Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Two Towers: Extended Edition

Where to start. First, let's end the suspense. I think this movie was the worst of the trilogy. Jackson, Boyens and whoever else mangled this script, I understand things had to be cut. That's okay. I understand the stories needed to be intercut. That's okay. If pressed, I could probably get past having elves show up where they're not supposed to be. I managed to stomach Liv Tyler elbowing out Glorfindel, one of the most impressive elves in all of Tolkien's legendarium. But to me, there were three key changes that were unnecessary and particularly egregious. These were changes in character. Théoden, Faramir and Treebeard were altered substantially.

What I mean by this is, while Haldir the elf most certainly did not show up at Helm's Deep in the book, when the screenwriters placed him there, his behaviour (other than a momentary lapse into being a Vulcan) once there was consistent with his character as it was drawn in the book. So while I didn't like him being there, I could tolerate it.

Théoden, on the other hand, while he did go to Helm's Deep as in the book, didn't do it in the same way. Book-Théoden rode out knowing he was likely going to his own death and the destruction of his people, but did it gladly anyway because it was the right and honourable thing to do. In the movie, Gandalf counsels Théoden to ride to Dunharrow and safety with his people because of his advanced age. But book-Théoden replies
Nay, Gandalf! You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better.
Right! That's the Théoden we want! Once more into the breach, dear friends! But what do we get? Movie-Théoden.
I will not risk open war.
Um, hello? You have an enemy army rampaging across your countryside. And then Théoden decides it's best to retreat to Helm's Deep. Without touching on the idiocy of this based on geography, Théoden is running like a little girl. Ridiculous.

Next up to be butchered, Faramir. And it seems from the DVD extras, this probably got the most complaints, because they all spend a fair bit of time trying to justify turning Faramir into a pale copy of Boromir. Book-Faramir, when confronted by Frodo and the Ring refrains from trying to take it for himself. He is tempted, as everyone is, but his wisdom overrules his desire. He has a moment where is tempted similarly to Galadriel. Both talk about what might be, what might one do, but both come to themselves and do not succumb. Galadriel:
And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!... I pass the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.
And Faramir:
But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway... So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way--to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!... Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!... But I am not such a man. Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.
Good man! Worthy pupil of Gandalf, and stronger in will, if not in body, than his brother Boromir. Movie-Faramir says at least one line almost exactly
And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality!
But the upshot is that he bundles Frodo off to Osgiliath and intends to take the Ring to his father. And the screen-writers tell us that it has to be so, it wouldn't be believable for him to resist such a powerful ring, yada yada yada. Then why have we had Aragorn, Gandalf, Galadriel, etc all resist taking the Ring? Why pick on Faramir? The justifications don't hold up.

Lastly, Treebeard. Here, the worst butchering of all took place. The other changes, bad as they were, would at least not be noticed by someone who had never read the books. Without a knowledge of these characters as they were written, they wouldn't know they had been changed so dramatically. But Treebeard fails to even make sense within the world presented by the movie. Ents are presented as slow, deliberate, patient, thoughtful creatures. And so they were written. But at the Entmoot, the decision the Ents reach was not the decision reached in the book. Book-Treebeard:
Hoom, hom! Here we come with a boom, here we come at last!... Come join the Moot! We are off. We are off for Isengard!
This is not our war.
Which is bad enough. But then, what is it that reverses Treebeard's decision? Seeing the trees that Saruman has clear-cut. Now, is Treebeard really paying attention to his forest? Can the trees really communicate with him and others if he hasn't heard about it? If Ents are slow and deliberate, why does he (and the rest of them) change their minds in about 10 seconds after seeing some tree-stumps? And, when he yells, every Ent in Fangorn just happens to have been following the exact same route that Treebeard was and can dash out of the forest in a matter of seconds? Puh-leeze. That's just awful. It's a plot-hole an oliphaunt could walk through.

If the first and last movies hadn't been better than this installment, if this had been the class of the group, then these movies would have been right there with Bakshi's.