The War Of The Epics

by Varda

..there has been a lot of 'epics are in' comments in the film magazines, all mentioning LOTR and especially The Return Of The King. But they all seem to think Troy will be the epic to end all epics. One article I read said 'unlike Lord of The Rings, the action is not cgi..(computer generated imagery)'

Which is not really fair, as firstly, LOTR used huge numbers of actual human and animal extras and secondly Jackson only utilised cgi for things it was impossible to show in reality, like Mumakil and Gollum.

But there are parallels; both bring to the screen a classic tale from literature; both tales had to be altered slightly for film. But there is a big difference between Homer and Tolkien; Homer wrote (recited, actually) for Bronze Age kings who wanted to hear vainglorious tales of bloody warfare and beautiful women being abducted and carried off. The Iliad like the Odyssey is a tale without much compassion or humour. Cunning rather than wisdom is the most prized quality. Ordinary people don't matter, and pride, aggression, greed and cruelty are admired. Hope, friendship and sacrifice, the lynchpins of The Lord Of The Rings, are either absent or unimportant. It is a savage epic, for a savage age. It is the opposite of The Lord of The Rings.

So will it make mincemeat of Peter Jackson's achievement? For his leading two heroes, Frodo and Aragorn, Jackson chose two unknown actors, Viggo and Elijah - and was dramatically vindicated. The director of Troy, Wolfgang Petersen, has used what looks like every famous actor on earth. And their dog. Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Peter O'Toole, Julie Christie, Sean Bean, Brian Blessed, even our own Irish Brendan Gleeson (watch out, Wolfgang, he steals scenes....)

I can see a danger that there are too many top class actors vying for the viewer's attention. Devastatingly impressive as the battle scenes were in TTT and ROTK they were never out of control or more important than the people in them, but Petersen says he is dedicated to bringing out the savagery of that kind of warfare.

Then there is the story; as a classicist I hate to bash Homer, but a story about a war to get back a stolen wife has a certain moral emptiness.

Isn't that what is so remarkable about Tolkien's epic? All epics up to this have been about quests to GAIN something, or KILL someone. Gold, or land, or women, or (as in the Irish Táin) cattle. Preferably someone else's. But the thing here, the amazing trick JRR played on all literature, is that his epic is not about getting some symbol of power but about *giving it away*, destroying it even. Tolkien sublimates loss and defeat and sacrifice and makes them the new heroism.

This is Tolkien's revolution; after thousands of years of epic literature said the opposite, Tolkien says power is evil, loss can be gain and friends matter more than subjects and defeated foes.

Tolkien versus Homer? Let the games begin......

Danaos dona ferentes, :-)