Adaptation Snubs: The Scouring of the Shire

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Before the review of The Return of the King, let’s take a look at one final adaptation snub, and it’s the biggest of them all (at least in my opinion)—The Scouring of the Shire.

What is it?

After the destruction of the ring (um… spoiler I guess) and Aragorn is crowned king (Oh come on, that’s the title!), the Fellowship finally departs Gondor. They make various stops along the way, including Rivendell to visit Bilbo. While for some writers, this sort of ending would fell drawn out and overlong, Tolkien obviously still has a story to tell. He obviously knew how to be concise—just look at The Hobbit where the return journey is briefly skimmed over in the last chapter.

Upon stopping in Isengard, Gandalf discovers that Treebeard has fallen to Saruman’s trickery and has let him go. The company later discovers him on the road, a pale shadow of the powerful wizard he used to be, traveling like a beggar with Grima Wormtongue, who he continues to treat horribly.

After visiting Bree and finding that it was not unaffected by the war, Gandalf departs the company of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin and goes to visit with Bombadil. Gandalf warns them that the Shire may not be as it was when they left, but that they too have changed and will be ready for it.

Upon returning to the borders of the Shire, the hobbits learn that the Shire is under new leadership. No one is admitted after dark, hobbits are now either in submission to the new leadership or in jail, everything is rationed and the simplicity of before is gone. Bill Ferny, a mysterious man of Bree is now in league with the evildoers, and everyone speaks of a mysterious “chief” and the ruffians that work for him. Everyone assumes this chief is Frodo’s wily cousin Lotho Sackville-Baggins.

Finding refuge in the house of Tom Cotton…

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NOT THAT ONE!

Finding refuge in the house of Farmer Cotton, the hobbits learn of what has happened, and Merry and Pippin lead a fight against the ruffians, banishing them and winning The Battle of Bywater. An intentional point is made to not spill hobbit blood, as the hobbits merely fell victim to a greater evil. Frodo, now mostly reserved and suffering from his wounds (emotional and physical) is the one insisting on this throughout. It would have been easy to put Frodo back to square one, or at least relieved that he is now done with the ring, but he never fully recovers and is mostly out of focus in the battle.

Coming finally to Bag End, Frodo and company find out the true identity of the Chief—Saruman. Even still, Frodo doesn’t attempt to harm Saruman, telling him simply to leave. He starts to leave with Wormtongue, but stabs Frodo unexpectedly. However, the stab is stopped by Frodo’s mithril coat and Frodo again offers Saruman to go, even telling Wormtongue he can stay, as he has done no evil against hobbits. Saruman then reveals that it was Wormtongue who murdered Lotho (and even implies that he might have eaten his corpse), upon which Wormtongue murders Saruman and is immediately shot dead by hobbit archers. Sure, the Shire is eventually rebuilt, but things will never be the same.

It’s an absolutely fascinating part of the story, and I’d probably even call it my favorite portion. It refuses to just have a traditional happy ending with all the hell the characters have been put through. The ring has been destroyed, but it brought so much evil to Middle-earth, and not all of that can be undone. More than that, it is the final pathetic act of a desperate villain. Saruman has fallen so far that this is clearly just an act of petty revenge, something he even admits after Frodo refuses to raise a hand against him. It’s just so vain to beat Frodo to his own home and try to defeat him there, and it’s a perfect arc for Saruman.

Also, it continues Tolkien’s theme of evil eventually self-destructing. Saruman isn’t brought down in some huge battle or heroic siege, but by his own put-upon servant. His own cruelty has finally caught up with him, and the hobbits even pity him upon his death.

Why Is It Cut?

Because the filmmakers don’t know good writing when they see it.

Okay seriously, on the surface, I could see someone wanting to cut this because the destruction of the ring is what the story has been leading to… but for me, that’s the kind of the point of this chapter. It’s hinted at, but it’s not entirely expected. It’s one of the many things that elevates The Lord of the Rings above other great journey stories. The characters aren’t the same and home is not the same. Plus, it’s a perfect wrap-up to Saruman’s story.

