I bow to no man in my admiration of Peter Jackson’s fine trilogy of Lord of the Rings films (and indeed his ongoing Hobbit). I may not be able to disagree with any of the specific criticisms Andrew Rilstone makes in his fine reviews (Fellowship, Towers, Return), but I am a million miles away from agreeing with his downbeat conclusions. Yes, all the films are flawed; but they are mostly flaws of ambition, and so they are easy to forgive. And they are overwhelmed by the huge amount of good stuff. In fact, the three LotR films are arguably my three favourite films of all time.
That’s why this pains me so much:
It’s the scene in Lothlorien when Frodo has freely offered the One Ring to Galadriel. In the book, here’s what she says:
“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!”
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”
In the film, Galadriel’s speech is slightly rewritten — and I hope I will not be thought a heretic if I say that I think the Jackson/Walsh/Boyens version is, if anything, an improvement:
In place of a Dark Lord, you would have a queen! Not dark, but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the sea! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me, and despair!
But Jackson can’t accept the obvious metaphorical reading of the second paragraph. When we read that she stood before Frodo, “seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring”, we immediately understand that the key word is “seeming”: Tolkien is describing what goes through Frodo’s mind as he understands what it would mean for Galadriel to take the ring. He is not saying that Galadriel flipped into photographic negative and her voice became deep, distorted and ring-modulated. But that’s how Jackson interprets it.
And I find this mystifying because Jackson’s touch is so sure elsewhere (not least in the condensation of the speech noted above). When Gandalf delivers the “and some that die deserve life” speech, Jackson trusts McKellan to do it right, and so he does. It’s half-whispered, spoken almost as much to himself as to Frodo, more a meditation than a lecture. Gandalf is not lit up in flourescent lights, and his voice is not artificially raised in pitch to chipmunk levels.
McKellan needs no such treatment, because (unlike some of the cast, it must be said) he can act. The thing is, so can Cate Blanchett. She’s perfectly capable of delivering such good lines under her own steam, and absolutely doesn’t need the flavour-enhancers that Jackson imposed — not even had they been done well, rather than in such a way that they obscure the words.
It was badly done, Peter. Badly done indeed.