Jul 23, 5:56pm
I'm the first to admit how exciting Jackson's treatment of Helm's Deep was in the second film of the trilogy. But before we expel Tolkien from the critics' circle, we should remember a couple of things.
Well, he certainly wasn't an Action Filmmaker
One, he was commenting on a single-film treatment, not a three-film treatment. Helm's Deep and the entire Rohan-Isengard adventure in Book III is much harder to digest if one is compressing The Lord of the Rings to a film of less than three hours' length. Tolkien himself was more aware than anyone else that the Rohan sub-plot wrote itself as he expanded his horizons in mid-composition, and that, in his initial outlines of Frodo's quest, that part of the epic did not exist any more than the numerous other expansions of his original 300-odd page sequel to The Hobbit. So it's easy to see how, as he assigned priorities to a foreshortened treatment, he might remind the filmmakers that Helm's Deep is in the end much more disposable than the siege of Minas Tirith and Frodo's journey to Mount Doom.
Secondly, and just as interestingly to me, Tolkien was not an "action" writer. Fights and wars are not the primary mode of his book. He could very easily propose a film that treated with his primary themes: history, fate, the nature of Power, free will, good v. evil, duty in the face of defeat, etc., all in the context of a secondary world of extraordinary beauty, detail, and diversity, because that's what he thought was worth filming. His strongest positive reaction to the Zimmerman project in the late 1950s was to their location work and design sketches: the look of a real Middle-earth, not the scale and intensity of the intermittent and infrequent battle scenes.
We might complain that we would never go see such a film, but then we might ask why we like just such a book. Tolkien was not a filmmaker, obviously, but to say his storytelling, thematic, and visual instincts about filming his own book were completely misplaced is to privilege Jackson's one magnificent but action-centered version over a universe of other possible, and arguably just as beautiful and powerful, approaches to putting Tolkien's book on film.
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