Bored of the Rings…and Creative Self-Control

The first part of the above headline happens to be one of the more obvious take downs one can expect an unimpressed critic might use for the review of the new Peter Jackson directed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of his three part (!) cinematic adaptation of the J. R. R. Tolkien “prologue” to his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy series of a few years past.  Certainly its the headline used by Dana Stevens of Slate Magazine for the review of this film (check it out here), but its hardly an original insult, seeing as how this was the title of a parody book published way back in 1969.

I haven’t seen the first part of this new trilogy, but given some of the early writings regarding the movie, I suspect I’ll pass.  Not that I dislike the whole Lord of the Rings thing, be it novel or cartoon or movie.  On the contrary I was very impressed with the first two Lord of the Rings movie adaptations.  They were incredibly ambitious in scope and scale and presented some great cinematic fun.  The only complaints I heard were from Lord of the Rings purists who felt the movies at times did not follow the spirit of the books as well as they should have.  Regardless, I really liked those first two Lord of the Rings films.

Unfortunately, the last of that original film trilogy, The Return of the King, really, really tried my patience.  Indeed, even many of those who liked and/or loved this trilogy were bothered by the way this concluding film had something like twenty climaxes/conclusions before finally…FINALLY!…reaching its actual end.  It was at that moment, when I realized I loved The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers but didn’t like The Return of the King, that I feared director Peter Jackson may have become a little too enamored of his work.  So enamored that he might have developed a hard time “stepping back” and shifting what should remain in the final cut of his film and what didn’t need to be there.  Or, to put it another way, he lost the ability to edit down his movies.

Mr. Jackson followed the original Rings trilogy with a remake of King Kong, and my fears were further confirmed:  King Kong clocked in at an eye-popping 3 hours and 7 minutes in length versus the original, which ran a little over an hour and a half.  When I heard he was taking over the direction of The Hobbit, I was curious but worried.  Would this film be more like the first two Ring films rather than the third?

When I heard it would be two films, then three, I feared Mr. Jackson was once again going to deliver a bloated, too long production.

Given the words of some critics, this may well be the case.  And we’re only into the first of three Hobbit films!

But before it feels like this blog entry is nothing more than a slam piece directed against Mr. Jackson, let it be noted that he would be far from the first -and certainly far from the last- creative person who may have fallen under this spell.  Criterion, the gold standard in home video releases, just put out Michael Cimino’s notorious studio-killer Heaven’s Gate, a film that many feel is the very definition of creative hubris.  Despite the fact that it was a mega-flop when it was released, the movie does have its admirers, but there is no doubt that this two and a half hour film tried many people’s patience.  In the realm of books, I’ve also seen writers -too numerous to name- who have disappointed with either undernourished or overly bloated works.  And in music, I’m sure just about anyone can name a few albums featuring normally very creative individuals who created a bloated train wreck of a work, at least in your opinion.

If there’s any sort of conclusion to made regarding this topic it is this:  Creative folks are as fallible as the next person.  They’re as capable of making mistakes as everyone else and they’re certainly as capable of getting too fond of their work, to their own detriment, as anyone else.

Somewhere along the line when I first started writing I too realized that there was a danger of falling into this trap.  One of my earliest novels took an inordinately long time to create, then it sat in the disk drive for a few years.  When I came back to it, I realized the first third of the book was waaaay too long and I chopped it down to a minimal size.  Originally I was incapable of seeing the bloat, but the passage of time allowed me to move away from the work, to become less tied into it and to see it from a fresh perspective.

Hopefully, I learned my lesson and my subsequent works have been crisp and to the point…something I feel any good novel should be.  But let there be no doubt:  The most difficult thing in the world to do with your creative works is to examine them with a cold and clinical eye and not be afraid of taking a chain saw to your “babies” and cutting down whatever should be cut down and expanding where it may be needed.

In the end, it is work well worth doing.