Jun 20, 8:47pm
The deepest-rooted problems — in style, characterization, and plot — however, are in the writing, and as manifold as they are rife in the Jackson-Boyens-Walsh script as well as how it is played out and directed. The one which in my opinion is both typical and horrendous, and which to a large extent is responsible for destroying everything else for me, is the [mis]characterization of Gimli. This for me is even worse than the film's treatment of Faramir. In part I think because I read The Hobbit before LOTR, and thus knew who he was before reading of his adventures, and loved his character for the sake of his family history. Is it the most important problem in the writing of TTT-M? Actually, I rather think it is.
There is an entire rant about movie Gimli that you may find interesting...
In the Tolkien knock-offs tradition — D&D, Dragonlance, and sundry other sword-and-sorcery adventures — dwarfs [sic] are stereotyped as crude barbarian fighters, short versions of the stereotypical "Viking warrior" (I have even seen Gimli drawn with the classic, unhistorical horned helmet) with no dignity nor culture: drunken, brutish, loutish and stereotypically greedy, in their concern for gold. —Who bear, as it happens, about as much relation to Tolkien's Dwarves as do Santa's elves to the Eldar. Here was an obvious chance to reclaim the archetype here from its misuse, in the films, by remaining true to the books, which J/B/W passed up (boy howdy, did they pass it up) for no obvious artistically justifiable reason.
This is even more piquant when one considers the history of the Earth-folk in the Indo-European literary tradition. (No, Wagner didn't invent them, any more than he invented Valkyries, Norns, trickster gods or Rings of invisibility and power.) There (as you will see in many stories, including the Arthurian legends and the Arabian Nights) it is rare to find a good dwarf, but the bad ones are no dull thuds — clever, crafty in all senses of the word (it is related to the concept of strength, of leverage through knowledge and technical skill) and embittered manipulators of those who have dominated the upper levels of the earth. Although initially in the earliest sketches of the Arda mythos, Tolkien had followed this simplistic tradition of dwarves as natural villains, as soon as he began to work with them not from the slanted perspective of those who had fought historic wars against them, the underground folk became revealed as complex figures with their own valid perspective on events, the wrongs and misunderstandings of the past no longer all one-sided in favor of the Elves — and whose culture, though different and in many ways alien to the other races of Middle-earth, still is rich and noble and inspiring in its own right.
"…where hammers fell like ringing bells…"
In the "revisionist" mythic backstory he worked out for them (as in the backstory of traditional folklore dragons, still villains but now minor demons incarnate in bodies engineered to be living war-machines, running amok after their leaders are overthrown and no kind of natural monster) which may be found in the Silmarillion, the Dwarves are revealed to be not so much children of a lesser god but the adopted children of the Creator, conceived of by an archangelic guardian who was tempted by pride but did not fall, and whose weaknesses and strengths are both passed on the people of the Earth which is his domain. Much of this mythic struggle — including the symbolism of the contentious relationship between this immortal guardian and his partner, the patron of the things which grow in and on the Earth, especially trees — is invisibly present on a foundational level, enriching and informing the plot and characterization of, especially, TTT.
But you'd never guess any of this from the movies.
Every film, it would seem, needs a buffoon — at least by mainstream Hollywood rules — and Gimli is the designated clown in LOTR-M. In FOTR-M this wasn't as obvious, because his role was cut to a minimum. None of the dark, foreshadowing exchange with Elrond regarding promises and oaths of loyalty as the Nine set forth, nor the poignant, affectionate introduction at the banquet in Rivendell, linking the generations as the son of Bilbo's old friend, to set the stage for future interactions among the characters. Nor, in theatres, any of the defining Lůrien scenes. (Now, I have not seen the FOTR-M Extended version yet, so I do not know how they were handled — but I have my suspicions that they do not quite fully capture the symbolic non-clash of cultures and reconciliation of old rifts which the eerie and mystical sequences in the original texts convey.)
But the problems were already there. In Moria, Gimli's obtuseness is revealed in his lack of wariness entering the halls — I hope I should not need to explain why this is patently absurd as well as OOC, book canon or movie canon — and then there is the utterly fatuous, pointless, fourth-wall-breaking, anachronistic insertion of a modern joke, instantly dating a timeless story with the unworthy crassness of "Nobody tosses a dwarf" —!
