Why I don't like Jackson's "The Two Towers"
by Collie Collier
March 2004 Firestarter
I noticed in the paper today how many Oscars were won by Peter
Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, which were based on
J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy. I've also seen Return of
the King, the last of the movies. While watching, I found
myself idly speculating on whether life is imitating art, or
art life. By the end of the movie, I'd have to say I very much
do not want life to imitate Jackson's vision.
Life, Art, Life...
Tolkien wrote an epic fantasy of the ending of an age and
the triumph of good over evil due to the unexpected courage of
the small and unimportant as well as the bravery of the noble
and impressive, which was quite possibly based on worried
extrapolations of the times he was in. He'd already lost most
of his contemporaries to the horrors of World War I, and he was
writing to his son, off in the battlefields of World War II.
The trilogy had a truly huge cultural impact, apparently far
surpassing Tolkien's wildest expectations. Now we have Peter
Jackson's movie renditions of the books... and it looks like
we'll be starting another round of cultural influence.
From what I've seen of this so far, other personal
experience, and scholastic studies, it looks like art and life
are too intermingled to say one or the other is the sole driving
force. Media affects culture just as much as culture affects media
-- and both are affected by, and affect, the populace. Ideally,
they all enhance and enrich each other. Ideally.
Given that, I try to make sure the small amount of media I
put out is interesting and well considered. It may only interest
a small niche group, and my opinions are but the opinions of
one among many, but I'll still do my best to think and share
my thoughts as well and clearly as I can.
My goal is to promote thoughtful consideration, to entertain,
to amuse myself. It is not to manipulate others to my way of
thinking, any more than Tolkien's was.
I think that's why I was ultimately so disappointed in
Jackson's The Two Towers, although it took me a while
to put my finger on the reason why. It wasn't that Jackson
had departed so radically from the books -- it was his blatant
attempts to manipulate his audience, and to do so at the cost
of the dignity of a particular group of society.
I refer to the scenes of the battle at Helm's Deep. In the
movie all boys over the age of 13 or so were drafted into the
army to help hold the walls, while all the women were sent below
with the children.
They did what?!
Let's think about this logically. These very young boys were
portrayed as lightly built, insecure, and untrained. Some had
apparently never picked up a sword before, let alone worn armor.
There weren't very many of them; they were frightened and had
no real reason to defend the walls, other than to save their
The women, on the other hand, were shown as numerous, sturdy,
and strong. Furthermore, they had extremely good reasons to defend
the walls ruthlessly -- their children and families were behind
Why were the more effective, more numerous women
sent off with the children, while what were (in effect) nothing
more than a handful of male children were kept at the walls?
Women and War in History
Historically speaking, this is nonsense. Women
have been warriors throughout the ages, both in
cultures which honored them, and in those which tried
to suppress them. If the subject interests you (and I
always encourage research), please read through the Women Warriors section on the
fascinating web site GenderGap.
There's a Bibliography at the end of the "Women Warriors"
page. I find it both telling and very sad most of the factual
books on historical women and war are out of print, despite
their being mostly no more than about 20 years old.
Still, let us return to Tolkien and his times. In the book the
women and children were sent away, although during WWII they had
to live through the bombing of London just like everyone else. I
was asked by a friend if perhaps there was, from those times where
Londoners had to sit out bombings in basements, some justification
for Jackson's portrayal of women as cowering and weeping?
Nice try, but no cigar. Many years ago, for a class project, I
was lucky enough to talk to an English nurse stationed in London
during the bombing in World War II. She was an amazing woman,
and told her stories briskly and with enthusiasm.
She talked of people calmly comforting the children, not
cowering with them, and of both men and women needing that comfort
as well sometimes -- because everyone went underground
when the bombs fell, just as everyone helped with the subsequent
digging out, and retrieval of the dead and injured.
She related with pride helping people keep their courage up
and smile for the children, even if shakily, by briskly reminding
them they were English -- what were a few silly German
bombs to that?!
She cheerfully talked about listening to the high-pitched
squeal of falling bombs and counting the seconds until they
landed -- and if you couldn't count all the way to five or so,
well then, the bomb would be landing on you!
Most moving to me was her relating stories of everyone sitting
together, sometimes in utter darkness, holding hands and
singing patriotic songs to keep their spirits up -- while the
ground around them shook from the bombings.
Now that's bravery. Why couldn't Jackson have shown
Another friend pointed out if the women had helped on the walls
of Helm's Deep, then Eowyn's sneaking off in armor to fight like
a man would have lost much of its emotional impact.
All well and good, but yet again -- why were the women shown
as so cowardly? Why did Jackson treat the women of Helm's
Deep so shabbily, instead of just sending them off someplace
safe -- like Tolkien did in his book?
Advertising & Emotional Manipulation
An interesting sidenote: studies have shown people look at
advertising for only seconds at most, unless the ad somehow
catches their interest. If the ad can do that, you look at it
longer, and are more likely to remember the brand name.
This means advertisers must pack a great deal of information
into a very small, compelling space. The easiest way to do this
is to tap into the culture's societal expectations, which are
sometimes referred to as 'gut feelings.'
Everyone knows an ad which really 'clicked' for them. A
good example of this not working well was the Mentos ads
several years ago. They left both myself and most of the folks
I knew utterly puzzled -- what were they trying to say?
It did not surprise me at all to discover the ads
were apparently made in Germany. Doubtless the ads
were perfect for a German audience, and tapped into
their cultural expectations. However, they weren't just bewildering to American audiences --
for many they were an active turn-off.
[Archived text-only version of article
available if link is dead]
Deliberate Emotional Manipulation?
It's my belief this is why Jackson had the folk of Helm's Deep
do such a foolish and dangerous thing as send away strong adults
in favor of having children on the walls -- like an advertiser,
he was (possibly non-consciously) attempting to tap into people's
non-conscious gut feelings.
Brave women and men shown manning the walls against a
ravening horde, or courageously singing songs together in the
basement to keep their spirits up -- that's uplifting, exciting,
inspiring! Unfortunately, it's obvious Jackson felt that wasn't
enough. He apparently thought he needed to make the scenes more
emotionally 'grabby' -- so he tried to call on people's protective
feelings as well.
This isn't a bad thing... but why couldn't he accomplish that
effect by either following the book, or by showing the littler
children being bravely cared for by the older children, while the
women and men of Helm's Deep courageously defended the walls?
I don't see how that lessens the movie's impact -- if anything,
it would surely increase it. However (unsurprisingly), I wasn't
consulted on the movie's social or emotional implications.
Instead, Jackson tried to blatantly manipulate our emotions. He
portrayed cowering, helpless women and children as nothing more
than the 'prize' at the end of the battle -- terrorized, passively
ineffectual, and incapable of determining their own fates.
I don't like it when people try to manipulate me like that,
regardless of whether it's emotionally or otherwise. Give me
the facts and let me make a reasoned decision; don't treat me
like a thoughtless child.
That's what Jackson did to his audience -- he treated them
like little children who're incapable of reasonably understanding
the danger the characters were in.