Peter Jackson, I’ve Got Your Back

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Back when The Rabbit Room first went live, part of our mission was to indulge in the pleasure of good and beautiful art. We launched with the understanding that there would always be plenty of sites online where readers could form a community around picking apart and criticizing what they didn’t like about certain music, books and film, but that this wouldn’t be that sort of place. Here at the Rabbit Room, we would focus our energy on the books, music, film and ideas that made us want to gather our friends, sit them down and oblige them to discover the Josh Ritters, Hurt Lockers, and Peace Like A Rivers of the world.

Another unspoken, but pretty obvious reality concerning our DNA can be summarized by slightly modifying that wonderful Buechner quote Eric Peters likes to put before us—“the story of any one of us [here at the Rabbit Room] is in some measure the story of us all—[we’re nerds of varying degrees].”

So I don’t need to draw anyone’s attention to the fact that in one year Peter Jackson is giving the world the first installment of his two film cinematic version of The Hobbit.

He just released the first trailer, and friends, it took the interweb less than two puffs of pipe-weed to start complaining about the suspected inconsistencies, apparent mangling of the book’s storyline, and unnecessary inclusions of characters who don’t belong in The Hobbit.

I presume the majority of these criticisms spring from a genuine love of Tolkien’s book and a reverence for not just the truth and beauty found in its pages, but also for the nostalgia it awakens in us. And I respect that. So it is to that love that I will direct this humble appeal.

I remember, like it was yesterday, sitting in the theater watching The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time and being struck by this thought: “I have never seen anything like this before! How in the world did what’s his name who made this film create such a realistic and dangerous world?”

I had no idea I was entering in to what would become far and away one of the best movie-going experiences of my life. I had no idea this Peter Jackson guy was about to make 90% of the movies I would see afterward so, how should I say this, average looking. I had no idea that a Hobbit could make me cry or a rising king could make me examine my own attitudes about adulthood.

Did Jackson change some things up in those first three films? He sure did. Were all those changes necessary? Probably not. I don’t know. But can anyone accuse Peter Jackson of being careless with Tolkien’s masterpiece? I think not. And can anyone say those movies are anything less than a labor of love from an exceptionally gifted filmmaker? Come on.

To me, The Lord of the Rings films are, in themselves, amazing works of art. And they are the fruit of countless hours invested by hundreds of people each working in the areas of their skill and talent. For me, Peter Jackson has more than earned the right to tell the story of The Hobbit in the way he wants to as a filmmaker.

I don’t presume to know much about what it takes to turn a book into a film—not to mention doing so more than half a century after the books were written. But I imagine that since Jackson is working in such a different format that he has to make certain adjustments to tell the story the best he can. As an artist, he has to trust his visual instincts. And I give Peter Jackson the benefit of the doubt that whatever editorial decisions he made in the first three films that deviated from the book were because he wanted to strengthen (not weaken) the cinematic version of the story he so obviously loves.

So Peter Jackson, I know you don’t need me to say this, but still I want you to know one thing: I’ve got your back. Thanks in advance for making The Hobbit, for taking your sweet time doing it, for loving Tolkien’s books so much and for being such a good steward of the story of Middle Earth.

But so help me, if you fabricate a tawdry love affair between Gandalf and Galadriel, I take back every word.

Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


24 Comments

  1. Caleb

    Amen.

    And I’m glad this was posted so the Rabbit Room doesn’t become a place to complain about what one doesn’t like about The Hobbit films.

    I honestly feel sorry for filmmakers like Peter Jackson when all the criticism starts. They really do pour their hearts and souls into these projects in order to get these stories on the screen. Watching all the behind-the-scenes footage from the LOTR films showed me just a glimpse of what went into it all. It’s a staggering amount of work and sleep-deprivation and deadlines to meet and budgets to keep. I can imagine how I’d feel after all that to hear a bunch of heckling from the cheap seats by those who create nothing but only thoughtlessly consume.

    I’m passionate about this because the LOTR films are what introduced me to Tolkien and his world. Till then I was like Treebeard and had “never heard of a hobbit before.” I’ve read the novels several times since then and enjoyed the films over and over again. It’s been a truly life-changing experience for me. And I know I’m not alone. I can hardly wait for the new films.

