Friday, December 20, 2002

Today at noon Central time, I'll be on Odyssey , on WBEZ 91.5 in Chicago (and simulcast at other NPR outlets? I'm not sure; but it can be listened to online.) discussing freedom of association, inclusion and exclusion, and the relationships between associational life and broader democratic communities. There's some call-in time available (1.888.859.1800). UPDATE: The show can be listened to at the Odyseey archives here

Thursday, December 19, 2002


Those who don't yet want to know about the Two Towers movie, skip on by.

My brother called me last night-- my brother who's been downloading all the making-of documentaries from the web as they were made, not waiting for them to appear on DVDs-- and was very, very dismayed. I'll bet he's not the only fan who is. But I'm not.

The first thing to remember is: Ten years ago, if I'd told you there would be a beautiful, live-action, convincing, big-budget movie of The Two Towers; that tens of millions of people were going to watch a movie that included correct Elvish and Entish; that the Battle of Helm's Deep was going to become one of the handful of best cinematic representations of a battle, ever; you'd've told me I was nuts. Don't lose sight of the forest for the ents.

Second: Gollum. This Gollum is not only an astonishing technical achievement, integrated seamlessly into a live-action movie and setting a new, very high bar for successful CGI. It's also an emotionally compelling performance, and sets a new standard in that way as well. (The froglike critter from the Rankin-Bass cartoons now seems shockingly inadequate.)

Third: the physical reality of Edoras and of Helm's Deep. Edoras is the equal of the first movie's Shire, and even better than the first movie's RIvindell or Lorien.

Fourth: Grima. Brr...

Fifth: Don't compare this version of the Two Towers with the version of Fellowship that you watched last week on DVD. Compare it with the version you watched in the theaters last December. There'll be an extended DVD release of this one, too; and Jackson now has enough of a record that we should trust and be excited about that longer movie.

All of that said...

Oh my God! They killed Haldir! You bastards!

The changes Jackson's made to the story of the second volume all seem to me to push in a common direction: characters who are not among the members of the Fellowship may not be heroic and important. They must be made either less brave and willing to face the war than they are in the books (Theoden, Treebeard, Elrond); more wimpy in an inchoate way (Eowyn); more morally dubious (Faramir-- this is the one that does the most damage); or less prominent (Eomer, whose friendship with Aragorn was sorely missed). This is largely so that our inspiring heroes-- Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, and Pippin-- can perform unnecessarily dramatic rallyings-of-the-troops. This, in turn, is in large part because of the changes Jackson has introduced into Aragrorn's plotline (in turn largely motivated by the desire to make the Aragorn-Arwen love story more central, and to make Arwen more prominent). Instead of striding forth from Rivindell with the reforged Narsil in his hand ready to face his destiny, Aragorn has to grow into his leadership, with important help along the way from Arwen and the elves.

This is a very big change, and it's cost us in some significant ways. (I think it has, as one spillover, the loss of the full version of Boromir's and Faramir's dream even in the extended version, and the loss of the dream altogether from the theatrical versions.) It also makes a lot of sense, as a matter of movie-making. The three wholly independent plots of Two Towers are pretty hard to tie into a movie; as a stand-alone book, its climaxes come in funny places and each of the plots ends in a kind of funny place. What Jackson tried to do was to run the three plotlines in parallel, giving each a martial-action climax at the same point. (This was way Frodo and Sam got dragged to Osgiliath. As I mentioned, the Faramir subplot is seriously problematic.) And this structure of changes gives him the opportunity to do this. The arrival of Celeborn and the elvish archers can signal both a rallying of the elves and a rallying of the Rohirrhim. (Note to anyone who, like me, was worried by repeated reference to "the Rohans" in television commentary and printed reviews: the correct "Rohirrhim" is used in the movie.) More or less simultaneously, Merry and Pippin can directly cause Treebeard to become "roused," instead of merely serving as the pebbles that start the avalanche. Later, Aragorn can reinspire the Eomer-less Theoden to greatness-- a reinspiration that wouldn't have been nearly as dramatic had Theoden emerged from his encounter with Gandalf as confident as he did in the book.

