Why I don’t like Jackson’s “The Two Towers” (III)
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.
The Jackson movie The Two Towers is based on a story written by Tolkien, who was probably an unwitting, unrepentantly ethnocentric Englishman. As a consequence, Tolkien’s writing carries all the cultural baggage of his time, which I can’t blame him for.
I don’t have any issue with Tolkien’s writing — it is from another time and place, and he wrote what made sense to him. This included his removing the women and children entirely from battle — not leaving them pointlessly cowering and crying in a basement.
Unsurprisingly, the movie doesn’t completely follow the books. That’s to be expected, considering the incredibly huge scope of the books. Ultimately, however, I found myself wishing if Jackson was going to depart so from the story, why didn’t he depart even more, and dispense with the pointless and inaccurate sexism?
I like encouraging media which doesn’t lean on tired old clichés for emotional impact. Furthermore, when societal expectations are stifling, blatantly false, or belittling of a particular group, I can’t imagine why any intelligent, thoughtful creator wouldn’t want to do their best to help shatter them.
In the end, Jackson’s art distorted — it did not imitate either the art which initiated it, nor the life which initiated the creation of that original written art. I sincerely hope life will never imitate his demeaning view of female and male role models.
This is pretty much why I found The Two Towers an acceptable action movie — but due to the transparent emotional manipulation Jackson stooped to using, it was ultimately not terribly enjoyable.
I’ve spoken with several folks about this. Aside from my immediate closest friends, I’ve noted the following:
Women listen, look thoughtful… then get a growing look of indignant realization, saying things like, “Hey… yeah!” as if they feel cheated.
Men, on the other hand, listen… then tend to get a slightly uncomfortable or superciliously amused look, as if this is actually beneath notice and what’s my problem anyway? They often shrug and say things like, “Well… yeah…” as if they feel it’s silly or beneath their notice.
Creepily interesting to see Jackson’s emotional manipulation is working so well, isn’t it?
I guess I already said what I had to say in the previous installment, aside from the fact that I envy those who have gotten to discuss this with you in person.(25 years is a long time between meetings) I guess I can sum up that I agree with you 100%, but I also understand the basic reasons for the changes. One sad fact that you didn’t mention is that no matter how powerful a director may be, the investors who are demanding a return on their money often trump artistic integrity. The lowest common denominator often wins in the battle for artistic quality.(not that I have any inside knowledge as to Jackson’s motivations, just saying it may be a factor)
Thank you for sharing that. It’s been a conversation I have had a lot of times that never goes well (possibly because it is usually with men who are fans of the movie) so it was good to see.
It’s been over a decade since my last attempt to read the books. I think I read the hobbit like 4 times – each time trying to read the whole series. I only made it as far as the end of the 3rd book once – and it was only by force.
I couldn’t figure out what my aversion was (other then my ADD and the sheer amount of chaos going on) and it took watching the movies as an adult in 3d to see why the child and adolescent me might have felt left out.
Your observation of the difference in JR.T’s disinterest in telling the female story vs Jackson’s using them as “prize” or emotional manipulator.
Just a quick blurb, not even worthy of posting…
I didn’t really like Two Towers either (though for different reasons than what you mention)…of all of them, I prefer the first best of all…Return of the King was good in places, but failed on others, for me.
I guess I’m just wondering how you view the troika of movies all together, both as a whole and individually, as opposed to just ‘Two Towers’ alone. If you feel like writing about the other two, please do. ;)
I read the article, and I found the article, good reading as usual. The two items that to me stood out about your reaction is in the first part, your knowledge of history, specifically the role of women in pre-20th century situations, is unusual, and that when you see something that contradicts your studies, your “suspenders of Disbelief” snap.
It is analogous to what happens when I see a War Movie, and see items that are incorrect, or misused documentary footage. But until recently, most people making war movies, did not care, as long as the action was exciting, and the box office was good. Only as of late, after the success of “Saving Private Ryan” has the authenticity standards of WW2 movies risen. Now to bring this back on the subject at hand. WW2 is still within “living Memory” where people can ask their elders “What they did during the war”. However, times before the 1920’s get increasingly vague with the first world war about now at the extent of “living” memory, now. Any events that have occurred before then are only on plaques and books. History is becoming less and less popular in school, and the texts are terrible, and sanitized. The only consciousness the average person has about history is what they have seen in movies or read in historical fiction, neither of which is very accurate, and usually painted quite broadly for entertainment purposes.
