Limitations in Fantasy Movies and TV

I have a confession to make: I am not a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Yes, I am one of “those” people, who like the books more than the movies (of virtually everything). But at long last, I think I can explain myself. So first, I think that Jackson’s Lord of the Ring trilogy is the best adaptation that could ever have been made. I’m probably exaggerating, but with good purpose.

I think that the major things I love about Tolkien’s book series cannot be adapted to a movie. As I learn a little more about movies and TV, the more I understand that the constrictions that the media have. A good movie tells a tightly told narrative. Meandering is a vice, not a virtue here.

But the story behind Lord of the Rings is, in my opinion, not the main draw of the series. The world of Middle-Earth is. And while the movies provide gorgeous views, real-to-life buildings, and songs in the actual (and appropriate) constructed languages, the mythos and history of the place seemed lacking. Elrond didn’t seem like the wise elf, nostalgic for the millennia gone by, that he did when recounting the elder days. Since the flashbacks were largely treated as exposition, there didn’t seem to be anything legendary or ancient about it, at least not compared to the “current” legendary and ancient times.

All the asides and extraneous bits that made me fall in love with Middle-Earth must be cut from the movies because they don’t fit into the story. Books are free to give a brief aside about people we know nothing about and who make no impact into the greater story. But that can’t happen in a movie. And for good reason, the pace of a movie is forced on you, while you can take as much time as you want when reading.

As another example, I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, but I’m a bit lukewarm on the HBO Game of Thrones series. (I’ve only watched the first four seasons, so no spoilers please.) Not because of the story, especially since I thought certain elements were done better in the TV show than the books. But because of the immense history and all the people who have to be cut or merged in order to work into a story.For example, how many siblings did Tywin Lannister have? The attentive TV watcher might

For example, how many siblings did Tywin Lannister have? The attentive TV watcher might say: one, Kevan Lannister. But in the books, he had four siblings: one sister and three brothers. I had to look that up, but I knew he had more than the one, because Jaime has an extended conversation with his aunt and Tyrion has a memory about his favorite uncle.  The backstory behind all of the major people in Tywin’s generation has been thought through and you can tell, because some non-essential bits are thrown throughout the book. The War of the Ninepenny Kings, which without looking up I wouldn’t have been able to explain, was mentioned enough that I remember the name and know who fought in it.

So all this to say, it seems that being a “book” person is not just some pretentious conceit, but may be part of the media itself.


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