Look what they've done to Middle-earth, Ma
Was it worth the wait? Sure. But it would have been nice if I had had a T1 connection. After several false starts it took me more than an hour to download the sneak preview, although I must have watched it at least 15 times as it downloaded. I saw new images each time I played the movie (which requires Apple's QuickTime 4.1 and is over 18 megabytes long).
What did I see? Glimpses, here and there, of things to come. Sean Bean as Boromir holding the Ring (earlier I said it was Isildur, but I've been corrected on this point), a gorgeous Liv Tyler racing through the woods, five Nazgul attacking hobbits (probably the Weathertop scene), a fantastic (and quite inaccurate but otherwise forgivable) rendition of the Company of the Ring moving through (I think) Lorien (probably on their way to meet Celeborn and Galadriel), thousands of Orcs marching through Mordor, four members of the Fellowship trekking down a hillside (probably in Eregion), a skeletal projection of a troll, a woman in a mysterious prosthetic body (possibly for helping model the troll, or maybe an Ent).
The music they selected for the promo was excellent. I stole a pair of speakers to make sure I could hear it, but the quality of the sound was distorted. I'm not sure if I selected the wrong size file to download of if the source file was corrupted, but one person did mention bad sound before I left TheOneRing.Net's IRC chat room.
There are other shots I haven't mentioned. Peter Jackson appears in front of what look like warriors in full plate armor (another mark that Tolkien purists will hold against the films, I'm sure, but it wasn't clear to me whether these were models for some sort of CGI or someone's foolishly misguided idea of Middle-earthian knights).
My initial reaction is that it's all quite breathtaking. I hope to be able to watch the show again with a more reasonable computer sometime in the near future.
Am I discouraged about the films? Nope. I expected visual inaccuracies, though not for the reasons people might think. Peter Jackson should not be faulted for the way his warriors are adorned (and the Orcs, though very much like Alan Lee's Orcs, little resemble the creatures Tolkien described, but I think they'll win legions of admirers who are sick-to-death of RPG-style green-skinned Orcs). No, Jackson is not to blame for the misappropriation of Tolkien's world. He is, after all, relying on people who should know better than to foist some of this nonsense on the world of fantasy film.
But so many naysayers have been predicting doom and gloom for so long now that I had best cut short my criticisms before I sound too much like I'm a part of the inevitable wave of "I Told You So" claimants.
I didn't tell you it would look like this. And I am NOT disappointed with what I've seen. So what if Jackson's Middle-earth doesn't look like Tolkien's? A drunken sailor's account of how he got back to the ship would little resemble the truth, but he'll still get back to the ship. Jackson's films are going to bring Middle-earth to life the way no one has been able to do so before. If I hear one more person say, "Well, the BBC cut Bombadil and they did a great job" I think I'll shoot them. No, the BBC did a LOUSY job because they cut Bombadil. Jackson may still be hung for cutting Bombadil, but he won't be hung for creating the visual spectacle that he has in the mold.
This Middle-earth is going to jump off the screen. It's going to seem so real and vibrant. The myriad of landscapes we see in the Internet preview is astounding. They've been filming for six months and they've still got eight more months to go. There are parts of Jackson's Middle-earth which we have yet to even get glimpses of.
I caught a glimpse of Legolas in battle, too. I think he's going to be fantastic. The only mistake in Legolas' portrayal, that I sense more than see, is that he might come across like a Noldorin warrior of the first age to many fans. Which is not so bad. Tolkien's Elves were tough, strong, and bitter enemies when aroused. Legolas SHOULD seem like a lean, mean killing machine compared to the human warriors around him.
Gimli, unfortunately, looks like an AD&D Dwarf, but I have no real qualms about that because I am confident John Rhys-Davies will give him the character he needs. JRD is a very reassuring element in the mixture that will produce Gimli.
And did I mention that Ian McKellen LOOKS like Gandalf? I mean, he LOOKS like Gandalf. Or was that Christopher Lee as Saruman? The two are supposed to be difficult to distinguish from one another in the book. You make the call.
There were some shots which were hard to make out. For example, there is a scene where a lot of mounted people are rushing through a forest. It was very blurry for me, so I won't make any guesses about what it's supposed to be portraying. But I was very reminded of the attack on Conan's village in Conan the Barbarian (which is one of the best scenes in what is perhaps the all-time best barbarian movie). I kept expecting to see the Pictish warrior jump up onto a rock, breathing heavily in the cold air, but he didn't appear.
They also showed something I think is Isengard. It looked a bit too Baroque or Gothic to me (hard to make out). One does get the feel that the artists (Howe and Lee) abandoned Tolkien early on and went in for the Jack Kirby look. Is that a bad thing? I don't know, but if anyone should decide to bring Marvel's Thor to life, they should probably get hold of these guys for some artistic concepts.
The bottom line is that we can expect a very active, vibrant Middle-earth in the movies. The scenary and sets should draw the audience in and make them go, "WOW!" in every other scene. Tolkien purists who don't get upset and walk out will probably have a good time and enjoy the fantasy in the movies. And that's what it's really about. It's fantasy. Some people about died of heart attacks when they heard "The Wiz" was being produced. I've seen The Wiz and, though it's not my cup of tea, I wouldn't want it to disappear from our cultural heritage for all the money in the world.
Like The Wiz, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings is going to recast Tolkien's world in a virtually unrecognizable mold for the purists. It's not going to be Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth. It cannot possibly be Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth. Sadly, he is no longer here for us to consult. Yes, they could have been a lot more faithful to his descriptions, but if they had actually tried to be, how much trouble would they have gotten into when they came up to a depiction Tolkien didn't leave us? How consistent could they have been with Tolkien himself?
After many months of agonizing over the inevitable medievality of Jackson's films, I've finally come to realize that if we don't let him produce this vision -- this very unTolkien-like vision -- we will never have a visualization of Middle-earth. Is the local school play to be blamed for not presenting Tolkien's vision? No, they don't have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on sets, costuming, and CGI, but we still attend the plays and enjoy them. People love bringing Tolkien to life, and they do it every day on the Web, on stage, in books. We get over the inaccuracies. We forgive the mistakes. We excuse the deviations from what Tolkien said.
There are a million visualizations of Tolkien's world already, and none of them come close to what Tolkien described. If we don't forgive Jackson's creative license, loosen up, and learn to enjoy these movies, how can we possibly forgive ourselves?
The Internet preview is not just a sneak peak. It's a vaccine. It's an ounce of prevention. It's a dose of reality. Everyone who is dreading these films should watch that preview at least 15 times a day until they can honestly look themselves in the mirror and say, "They're just movies. The pages in my copies of Tolkien's books won't crumble away and vanish completely if I buy a ticket to see these films."
We'll always have Tolkien, Rick. And, Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful filmship.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.
And be sure to download your free copy of Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd edition at Free-eBooks.Net!