Tolkien the Movie. (Arts)

By Wood, Ralph C. | The Christian Century, January 2, 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Tolkien the Movie. (Arts)


Wood, Ralph C., The Christian Century


THE FIRST OF THREE annual film installments of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1,500-page epic The Lord of the Rings, directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson, has many fine qualities. The New Zealand scenery evokes the fantastically real world of Tolkien's Middle-earth, and the tunnelly hobbit-homes are finely rendered. The special effects--whether in the brilliance of Gandalf's magical fireworks or the hideousness of the fiend called the Balrog--are also well done. Jackson gives riveting attention to the actors' faces, especially the discerning eyes of the wizard Gandalf. The film's pacing nicely echoes the undulating movement of the book, as it moves from chilling confrontations with orcs and trolls and ringwraiths to episodes of tranquil splendor in the elven reams of Rivendell and Lorien. These latter places have a late Victorian loveliness about them, while the scenes of horror might have been borrowed from Hieronymus Bosch.

In times like these, it is remarkable that the two blockbuster films of the season--Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Fellowship of the Ring--contain neither nudity nor profanity nor sex scenes. But Fellowship is a wholesome movie not because it avoids these, but because it is whole. The Company of Nine Walkers charged with the task of destroying the one ruling Ring of power are not one-dimensional figures but embodiments of virtues: courage and trust, love and loyalty, friendship and resolute will. Both characters and viewers are made to feel the corrupting lure of the Ring. Knowing well that its power will ruin them, hobbits and wizards and men are nonetheless tempted to wield that power. The deeds of the wicked are depicted in arresting and memorable ways--especially the underground metal-works for manufacturing monstrous weapons of war. After September 11, the movie also serves as a salutary reminder that war is not an antiseptic affair of bombs dropped from on high, but that the battle against evil is dirty and dangerous and unending.

Yet in making iniquity obvious and uncomplicated, the film departs from Tolkien's heroic fantasy in lamentable ways. Consider Saruman, Gandalf's fellow wizard. In the movie he is utterly sinister, while in the book he is an almost tragic instance of good gone wrong, a figure who wants to make an alliance with the demonic Sauron for the sake of a benevolent despotism. The film does show the warrior Boromir to be genuinely conflicted about wanting to use the Ring, but it fails to clarify the nature of his quandary. Tolkien, by contrast, reveals that the Ring corrupts virtues far more than it preys on vices. Boromir's stouthearted willingness to die in defense of his assaulted people tempts him to employ the Ring against the evil Sauron. His bravery is the source of his undoing, even as the wizard Gandalf is threatened by his compassion, and the elven-queen Galadriel by her beauty. Such subtleties and profundities are largely absent from the film.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Tolkien the Movie. (Arts)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?