Bombadil's out, Arwen's in
Purists can relax, says Xan Brooks. Jackson's film is as faithful as it can be to Tolkien's fiendishly multi-layered world
Tuesday December 11, 2001
So dedicated is Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings that it's easier pinpointing the bits of the book that didn't make it than the ones that did. Kindly Tom Bombadil failed to make it to the final cut, and nor did several minor elves at the court of Elrond, nor the occasional thug at the Prancing Pony inn. Aside from that, purists can relax. The inhabitants of Tolkien's fiendishly multi-layered world appear all present and correct.
Where the film differs is how director (and co-writer) Peter Jackson has ordered his material. Perhaps sensibly, the film has corralled Gandalf and Elrond's lengthy explanations of the One Ring's history into an extended seven-minute introduction that details the battles with Sauron and the chance that the human king Isildur had (and fluffed) of destroying the Ring for good. From here we cut directly into Gandalf's arrival in the Shire; fireworks popping from the back of his horse and cart as the hobbit kids trail gawpingly behind.
Elsewhere Jackson's film irons out some of the book's complexities. The turncoat wizard Saruman is revealed to be not working to seize the Ring for himself (as he is in the book) but for his new master Sauron. ("We must join with Sauron," he tells Gandalf). Later, the character of the sceptical warrior Boromir is slightly simplified. In the book, the fellowship was torn between accompanying Boromir to aid the stricken land of Gondor, or of pushing full-tilt towards Mordor. It is only when they seem to be leaning toward the Mordor option that Boromir finally attempts to grab the Ring. In the movie, however, there is no such debate.
Ironically, though, the change that has most enraged Tolkien devotees comes across as entirely satisfying. In Tolkien's book, the character of the elven Arwen does little more than loiter decoratively by Elrond's chair. In the film she is more proactive; rescuing the injured Frodo from the Nazgul and commanding the flood that eventually sweeps them away. On a dramatic level, it works (mainly due to some fine, unshowy playing from Liv Tyler). The subsequent amped-up love affair between her and Aragorn is also a neat new addition. Rather than infecting Tolkien with gooey-eyed romance, it adds a little humanity to the characters.
Most crucially it turns Aragorn (sometimes a bit of a tight-lipped cipher in Tolkien's original narrative) into a more rounded and fallible figure; fretting about his destiny and nervous of making the same mistakes as his illustrious ancestor Isildur. This is emphasised by a final encounter between Aragorn and hobbit hero Frodo, who wonders if the Ring will corrupt him (Aragorn) just as it did Boromir. Again, it's a shrewd addition to the text.
Throughout the trilogy's making, Jackson frequently claimed that he was hoping to make a film that Tolkien himself would approve of. On surveying the evidence, I don't reckon JRR would have been too scandalised by this respectful, canny first instalment.
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