Ralph Bakshi never made the second half of his adaptation, so who knows what he would have done? The Rankin/Bass adaptation doesn’t even feature Saruman, so this obviously isn’t there (gotta fit those 15 songs in there). Peter Jackson shows destruction of the Shire in Fellowship when Frodo looks into the Mirror of Galadriel, but she does not guarantee he is seeing things that will happen. There is no Scouring of the Shire in his Return of the King, but at least in the extended cut, we get a wrap-up of Saruman’s story.

An early scene in Return of the King shows Gandalf, Aragorn and others riding to Isengard, where they find Merry and Pippin and confront Saruman, now imprisoned in the tower that was once his. This is inspired by a scene that was in The Two Towers book, but it mixes some of the Scouring chapter in there too. After Gandalf commands Saruman’s staff to be broken, Grima stabs Saruman from behind, causing him to plummet onto a set of spikes… because EXTRA DRAMA. Alright, it’s overly dramatic, but it’s still a very well executed scene.

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Pun intended

What I find odd is that Legolas immediately shoots Grima dead after this. Just a minute ago, Theoden was talking with Grima and giving him another chance, and then Legolas just kills him. What was the point in that? Maybe it was going with the theme of the book where Frodo doesn’t want Saruman’s blood shed regardless, but why not tell us this?

Sadly, it’s not a Scouring of the Shire scene proper, but at least we get to see what happens to Saruman. It’s unquestionably Christopher Lee’s best work in the trilogy, as he uses his voice to win power over people instead of merely telling armies to fight. I’ll even admit the fall from the tower looks pretty great.

Still, it’s a shame this interesting little story never got adapted to film. There is a BBC radio adaptation that included it in the story, but that’s really the only one. Losing the chapter cuts a lot out of Merry and Pippin’s stories, which is a shame too, because maybe Peter Jackson could have made them something more than comic relief (but probably not).

Next week, it’s my review of The Return of the King.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

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  • Year: 2002
  • Director: Peter Jackson
  • Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen

Well, I was fairly kind to The Fellowship of the Ring, but will I come around to the second film in Peter Jackson’s trilogy as well? Let’s find out.

My Original Thoughts on Two Towers

As I said in my review of Fellowship, I probably had the least individual issues with this one in the past, even though I considered Fellowship the better film. Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Gollum has always been a stand-out of the whole series for me, and his scenes with Frodo and Sam stick out in my memory.

My Thoughts Today

In regards to structure, The Two Towers is the hardest of the three volumes to adapt. It has a structure, sure, but it is the middle portion of a very long story. For one, The Two Towers is divided in half, with the first half covering the adventures of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry, Pippin and (spoiler) Gandalf, and the other half covering the journey of Frodo and Sam.

Unless you’re going to make two separate movies, the only option is to cut back-and-forth between these two halves, which is what Jackson opts to do. However, Jackson doesn’t adapt all of the book into this film, seeing as how the first chapter was the climax of Fellowship, and the last chapters work their way into Return of the King. I understand wanting to make the Battle of Helm’s Deep the climax, but it cuts out so much and forces way too much into the next installment. It takes the middle chapters of The Two Towers and, even though there is a lot to adapt, still manages to pad them.

We start with scenes of Gandalf fighting the Balrog, because Jackson doesn’t know how to foreshadow subtly.

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It’s a cool enough sequence, but it’s like Jackson can’t help but say “See? See? Gandalf’s coming back!” I’m not even saying it’s supposed to be that big of a twist, but between this and not seeing the face of the White Wizard that Treebeard brings Merry and Pippin to later, any chance at surprise is lost.

The Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli scenes have a lot of room for potential, and the landscapes sure are gorgeous.

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These should be great scenes, as we’ve got a strong man, a strong elf and strong dwarf coming together to look for Merry and Pippin. However, even with all of this going for it, this movie just doesn’t know what to do with Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).

Gimli just becomes the laughing stock of the group… it feels insulting to call him comic relief because he isn’t funny and it’s never relieving. He’s just annoying.

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Get it? GET IT? Dwarves are fat and slow.

Let’s take a look at some Gimli lines from this film:

I’m wasted on cross-country! We Dwarves are natural sprinters, very dangerous over short distances.

This new Gandalf is more grumpy than the old one.

