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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Some fans worry about `Lord of the Rings' movie

By Dan Lewerenz
Associated Press Writer

"Lord of the Rings," the movie, opens tomorrow in Hawai'i theaters and across the country.

Associated Press

. . .

On the Net: "Lord of the Rings" movie site: www.lordoftherings.net

Tolkienonline: www.tolkienonline.com

Larry Vosmik has been counting the days to the release of the movie "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" tomorrow. He bought his three tickets in advance — two showings for himself, one for his wife — and he's been boning up on his knowledge of Middle-earth, the world where J.R.R. Tolkien's epic takes place.

Like millions of Tolkien fans around the world, Vosmik first read "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" as a teen-ager.

"Those books are the reason that I read any fiction at all today," said the 37-year-old former nightclub owner, now a student at Arizona State University. "I never had felt that way about reading a book — I never had been so impacted by a story before."

But not all fans are as eager to see Tolkien's work on the big screen. Although film critics have given the movie generally high marks, previews clearly show scenes that were not in the book, and fans in Internet chat rooms, such as Tolkienonline.com, have been merciless in their criticism of those changes.

Gordon Watson, a 50-year-old library employee in Vancouver, British Columbia, is among those fans who feel that Peter Jackson's movie — the first in a trilogy — has commercialized the story and betrayed Tolkien's spirit.

"I believe Tolkien's text is as good a story as has ever been told," said Watson. "I agree that it's necessary to remove sections from it, but I don't think it's necessary to change some of the underlying themes."

"The Lord of the Rings" draws comparisons to the recent movie adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in its ardent following — not to mention its fantasy themes of wizards and mythical beings. The decision by "Harry Potter" filmmakers to adhere closely to the book delighted many fans but drew some critics' barbs.

Tolkien devotees — even those like Watson who haven't seen the movie — can reel off a list of differences between the books and the film, from changes in the story's structure to the elimination of scenes and characters.

Jackson said some changes were necessary.

"I felt all the way through that I had the responsibility to make a good movie, first and foremost, and a responsibility to be a Tolkien interpreter second," the director said. "I thought it would really destroy us if the film attained a reputation of, 'Oh, don't bother seeing it, just read the book.' I thought that would be an absolute disaster. I've made it my mission to inspire you to go out and read the book."

Purists are most vocal about changes to the character Arwen (played by Liv Tyler), who in the first book does little more than sit at her father's side during a banquet. She is absent in the second book, returning only in the third book and appendices.

In the movie, Arwen helps protect protagonist Frodo Baggins from spirit-warriors who are searching for him and the magical ring he carries.

"That was Peter's idea of how to introduce her and also show another side of her, to show the strength of her. She's not just a quiet princess who's in love with a man," said Tyler, aware of the controversy surrounding her character. She said the character "is Arwen — just enhanced a little bit."

That's too much for Watson, who accuses Jackson of creating a "warrior princess" to appeal to female moviegoers at the expense of the story.

"I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that she should be rescuing Frodo at the ford," Watson said. "It removes Frodo's heroic stature in the film where he's essentially facing down the Black Riders single-handed. It distracts from Frodo's evolution as a character."

Verlyn Flieger, an English professor at the University of Maryland who has written two books on Tolkien, shares those concerns.

"This is the alteration of a scene, but also of a character," Flieger said. "In the book, she is not a warrior woman. There is a warrior woman, Eowyn, but of course she won't come in until the second film, so I think there is a marketing dimension to this."

Unlike fans of "Harry Potter," a relatively recent book series, many Tolkien devotees have developed their attachment over decades of reading and rereading.

"I feel like I sound like a crank here, because I'm being picky, picky, picky. But I first read those books in 1967 and I've read them 10 or 12 times, and I've lived with them for a good part of my life," Watson said.

But Will Bishop, a 38-year-old bookstore employee who saw an advance screening of the film in Philadelphia, had no problems with the changes Jackson made and even liked Arwen, saying she brought a softer, more human feel to the story.

Bishop, who last read the trilogy more than 10 years ago, said he would reread the second and third books, "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King," in anticipation of the films' release in December 2002 and 2003.

"I've been waiting 20 years for this," Bishop said. "Somebody got it right."