needs to stay true to.

(Ugg! horribly rambling sentence - sorry!)

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Dec 15, 2011 5:27 pm

I actually agree with you Kafria, but its all about what you decide to do. When transferring a book to cinema you can select in such a way to make a film which in its basics follows the narrative but actually fundementally alters what the original does- which is what PJ did.
But you could, especially with a book like LotR's have selected in a different way and told a different narrative, one closer to the source, even though it too would have had missing scenes and alteration.
The difference is one is a more serious, slower paced, character driven piece of cinema and the other a guaranteed blockbuster.
PJ it seems is not a gambling man.

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Kafria on Thu Dec 15, 2011 6:23 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:I actually agree with you Kafria,

It's not that unusual is it?

but its all about what you decide to do. When transferring a book to cinema you can select in such a way to make a film which in its basics follows the narrative but actually fundementally alters what the original does- which is what PJ did.
But you could, especially with a book like LotR's have selected in a different way and told a different narrative, one closer to the source, even though it too would have had missing scenes and alteration.
The difference is one is a more serious, slower paced, character driven piece of cinema and the other a guaranteed blockbuster.
PJ it seems is not a gambling man.

Okay, at the risk of going over old ground, what would have been your alternative opening sequence (just to keep this managable at the start!) Although I enjoy the prologue I have never been entirely convinced it was necessary, it seems more of a sop to studio execs who can't follow a story than a reasonable way to share this information. (it seems to be a common feature of film commentaries that actually an audience can follow a story with far less information than you think they need.)

I think I may even have been tempted to skip Bilbo and the party and cut into Frodos holding of a joint birthday party cut against the black riders invading the shire (Shock horror I know and it is problematic with how to do the discovery of the rings evil, bilbo flash backs would be a natural part of Frodos celebrations.) It seems to make a good beginning to me!

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Dec 15, 2011 6:58 pm

"It's not that unusual is it?"- Kafria.
Ha no. Badly worded on my part. I meant it might seem odd for a purist to be agreeing that big changes, or scenes being taken out or altered may well be necessary to adapt it.

I agree that the prologue is completely unnecessary. I think it's actually counter-productive as it presents the viewer with a lot of important information with no context to it, most of which the average viewer will have forgotten five minutes after the film starts. I would much rather 'flashback' scenes to those events during the Shadow of the Past bit of the film. I would probably have Aragorn maybe even fill in a little more of it, not accurate to the book but his knowledge of old tales is, and would retian that book element of his charcater.
I can see why they went for a prologue however, it has a big action scene in it, start with a bang and PJ is primarily a showman not a story teller. I also suspect he was influenced by his viewing of Bakshi's, which has a remarkably similar opening.
I thought Bilbo writing his book begining with Concerning Hobbits was a good idea however, it provides some background to the hobbits as a people and sets the scene of Shire life well. And I think it is probably necessary, seeing as Tolkien seemed to think so and put it first also.

I would have opened the film properly after the Concering Hobbits prologue in the Ivy Bush. Wth the talk all about Mad Baggins and his upcoming party and included a bit of the exchange between Gaffer and Sandyman about Sam being in and out of Bag End all the time and use that as a transition to Sam taking the party invite replies off the postie and up to Bag End. Then you'd see the sign on the gate, no admittance etc as he goes in and introduce Bilbo and Frodo that way.

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by chris63 on Fri Dec 16, 2011 6:01 am

Proverbs of middle earth, wasnt sure where to put this.

http://www.misterdavid.typepad.com/middle_earth/
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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Orwell on Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:33 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:I would much rather 'flashback' scenes to those events during the Shadow of the Past bit of the film. I would probably have Aragorn maybe even fill in a little more of it, not accurate to the book but his knowledge of old tales is, and would retian that book element of his charcater.

I agree Petty. Couldn't agree more! Very Happy (Even if I find your spelling of 'retain' atroshus. Rolling Eyes )

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Re: Purism and liberalism reconsidered

Post by Orwell on Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:33 pm

chris63 wrote:Proverbs of middle earth, wasnt sure where to put this.

http://www.misterdavid.typepad.com/middle_earth/

As good a place as any, I guess, Chris. Very Happy

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