Sunday, May 23, 2010

Does Peter Jackson hate Aragorn?

I've been watching Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers extended edition lately. I've never been entirely comfortable with their treatment of the character of Aragorn in the first place, but seeing all the other cut scenes has nearly convinced me they had it in for him. Something about the character made them start sharpening their scalpels to do a major makeover.

Aragorn in the books was not this conflicted slacker they show in the movies. I can understand their taking some liberties with the character. After all, other than their particular roles, there's not a lot of difference between Gandalf and Aragorn in the book. They both are strong, noble, and have a full sense of purpose. They are like two sides of the same coin, determined to see the business through come what may. I can see them making them more different for sake of the movie.

But the way they purposely change significant events in the movie to fit their new narrative really grates on the nerves. Aragorn was able to wrest control of the palantir away from Sauron, not give up in the attempt. And I certainly don't recall him going "all wobbly" at Helms Deep. The Aragorn Jackson builds up is such a wuss that it's actually jarring when he actually suggests they go assault Sauron's gates to draw his armies away from Frodo. What?! Did Aragorn actually suggest something brave? Or is he just wanting to get himself killed so he doesn't have to face Arwen dying? The scene fairly clangs with disconnect between a character that has gone so far afield that he hits a corner and the original intent of the author.

Perhaps that is why my favorite characters in the movie remain Theoden and Eowyn. Gandalf is done well, but he's Gandalf--aloof and unfathomable. Sam is played well, but his character is too simple, as are the characters of Gimli and Legolas. There's no depth to appreciate there. That leaves the only really interesting and heroic characters to Theoden and Eowyn. They are the strong characters that Aragorn is not. What Eowyn sees in Aragorn I have no idea.

To be sure, Viggo does his best with the character given him. I end up liking him in spite of what is done to him. Mortensen imbues the character with a strength and nobility that is not born out by the script itself. Even then, it took me the better part of the first movie to get it straight that Sean Bean was Boromir, not Aragorn. Sean Bean fit the image I had of Aragorn so much better.

But ultimately, just what does Jackson's Aragorn actually do in the film? His character is important to what happens in one instance only--walking the paths of the dead to raise the army that wins the Battle of Minas Tirith. Other than that, he's a throw-away character. Well, that and make it a bit more believable that the hobbits escape the Ringwraiths and make it to Rivendell. After that he becomes Aragorn, Tormented King of Angst, and doesn't surface again until the last half of the third movie. His character could have been left out altogether without much impact on the plot until that point. And after that point as well. He's a buff-studly fighter amongst a group of buff-studly fighters, nothing more.

The ironic thing is that in trying to avoid a static character that starts and ends the movie the same person, Jackson turns Aragorn into exactly the same thing. I don't see any real growth in Jackson's Aragorn. He starts and ends the movie as a man hiding not comfortable in his own skin, but who happens to be good at fighting. He's just going along with the flow, and that's really all he does for the entire movie. He doesn't become anything. He waffles his way from start to finish. At least if he was going to be a stereotype, they could have left him a strong, brave, noble stereotype.

It's enough to make one think that Jackson and company (for he had help in his character assassination) couldn't bear the thought of a character that was noble, just, and true, possessed moral clarity and a strong sense of purpose, and who would see things through to the bitter end because that's just what people do. Did they think that Americans today wouldn't be able to relate to such a character? Well, if that's the case, then why film Lord of the Rings at all? Because that's what the movie is about! How did they read the book so closely and miss that?

To be sure, Jackson's Lord of the Rings will remain one of my all-time favorite movies, because he got so many other things right. He captured the epic scale of the novel, and portrayed so many scenes so much better than even I had envisioned them. He captures many of the crucial themes and does them respectable justice. And he tells a good story. I'm only afraid he told it so well that no one else will ever try it and show how it could and perhaps should have been. There remains much about the books that Jackson never tapped into, and would benefit from better treatment than was given. I hope to see it done in my lifetime.

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