    -Caleb

  2. Kyle Keating

    Totally agree Russ. I think one of the misconceptions is that one can translate “literally” a piece of literature into film. Just as translation of language is an art, so too is translation from one medium to another. Certain things work in literature that don’t work on the screen and vice-versa (see film adaptations of Chronicles of Narnia, esp. Dawn Treador).

    Watching the extras on the LOTR blu-rays is fascinating as they have several pieces on the adapting of the books to film and the difficult decisions that they had to make. In LOTR, one of the most fascinating decisions they made was to make Faramir a more dynamic character by making him move from selfishness toward sacrifice. In Tolkien’s work, Faramir is far more of a static, romantic (in the literary sense) hero. Anyway, have I revealed my LOTR nerdiness yet?

  3. Aaron

    Amen.

    And at this point, I’m choosing to see Galadriel’s brushing of Gandalf’s hair as a motherly action that’s probably quite beautiful in the context of the whole scene.

    I hope.

  4. SarahN

    Thank you for this post! I completely agree. Peter Jackson changed the way that I watch movies. I am willing to trust him completely and see what he comes up with for The Hobbit. In fact, all the things that others are complaining about have instead made me more excited and curious. How is he going to pull this off? What new beauty is Peter Jackson going to paint that will take me completely off guard and make me see the story in a way I never did before?

  5. Randall Satchell

    I, too, agree. Was Jackson’s trilogy faithful in every respect to the Professor’s book? No, it wasn’t. Would I have made it more faithful? I like to think I would.

    Will we ever get a more well-crafted (in every conceivable aspect) body of films based on Tolkien’s works? Not in our lifetimes; not in a hundred years, at least.

    These films by Peter Jackson will stand alone for a long, long time. I for one will relish them for the “amazing works of art” that they are.

  6. James Witmer

    Thanks, Russ. It’s much easier to criticize a film for not being “accurate” than it is to open your heart and receive it on its own terms.

    Didn’t Lewis write something in An Experiment in Criticism about not trying to munch meringue like mutton? I think he was talking about different kinds of books, but surely movies and novels count as different food groups?

    I do know he insisted you could never truly judge a work unless you had lowered your defenses and simply taken it in.

    Not that you’ll always like the movie afterward (I didn’t like the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader Movie”, though I really tried ). But as you say, it’s part of respecting the work you’re addressing.

  7. Susan

    Does anyone honestly think Gandalf and Galadriel are getting all romantic in that scene?

    I must say again, that if you’ve only read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, then get a copy of Unfinished Tales and read it before December – please.

    For me personally, the scene at Cirith Ungol, where Frodo tells Sam to “Go home” was by far the worst change for me – it’s a heartbreaking scene, obviously it’s meant to be, as it certainly increases your love and sorrow for Sam, but I do believe the original scenario that takes place is much better – with both Frodo and Sam entering Shelob’s lair together – but that’s why books are always better than films in my opinion.

    Susan

  8. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Susan, my last sentence in the post above is a tip of the hat to the absurdity of the idea that Jackson would contrive a romance between the two.

    But what if he did? That’s pretty funny to think about, I think. 🙂

  9. Susan

    I thought that was your point 🙂 I was rather miffed at the kerfuffle over that scene when it first came out.

    Galadriel and Gandalf as a couple… almost heretical 😉

    Susan

  10. Sir Jonathan C. Andrews

    Well written Russ. I have a co-worker that makes a real stink, when the subject of the films is brought up, about how Peter Jackson has ruined Tolkien’s masterpiece. I have tried to explain how there are always going to be some things in adaptations that we are disappointed in. I have also told him that I’ve begun to teach myself to separate the works so as to enjoy them both. I love the book Jurassic Park but I also love the movie Jurassic Park for different reasons. So in conclusion, first be thankful that the film was made in your lifetime, second enjoy the similarities, and third enjoy the works separately.