Talking trees. What do trees have to talk about, hmm… except the consistency of squirrel droppings?

See? These lines aren’t funny…they’re just painful attempts to be funny. Either actually make him funny or don’t bother with the comic relief angle, but make him competent too. He doesn’t seem cut out for this journey at all, which doesn’t really make any sense, as Fellowship painted him as a valiant dwarf warrior.

Now, once the actual battle does come along, he is a great fighter, and I even like the way he snarks during the battle. That works as a way to lighten the mood and make him a character to cheer for. Make him funny, don’t just make him an idiot.

Legolas, on the other hand, has no character at all. I’m not saying the character has a lot to do besides befriend Gimli and be a skilled fighter, but he was perfectly memorable in Bakshi’s version. Orlando Bloom’s Legolas seems aloof and pretty uncaring towards everything. Show an emotion now and then, please.

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When you put these two with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who is a great character but for some reason still can’t decide if he wants to be king, it leads to some bland scenes.

They do finally meet up with the aren’t-you-surprised-he’s-alive-no-not-even-a-little Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen)…

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On Casual Friday apparently. Come on, what’s with that sweater?

Unfortunately, one of the book’s most interesting scenes is cut from the film. One night (before meeting the reincarnated Gandalf), Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are sleeping out in the woods and see a mysterious old man they assume to be Saruman. However, once Gandalf comes back, the reader assumes this was Gandalf the whole time… except Gandalf later says it wasn’t. I just love the way it toys with our expectations—first leading us to think they’re in danger of Saruman, then convincing us they never were, but then revealing that yes it was Saruman all along. It also gives a chance to see more of Saruman instead of just a powerful wizard in a tower. Maybe I’m the only one who misses this scene, who knows, but it might have made an interesting addition to the film.

Saruman (Christopher Lee) should really have his chance to shine in this film (especially because his best moments in Return of the King don’t get adapted properly). However, instead of the interesting character of Tolkien’s book who clearly intends to have the ring for himself, this Saruman basically acts as Sauron’s top general. Christopher Lee still makes the most of his scenes, because he’s Christopher Lee, but he really got the short end of the stick in terms of interesting moments.

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Rawr rawr, do evils and stuff.

Instead of just having Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) give him villainous council, Saruman fully possesses King Theoden of Rohan (Bernard Hill).

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It’s an attempt to make the book’s events more dramatic for the screen, sure, but if Saruman is fully controlling Theoden’s body, what’s the point of Grima Wormtongue at all? If Saruman is possessing a vessel, can’t he just make all his decisions for him?

While in the book Gandalf merely banished Grima from the court of Rohan, here he performs an exorcism of sorts to cast Saruman out of Theoden.

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Once Saruman is expelled from the king’s body, Theoden goes from this…

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To this…

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In a matter of moments. Did Gandalf work some magical hair coloring spell into that exorcism? It sure seemed to take a lot out of him, so working extra spells in was probably unnecessary.  Did he work in a shave and a haircut spell too, because Theoden goes from unkempt hair and scraggly beard to flowing locks and trimmed goatee? Does being possessed by Saruman activate The Santa Clause or something?

So much of the film is spent with the people of Rohan preparing for battle…preparing, preparing and then preparing some more. Miranda Otto adds some heart as Eowyn, one of the brightest points in the film, but there just isn’t a lot going on here. Eomer (Karl Urban) on the other hand doesn’t have a lot to do, except fight. It’s ultimately just a runaround to get to the climactic battle.

Worst of all, we get an absurdly long fake-out death on the part of Aragorn. Look, obviously you’re not going to kill off this character at this point in the story, but you’re really going to try and make us think you will. The greatest weakness of these screenplays is the attempts to force drama into scenes that work just fine as they are. There was some of it in Fellowship, but it’s in full force here, and it is not for the better.

I’m glad they try to develop the romance of Aragorn and Arwen (Liv Tyler), as it’s pretty downplayed in the book until the very end and the appendices, but what’s with the whole “This is her last chance to sail across the sea” thing? It’s obviously NOT her last chance, because Elrond (Hugo Weaving) is the one telling Aragorn this! He goes across the sea at the end of the next film.

