What does it mean to adapt something for the screen? On the surface, you might say you want to adhere to the source material as closely as possible. Otherwise, what’s the point? For decades, this mindset led filmmakers to consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy classic, “The Lord of the Rings” to be unadaptable, until Peter Jackson proved them wrong in 2001.
In a pre-production interview with the Director’s Guild of America, Jackson said, “The books themselves are not structured to easily equate to a screenplay. Most of the first book is a gentle stretch of journey and masses of exposition. For the movies, we will have to make motivations a little tighter and more urgent. We have to focus on The Ring, Sauron, and the threat to Middle Earth.”
With that in mind, one would think placing the focus of “Fellowship of the Ring” on urgency would take away from the beauty and full feel of Tolkien’s world, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The film adaptation of “Fellowship” perfectly transforms the tumultuously slow moving book into one of my favorite adventure films of all time. As opposed to the plodding, at times page-length paragraphs that describe the intricate world of Middle Earth, Jackson’s film focuses on the wide-eyed wonder of the characters setting out on their journey, and an ever growing malevolent presence building in the background. This makes the film feel both complete, while whetting the audience’s appetite for an even grander adventure to come.
Every aspect of this adaptation was next level. From 1997 to 2004, Jackson and his crew shot all three films back to back for over $380 million. This dedication to the craft presented a Middle Earth in picture perfect scale and realism.
But the true highlight of Jackson’s films is the characters. A shining example is Sean Bean’s Boromir. This character is given an added focus from his appearance in the book, giving him a full, emotional arc complete with a farewell that brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.
If interested in seeing maybe the greatest example of adaptation, check out “The Fellowship of the Ring” now on HBO Max.