  11. Jen

    I’m another who has Peter Jackson to thank for my discovery of LOTR. I read the trilogy somewhere between the release of Fellowship and Two Towers, so I probably can’t really call myself a Tolkein nerd. Yes, some parts were left out, but it’s part of adapting the story for a new medium to make it the best it can be. (in theory. There are some awful book-to-screen transitions…)

    I’m usually the one to take the “rant rant books are always better” position, but it’s really nice to let that go and enjoy film versions for what they are. I had to do that with the Harry Potter series a lot. I’d whine after every single one and still feel compelled to watch the next.

    SO excited to revive the Christmas in Middle Earth tradition! =)

  12. livingoakheart

    I just thought those were scenes from the White Council. People think he’s going to make that a romance? Ow. Ow. Ow.
    Introducing the movies to people is one of the highlights of my life, because I get to see them go from strange looks when I mention characters as if they were real people to jumping in and arguing with me about whether Pippin is funnier, or Gimli.

  13. Eowyn

    Peter Jackson did a great job with the films, and let’s admit, it was a gargantuan task. There are some things I would change, but in the overall picture, he was remarkably true to the books. I kinda wish he’d done the Mouth of Sauron scene though (actually, he did, but let’s not talk about that). The only other really good book-to-film adaption that I can think of would be A&E’s Pride and Prejudice – and it doesn’t have elves and dwarves.

    But if Jackson messes with Gandalf I’ll come hunting. With an axe.

  14. T. Bombadil

    Hey dol! Merry dol! Why be ye troubled me hearties! Ol’ Pete’s behind the camera with a steady hand and eye. I’ve been a running through the meadows and know the River Daughter. Trusty Pete! Rusty Pete! Have no more of dragons and dark lords! To New Zealand I will go!

    And 3D is waiting…..

  15. Loren

    My sentiments exactly–to all the comments above, too! And I love the fact that Eowyn and Bombadil have even chimed in 🙂 .

    I re-watched the movies recently & am now rereading the books and it really struck me this time through what a masterpiece both are. I suddenly understood better why Jackson had made certain changes in the movie (cinematic purposes, audience purposes, etc.) and yet I’m loving the written way all over again as well. Just read about Faramir again and so appreciated that he didn’t cart Frodo off to Osgiliath. And yet, in the movie that made sense.

    So onward, Peter!

  16. George W

    On a side note. I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until I felt overwhelming irritation at the complaining about the movies by those who had read the books(which I thought were pretty good).

    Maybe all this complaining will get people reading.

  17. Peter B

    Man, I need to read The Hobbit again. Funny how I first picked up Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures when I was 28-ish — a mere year or so before it was announced that there would be films. Since then, LOTR has taken me away several times — twice before viewing, and a few after.

    And yes. Go, PJ. Such a creative and talented director who has so much respect for the material… heck yeah.

  18. yankeegospelgirl

    The movies were an obvious labor of love, and like someone said earlier, you really see that in the behind-the-scenes stuff. So you can’t help respecting what they did. Just seems a shame they felt changes were needed. I see nobody has mentioned the one that got me most, which was changing Faramir’s basic character. In the book, he’s NEVER tempted to take the ring. He’s one of the few characters who’s so honorable he doesn’t feel that pull. He says he wouldn’t take it if he saw it lying by the wayside. That’s not the character you see in the film.

  19. Lois Johnson

    Thank you so much for this insight. While I am normally a stickler for keeping to the book, I always thought Peter Jackson did and incredible job with the Lord of the Rings movies. Your last line cracked me up because I feel the same way. 🙂

  20. Chris C

    Nicely said, Russ.

    I don’t think there’s any way that any person could make a movie be as good as a well-written book. To distill down a masterpiece book of any genre to a 2-4 hour movie will, just by its process and restrictions, cause much to be lost. That’s why I like it when some books were made into a mini-series – they can delve more into the books than a movie can. But even then, something is lost.

    However, in saying all that, I still love the Lord of the Rings movies. They can’t compare to the books, but I don’t expect them to! The movies are still great works of art and I am looking very forward to seeing The Hobbit!

    I am thinking that there’s no way that Peter Jackson would write in a love affair with Gandalf and Galadriel – that just seems too inane to even consider. It just looked like some tenderness between one person and another. I mean, c’mon! Just because one person is showing some love for some person doesn’t mean it’s romantic love! There’s still the love found in friendship and love found in close, family relations (phileo and storge), right?!

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