So in the service of getting dramatically-timed and Fellowship- (especially Aragorn-)led rallies Theoden is reduced, the Elves are reduced, and the ents are reduced. In the service of getting a martial climax to Frodo and Sam's plotline, and of making sure that our growing-into-office Aragorn doesn't suffer by comparison, Faramir is worse than reduced. He's really betrayed. Since we're supposed to care about love stories: are we now going to feel nearly as happy about Eowyn getting Faramir as her consolation prize? (Maybe so, since she's been reduced as well.)

I'll freely admit: I liked the arrival of the elves at Helm's Deep. I'm not sure that it entirely redeems the weaselification of Elrond over the previous movie and a half; but it was pretty nice, and I understand why it was cinematically called for.

I think Gimli got mocked a bit too much; and I was not happy to have drawrf-tossing mentioned again-- or to have had it mentioned once. But I was clearly in the minority; the opening-day audience roared. And, again, I understand the cinematic demands. Had Gimli not been played somewhat for laughs, there'd've been nothing to lighten the hour-plus of the Helm's Deep plotline. Fine in the book, not so fine in what is, in part, an action movie.

I really missed the full Aragorn-Eomer conversation when they first meet-- though, of course, that conversation depends on Aragorn being willing to claim hios full title and bearing the Sword, so it had to go. I'm not very happy with Treebeard's character.

But the only thing that seemed to me really, really wrong was Faramir; and I don't think the desire to put Frodo and Sam into a battle justifies it.

But, manoman... can you believe we have a cinematic Faramir about whose characterization we can argue?

I thought Fellowship should've gotten both Best Picture and Best Director. I'm less convinced of Best Picture this time... but even more convinced of Best Director.

UPDATE: Heh. Bruce Baugh has a funny take on the discrepancies, though I don't think it really works. (In fairness, it's not really supposed to.)
I'm happy to see that the mostly-silent Volokh Conspirator, Michelle Boardman (whom I know and admire from 'way back in our days together at Brown) is back.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

CalPundit has posted some thoughts in response to my post on groupblogs.
It's grammar day at How Appealing and at Mark Kleiman...

Monday, December 16, 2002

The Nation has mostly been unreadable since Hitchens left, but this is a pretty sharp, funny review of the new D'Souza book.
Here's a link to a paper I published a couple of years ago on free speech and the symbols of the Confederacy and of the American history of race-terrorism. (When Cato VP David Boaz wrote an open-ed quoting the piece, it came to the attention of the Confederatista pseudo-libertarians at places like Lew Rockwell being a prominent pseudo-libertarian who endorsed the Rodney King beatings. Unfriendly comments and e-mails ensued. Judging myself by the enemies I kept, I was pretty pleased...)
Kieran Healey has a marvelous post tweaking anayltic philosophy; and Chris Bertram has a nice pair of posts on European expansion. His point about France is one I've been batting around in my head for the last week. There are all sorts of ways in which Turkey doesn't yet live up to what I take to be the decent liberal minimum of respecting human rights, or at least hasn't yet shown that it has changed its ways. But almost all of these it imported directly or indirectly from France, with the suppression of both religion and linguistic minorities high on the list. If I trusted the EU more, I'd have some sympathies with their reasons for continuing to exclude Turkey; as it is, I'm sort of dubious. (That doesn't mean, btw, that American security interests-- even legitimate ones-- should provide sufficient reason for the EU to extend membership.)

Not all free trade agreements, however, claim to rest on such a thick ideological foundation as the EU. Let Turkey into NAFTA!

Meanwhile: I've got my Two Towers tickets. It didn't occur to me until fairly late in the game that the free ticket that came with the Fellowship DVD wasn't compatible with buying advance tickets online-- which is of course necessary for opening-day seats. Guess I'll just have to go again. Dang.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Juan non-Volokh posted what seemed to me an implausibly sanguine account of the advantages of student-edited law reviews over peer-reviewed journals... but before I could get around to pointing out the difficulties in the argument, his fellow Conspirators Orin Kerr and Sasha Volokh had already done it, thus confirming both a point I made a long time ago about the similarity between blogging and peer review and the possibility I mentioned last week that the future belongs to groupblogs....
via Baggage Carousel No. 4, a paper on the population dynamics of Sunnydale, CA.