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Oh Peter Jackson, always with the drama.

Meanwhile, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) are caught up in an actually interesting plot line. After escaping the Uruk-Hai, they get picked up by Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies), who is debating whether or not to attack Isengard.

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It’s a slow moving plot (which makes sense at the speed the Ents talk), but it’s a lot more interesting than just walking to battle…and more walking to battle…and preparing for battle. I still don’t care for the way Merry and Pippin are portrayed. It’s incredibly childlike, which is weird because in this version they’re the ones who convince the Ents to attack Isengard. So what, in between their juvenile game of Who-Can-Get-Taller-By-Drinking-Ent-Draught they’re planning battle strategies?

I have to admit that the Ent meeting…

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And ultimately the Siege of Isengard…

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Are great scenes, with the siege standing out as one of the best in the whole trilogy. It’s just such a visual marvel as the trees overthrow the fortress of Saruman.

Meanwhile, our other two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, are on their way to Mordor. I explained in my piece on Faramir just how silly the Faramir scenes are in this film, as he takes them all the way back to Gondor just to let them go and get back to where they were. However, the scenes before that with Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) are quite nice. There hadn’t been a great portrayal of Gollum up until this point (Brother Theodore in the Rankin-Bass The Hobbit was the closest), but Andy Serkis is pitch perfect as both Smeagol and Gollum. He is constantly fighting with himself and we see all the tumult on his face. These were groundbreaking CGI effects and they still hold up marvelously. It’s hard to read the books now without hearing Andy Serkis’ distinctive whimper.

The scenes are a little more over-the-top than they were in the book, but they are still pretty effective. When Frodo, Sam and Gollum are at the gates of Mordor, instead of just seeing that it’s a suicide mission to go in, Sam trips and falls almost into full view of the army and Frodo has to save him.

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It’s somewhat overblown, but nowhere near as bad as the rest of the forced drama Jackson throws in.

The Faramir scenes had potential to be great… but I’ve ranted enough. The flashback scene with Boromir and Faramir might be the greatest in the film, though. I’m just glad there’s more Sean Bean.

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The Nazgul no longer ride horses and have instead mounted flying beasts… and the screech is terrifying. They’re actually the best villains in this film just because of that screech (unless we’re counting Gollum). Oh not Sauron, you say? No because they make him a literal eye and it’s stupid.

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Come on…. you’re better than this, Peter Jackson (maybe).

The climax comes at 1) The Battle of Helm’s Deep, 2) The Ents Siege of Isengard and 3) Faramir freeing Frodo, Sam and Gollum. Even though the buildup to Helm’s Deep goes way too long, the actual battle is a pretty effective sequence.

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I do love the blue light it’s shot in, and we get the feeling of how hellish the battle is, almost immediately after it starts. Haldir (Craig Parker), an elf from Lothlorien, brings an army of elves to help in the battle and is almost immediately slain.

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The elves don’t join in the battle in the book, but I actually enjoy this change, as the elves can seem somewhat aloof and prideful otherwise. Now granted, Craig Parker would have been a far better Legolas than Orlando Bloom, as he does a fantastic job with just a few minutes of screen time, but like the elves, I have to pick my battles.

Ultimately, The Two Towers is a fine film, but for something based on quite a long text, it really pads way more than it should. The Faramir stuff is really unpleasant (except that one scene) and there are goofy scenes like Aragorn not liking some stew Eowyn offers him or Gimli just being dumb. These don’t develop the plot at all, and they even make some characters unlikable. Let’s check out the final score.

Adaptation (30/50 Points)

Do I blame the stuff it leaves out on this or Return of the King? Some of it’s saved for the next film, but it drags the film down considerably. For all the buildup, there’s just not enough payoff (The Ents siege is spectacular though). However, the Faramir changes are the most egregious.

Cast (15/25 Points)

Andy Serkis is the stand-out as Gollum, with Sean Astin as Sam not too far behind. Miranda Otto is great as Eowyn, and Brad Dourif is rightfully creepy as Wormtongue. Sadly, Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the White doesn’t have much focus, and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas is even more boring than before. Most of the others are about the same as the last film.

