Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sympathy for the Oliphaunt

I've been on a little vacation and haven't been reading much of the philosophy books I've set out to read this spring. I have, though, just reread The Lord of the Rings and thought I'd comment on something that didn't quite make it into Peter Jackson's cinematic adaptation: sympathy for the oliphaunts (or mûmakil) felt by Samwise Gamgee. "And when he learned that at the siege of Gondor there had been a great number of these beasts and they were all destroyed, he thought it a sad loss" (p. 936). Understandably the movie adaptation, even the eleven-hour plus extended edition, had to pare down the book in order to bring it to the screen; however, sympathy for the oliphaunts should have been included in the movie. It should have colored how Jackson portrayed the oliphaunts from beginning to end. It didn't. On the commentary to the extended edition dvd, screenwriter Fran Walsh raises the problem of audience sympathies leaning toward the oliphaunts and going against the Rohirrim, the riders of Rohan. Some more graphic scenes of violence aimed at the oliphaunts were cut from the film for this reason. Jackson offers the opinion that a common sensibility of pity for abused circus elephants explains why audiences react negatively to such scenes of violence. He and the digital effects team made some effort to make the oliphaunts seem less like elephants and more like monsters. That doesn't really solve the problem of audience sympathies–which is in essence the problem of compassion and one of the key themes of The Lord of the Rings. The journey toward compassion, most strongly portrayed through the character of Frodo, suffers in Jackson's adaptation. Jackson's Frodo is initially less aggressive and finally more agresssive and less compassionate that Tolkien's Frodo. Generally, Jackson strays too far from his source material in his portrayal of monsters, relying on graphic horror rather than dread, suspense, or compassion. Tolkien's oliphaunts warrant compassion, even as they are led into battle in the service of evil. They are in many ways not unlike men, who may be misled, yet who may also be redeemed.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:56 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm, vacation. you need to buckle down and get reading.

April 27, 2007 2:55 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Sometimes I don't want to be responsible for my reading even though I enjoy it. Then again, I hate keeping secrets. I picked up Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man a few weeks ago. What can I say about it? It's curious to me, Pico's world.

April 27, 2007 5:32 PM  

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