Is it not bad enough that such lines as "These are not holes. This is the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf. And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs," must be sacrificed to those more critical, worldbuilding shots of EW's dewy eyelashes and porcelain complexion, but we must be subjected to this tripe as well?
This trend — of excising what dignity and depth the character has in the books, and replacing them with stupidity entirely original to J/B/W — gets free rein in TTT-M. From the beginning, with the (again anachronistic) sports jokes thrown into the deadly earnest chase of the Three Hunters, destroying all the heartbreaking suspense of the original for the sake of a few cheap laughs, to the constant visual harping on his shortness, as if this were the defining fact about him, and funny in itself (why not as much for Frodo and company, then? —Ah, but they are pretty—) as in the confrontation with the Rohirrim he is made to stand like one of the Little Rascals, eyerollingly droll in the midst of adult business, a comic Buckwheat, the butt of Middle-earth ethnic humour by Jackson et al — in direct contravention of both letter and spirit of Tolkien's story.
This gets worse when he is given dialogue — all bluster and oafish cluelessness, he is made a short Falstaff to the tall and handsome princes of the story. (Remember the scene where Jackson dresses Gimli up like a child in daddy's big coat? Contrast this with the original "helms too they chose" sequence—!) This would be only injury — I confess though that even I was taken aback that J/B/W would stoop to the insertion of a "comic" belch in his scenes at Meduseld — but then we are given the final insult in that he is not allowed even worthiness in that area which is traditionally allotted to the RPG and knockoff "dwarf" — as a fighter. In each encounter, his boasting words about being a fierce warrior are revealed as mere bluster (the Falstaff comparison was not an accident) and his helplessness in combat hammered home by the repeated need to be rescued by the (tall, handsome) princes of the story.
And, in this continued inequity, all chance of the charming camaraderie and friendship between these heroes of vastly different background is destroyed. Even the playful rivalry of the "kill count" at Helm's Deep is turned into something tawdry. So much for the seasoned, competent third member of the triangle of stability that carries the mission through insane odds to Rohan and beyond.
And then there's the loss of his sensitivity — the ability he has to reach beyond his own cultural prejudices and assumptions, his own limitations, and not only appreciate someone from a formerly enemy culture, but also to translate his own mindset and values into the terms of that alien culture. Consider the following spelunkers' paean, here abridged, but enough to give the flavour of it:
"Strange are the ways of Men, Legolas! Here they have one of the marvels of the Northern World, and what do they say of it? Caves, they say! Caves! Holes to fly to in time of war, to store fodder in! My good Legolas, do you know that the caverns of Helm's Deep are vast and beautiful? There would be an endless pilgrimage of Dwarves, merely to gaze at them, if such things were known to be. Aye indeed, they would pay pure gold for a brief glance!"
"And I would give gold to be excused," said Legolas, "and double to be let out, if I strayed in!"
"You have not seen, so I forgive your jest," said Gimli. 'But you speak like a fool….when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then, Legolas, gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose, Legolas, fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces!… Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them…"
and even to make a convert to his own lyric vision:
"You move me, Gimli," said Legolas. "I have never heard you speak like this before. Almost you make me regret that I have not seen these caves. Come! Let us make this bargain—if we both return safe out of the perils that await us, we will journey for a while together. You shall visit Fangorn with me, and then I will come with you to see Helm's Deep."
"That would not be the way of return that I should choose," said Gimli. "But I will endure Fangorn, if I have your promse to come back to the caves and share their wonder with me."
"You have my promise," said Legolas.
How different this is from the films! Here, he is the authority, criticizing his friend, kindly, but with firmness and winning the argument. (Try to imagine film-Legolas humbly accepting such a rebuke to his ignorance — just try.) The glimpse of the aesthete we had in FOTR is now fully revealed, when despite exhaustion, wounds, and danger, in the flight from Moria, he insists that Frodo not pass by the Mirrormere, not miss the cultural treasure of Durin's Crown. In the original, he's a poet of stone and depth. In TTT-M, he's a belching fool. I could go on with the specific examples, but I'm too heartsick to do so. You see why against this travesty, the missing of all Faramir's honour is really fairly small, compared to the destruction of Gimli's dignity. (And needless to say, there was precious little glittering to be seen in the Caves of Aglarond in the movie. Beauty of nature seems to hold as little interest as beauty of spirit for Peter Jackson.)