Experience (20/25 Points)

The good news is all those silly close-ups are gone. The bad news is there are a lot less interesting things to film here. The Ent scenes look pretty great though, and of course the music is wonderful.

FINAL SCORE: 65%

There are definitely more issues than Fellowship looking at this again, but it’s not bad… it’s just not all that great. It just is very obviously the middle installment of a trilogy where the most interesting events happen in the first and third.

Next week, it’s another adaptation snub.

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The 25 Dumbest Lyrics in Worst Song Ever

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Before we officially declare a song to be the Worst Song Ever, let’s take a look at the 25 worst lyrics from the songs in this tournament. Just like with the voting, some of these choices were difficult.

25. FACK

Shove a gerbil in your ass through a tube (repeated endlessly)

24. No Means No

But I really wanna hit it girl/No means no/I can do it for a minute girl/No means no

23. Rico Suave

My only addiction has to do with the female species/I eat ’em raw like sushi

22. Indian Outlaw

You can find me in my wigwam/I’ll be beatin’ on my tom-tom/Pull out the pipe and smoke you some/Hey and pass it around

Got some more Native American stereotypes for us, Tim?

21. Mambo No. 5

Anything fly, it’s all good let me dump it/Please set in the trumpet

20. Ascension Millennium

Times are hard and this is true, but you can edit it to you/Cause this reality is only temporaripermanently 

Corey Feldman’s career has lasted temporaripermanently.

19. Disco Duck

Flapping my arms I began to cluck/Look at me, I’m the disco duck

Ducks don’t cluck. I believe I’ve made my feelings on this clear.

18. Rollin’

It is chocolate starfish keep on rollin’ baby move in

17. Seasons in the Sun

But the stars we could reach Were just starfish on the beach

Moral of the story: Don’t write songs about starfish.

16. Summer Girls

New Kids On The block had a bunch of hits/Chinese food makes me sick

15. Havin’ My Baby

The need inside you, I see it showin’/Whoa, the seed inside ya baby, do you feel it growin’

Look, the whole song makes me nauseous, I just had to pick one.

14. Accidental Racist

If you don’t judge my do-rag/I won’t judge your red flag

13. Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue

And you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass, it`s the American way

Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers put a boot in the ass of… yeah, no, not the American way.

12. The Christmas Shoes

I knew that God had sent me that little boy to remind me what Christmas is all about

Yes, Christmas is all about contrived sob stories and oversung vocals. You’ve nailed it, NewSong.

11. Just the Way You Are (Drunk at the Bar)

I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar/I like it and I can’t wait to get you home, so I can do some damage.

10. Nookie

I did it all for the nookie, the nookie/So you can take that cookie and stick it up your, yeah!!

One of the worst rhymes in music history.

9. Honky Tonk Badonkadonk

Got it goin’ on like Donkey Kong/And whoo-wee shut my mouth, slap your grandma 

8. MacArthur Park

Someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it/’Cause it took so long to bake it and I’ll never have that recipe again

Should I save the recipe? Nah, I don’t think I’ll need it.

But what if you leave the cake out in the rain?

7. Where I Come From

This tall lady stopped and asked if I had plans for dinner/Said no thanks ma’am, back home we like the girls that sing soprano

It doesn’t even try to rhyme… which would be fine, except the rest of the song does.

6. He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)

He hit me and it felt like a kiss/He hit me and I knew he loved me

5. Get Down

Gonna make you come tonight… over to my house

Prime Dewey Cox writing… terrible writing from anyone else.

4. Smart Girls

Wouldn’t it be nice If they gave PhD’s/For strokin’ me with hypotheses

Painfully rhymed, vomit-worthy, and it ruins a classic Beach Boys song. Anything else you’d like to add?

3. Figured You Out

And I love your lack of self-respect while you passed out on the deck/I love my hands around your neck

This is probably what Nickelback calls a love song.

2. Accidental Racist

If you don’t judge my gold chains/I’ll forget the iron chains

Um yeah.

1. Summer Girls

When you take a sip you buzz like a hornet/Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets

This is a song that randomly throws in lines just for a rhyme, but this doesn’t rhyme! Not only does it make no sense, the words don’t rhyme! What’s the point of this?