The second item is the Art of Film Itself. The art of film in its very nature is manipulative. It is it’s foundation. Where stage acting is “revealing, and truthful”, Film is about guiding passive audience members to the points where the director wants them. Film and Film production is one of the few areas of study I applied myself (and the few times I had fun with school homework), so I think I have a fairly good knowledge of film techniques. One of the most successful Modern Directors, Steven Spielberg is also one of the most shameless manipulators.
Films and Audiences have evolved simultaneously, so that Old Films, one can see the manipulation with greater clarity, than you can in more recent (good) films, until they hit a note, where, due to your education and research know is false. To prove that the foundations of Film are manipulation, one only has to look at the composition of each shot, and then how these are edited together to form a sequence. Things such as the height of the camera, in relation to the photographed subject, and the perceived size of the subject within the frames. As Soon as film broke away from it’s early forms of simply filming a stage full of players pantomiming, Directors have used shot composition to guide the emotions and thinking of their audience. From simple shot composition, one then moves into lighting, and the psychological effects of color and shadow, The channels of communication to the audience steadily got broader and broader. The effect of Musical Score on the emotions of the audience was explored as soon as sound became reliable. With WW2, the utility of Film as a propaganda tool was explored and exploited, and afterward, Directors used those techniques to convey their messages fairly precisely. Already the knowledge of the manipulation was becoming widespread as terms such as “Tear Jerker” (A very bold acknowledgment of the manipulation) became common around toward the end of the war.
Spielberg has become more subtle in recent years, as the “maturity” of his stories has suggested he should be, so the blatancy of “Poltergeist”, “E.T.” may no longer be his style, but it does show his propensity for manipulation. Using different techniques such as Monochrome for Schindler’s List”, and Reduced Saturation and adjusted shutter openings to get that adrenalized crispness of “Saving Private Ryan”.
So Film is by it’s very nature, manipulative, but I also think that the Audience may usually be “okay” with it. Unlike the stage, Film is a medium of passive observance. The directors try to gage and engender audience reaction, but they cannot know if their success, unless they tune the picture with a lot of test screenings (and many do). But the Average Audience Member pays their money to go sit in a comfortable seat, and expect to be entertained, to be emotionally engaged to the point they can forget their daily troubles. They are thinking “Entertain me”. They put a certain amount of trust in certain directors, stars, genres, and go to have their “entertainment”.
Because of this I think Film is most successful when it is an “emotional” rather than an intellectual medium, and because of the expense needed to mount a film production, the bulk of production will move where the better and larger returns are. So it would follow, that PJ’s who’s first films were Comedy and Horror (with comedy in it), built his career in trying to engage the emotional extremes of his audience, and learn his craft. With each movie he broadened his emotional range,His subtlety, and improved the look and craft of his works. (Instead of staying in one limited emotional range that other lesser directors find and rarely leave). That he was trying to emotionally manipulate the audience is no surprise to me. That you caught him at it, is no surprise to me either, as you do seem to be a little sensitive to the portrayal of women in any media. But in P.J.’s defense, he is operating in a long and celebrated tradition of emotional manipulation in film.
When it rings false, though, yeah it taints the whole film. E.T. for me was so blatant I fumed through the movie, and thought that “Poltergeist” released later that same summer was a much better movie.
Interesting! The GenderGap site was interesting, although I wish it’d provided specific cite information for its claims (I know it had a bibliography, but it didn’t footnote) since I’d like to know more about some of the historical bits it cited.
My perspective on TT is a bit different. Both Arwen and Eowyn were highlighted in the movies in the way they weren’t in the books. In the books, except for Arwen, Eowyn and Galadriel, women are invisible. I’d have to watch the movie again (been a while) but my initial impression wasn’t that the women were cowering as much as just plain scared – obviously there’s much room for interpretation here. If you’re going to take aim at sexism, then go right to the source – the books and the time in which they were written. Comparing real world history to an film adaption of a fantasy literary work that was steeped in ethos of its times doesn’t quite work for me. I didn’t see the siege as any more emotionally manipulative than any other cinematographic techniques in any other adventure (or even within the series) – but obviously mileage varies.
My particular nitpicks with TT had more to do with the various changes between the books and the movies; how certain characters and situations were handled. But that’s a different and more extensive critique.
Okay, I’ve read this. It’s even still March! =)
I didn’t have many deep thoughts on it. We’d discussed this in person enough that I’ve had a chance to give you what I thought about it.
I hadn’t really thought about the conscription of the boys as manipulative, but it certainly was, and that was another mark against it. I’m less and less impressed with the movies, the more I think about them.
This is only one place he made a manipulative decision that went differently than the books; it’s merely a hot button for you. I think the Ents were made to look like foolish dupes, the courage of the Tooks was utterly lost, and that Gimli’s portrayal was not nearly as strong as it could have been.