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Worst Song Ever: Fearful Four

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Only two songs remain. Which will go on to be declared the Worst Song Ever?

FINAL MATCH

(6) Ascension Millennium by Corey Feldman vs. (5) Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J

Oh Corey Feldman. It really is terrible, and it would have been terrible in the 80s when you clearly wish you would have written it. But is it the Worst Song Ever?

And now Brad Paisley’s lyrics to “Accidental Racist,” translated to show what they really mean (not bothering with LL’s because I have no clue what he was thinking).

To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand

(Where do black people work? Let’s guess Starbucks.)

When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan

(And also slavery, but Skynyrd’s later material also feels like torture that’s never going to end)

The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south

(Let’s just throw some metaphors in that don’t really make sense. They’ll think I’m deep.)

And I just walked him right in the room

(Sir, this is a Starbucks, we don’t serve coffee to elephants. Also, this is America, we don’t allow symbols of defeated enemies.)

Just a proud rebel son with an ‘ol can of worms

(Worms aren’t cool in Starbucks either. There hasn’t been one apology for racism yet but sure a lot of defense.)

Lookin’ like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view

(Nah we already heard your point of view.)

I’m just a white man comin’ to you from the southland, tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be

(Hey maybe someone would have the conversation if you took of the shirt that represents enslaving their ancestors.)

I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done

(I know, you’re still bummed about losing the Civil War.)

And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history

(At this point, I think the Starbucks worker has moved on to the next customer.)

Our generation didn’t start this nation, We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday

(Starting from scratch, great, try removing the Confederate flag shirt.)

And caught between southern pride and southern blame

(Uh, try leaning towards blame, Brad.)

They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears. We’re still siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years.

(Is this what they teach in the South? Reconstruction lasted a mere 14 YEARS! It was brought to a stop in exchange for Rutherford B. Hayes winning a contested election. You’re still sifting through the rubble because reconstruction didn’t continue. It took \100 years for Civil Rights to even get passed.)

I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin/But it ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin

(I want to see what it’s like to be someone else, but not really. Let’s just go back to the Confederate flag defense.)

Oh, Dixieland, I hope you understand what this is all about

(Oh yeah, start singing the anthem of a country we defeated in war 150 years ago. THAT will help race relations.)

I’m a son of the new South

(Um great, then stop wearing the flag of the old one.)

And I just want to make things right where all that’s left is Southern pride.

(So you just totally gave up on that Southern blame part then.)

You’ve got 48 hours to vote. Let’s find out what is truly the Worst Song Ever!

SEMI-FINALS

(5) Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J vs. (3) Indian Outlaw by Tim McGraw

Hey if you think this is bad, you should have seen the rejected lyrics like “If you forgive my soul food, I’ll forgive your white hood.”

Well it’s the battle of the racially insensitive country songs. Which member of this should-be-more-rare subgenre will move on?

(1) The Christmas Shoes by NewSong vs. (6) Ascension Millennium by Corey Feldman

I’m really glad this didn’t lead to a “Poor Kids Dying So Rich White Guys Can Have a Better Christmas” sub-genre. One is too much.

The dislike bar on YouTube says it all. This is barely a song at all.

Adaptation Snubs: Faramir

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Since I had an obvious snub in mind for both Fellowship and Return of the King, I decided to throw one in for The Two Towers as well. Faramir is entirely left out of Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, and is probably left out of the Rankin/Bass The Return of the King…. again, I’m not sure if this is him.

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Now granted, these two films combined don’t cover the entire The Lord of the Rings series, but Faramir gets the short end of both sticks. The bulk of his story just happens to come at the space between these two, although he has a part of play in the third book as well (Rankin/Bass just said screw it and put in more songs instead).

Then we have the Peter Jackson films. I understand changes have to be made in adaptations (Rosemary’s Baby aside), but there’s cutting something for time and then there’s completely changing a character. In the book, Faramir did take Frodo and Sam back to his fortress, and he was tempted by the ring, but the whole point of his character is that he resisted temptation.

Faramir is an obvious foil to his brother, the late Boromir. Boromir saw the ring, and while he tried to fight temptation, eventually fell under its power and tried to kill Frodo for it. Faramir saw the ring, knew what had happened to his own brother, and ultimately resisted the temptation. He is shown over and over to be incredibly caring and thoughtful, not treating Gollum badly even though the creature worries him, and gladly sending Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their way with as much as he can give them.

In Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers, Faramir is played by David Wenham and is basically just Boromir… except totally not, because Boromir was way kinder in these movies. Faramir and his men capture Frodo and Sam and treat them like prisoners. Faramir is prickly with all of them, but he is just an all-out villain to Gollum, having his men whip him and later almost strangling him himself.

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Instead of letting them go, Faramir actually takes the three back to his father Denethor in Gondor, with the intention of using the ring in the war. It is an incredible time waster, as it has to end with Faramir letting them go anyway. Even then, he only does it when Gondor falls under attack and Sam tells him what the ring did to Boromir. Hey Sam, why did you wait so long to tell him? I’m sure that walk to Osgiliath took hours, why didn’t you say “Hey your brother wanted the ring, too. He’s kinda dead now.” Why does every human in these movies (Aragorn aside-ish) have to be a selfish war hawk?

What bothers me the most about this portrayal is the clear disdain on the screenwriters’ part for the way Faramir is portrayed in the novel. They genuinely seem to think the character is too good for their “Look how dark and gritty we are” portrayal. For example, screenwriter Philippa Boyens says,

We wanted to extend his character to give him more of a journey, and it would seem incongruous were Faramir immediately sea-green incorruptible; whereas all other Men in the film (even Aragorn) definitely have to wrestle with their conscience to a greater or lesser extent.

Is sea-green the same as true blue? I mean, I’m guessing it is. Of course Faramir has to wrestle with his conscience. Boromir did the same thing, but the point is Faramir wins the wrestling match. He defeats the temptation of the ring, and in the book it’s a moral question he has already thought through.

Peter Jackson says on Faramir,

We wanted the episode with Faramir in this particular film to have a certain degree of tension. Frodo and Sam were captured. Their journey had become more complicated by the fact that they are prisoners. Which they are in the book for a brief period of time. But then, very quickly in the book, Tolkien sort of backs away from there and, as you say, he reveals Faramir to be very pure.

It is very clear by watching his films that Jackson is obsessed with creating tension where he doesn’t see any in the text. I understand keeping the story going, but not everything has to be a life-or-death conflict. The ring creates conflict enough of its own just by Frodo carrying it. Sure, the Faramir encounter isn’t incredibly perilous in the book, but that’s kind of the point. We are expecting Frodo and Sam to be captured by evil men who would want to take the ring, when in reality they have found an ally. If you really wanted to make it more dramatic, maybe some of Faramir’s men could have tried to take the ring and Faramir had to stop them or banish them. It ups the danger but doesn’t make Faramir out to be a terrible person. Maybe even his own men criticize him for being too good in these dark times, and he has to prove them wrong by doing the moral thing in the face of danger. Not every character needs to be an anti-hero.

Now, not everything done with Faramir is bad, at least not in the extended cut. Peter Jackson really plays up the fact that Denethor preferred Boromir over Faramir, but also the fact that Boromir and Faramir hated this and loved each other greatly. In fact, one of the best scenes in The Two Towers, only in the extended cut, shows Boromir (Sean Bean) and Faramir celebrating a victory together and regretting the fact that their father is about to ruin it. In just a few minutes, we completely get the relationship between the two brothers, their father and even their deceased mother.

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This feels like a scene that would have been perfectly in-line with book Faramir, and I guess it is trying to suggest that we can blame all of Faramir’s awful actions on his father, but it doesn’t make him that much more sympathetic.  If he knows his father is not well, why is he trying to please him by bringing him the ring?

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That face you make when you don’t want to bring destruction to all of Middle-earth but also want to appease a mentally ill man.

Still, it’s a brilliant scene, meaning Sean Bean is one of the best things in both of these movies so far.

Ultimately, the portrayal of Faramir is one of the most disappointing things about Jackson’s films. It doesn’t ruin the whole film or anything, but there was potential for brilliance in these scenes, and instead we got more of the same. Next week, we’ll find out if the whole film stands the test of time.

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