I remember the old days, when a project would be announced, positive buzz would build, images would be teased, and then you had to wait to see it before being confronted with a crushing sense of disappointment.
Clearly Amazon decided that was as inefficient, so now they’ll destroying expectations months in advance.
Look, I have no illusions that any adaptation made in the current day will be either faithful to the source material or even worth watching. Hollywood is a creative desolation, incapable of pulling together even the simplest of dramatic performances and making them interesting.
Still, there are good shows out there and Amazon has even produced a few of them. Given the huge financial investment, I figured they might have hired one of the two or three people left in the industry still capable of sentient thought.
Making Peter Jackson Look Good
In case you missed it, I’ve already done a reappraisal on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, and they are grossly overrated garbage. Not only did they completely screw up the source material, they were awful as movies. Sure, the actors do a good job with what they have, but the plot is incoherent.
As for The Hobbit, yeah, I skipped it.
One thing you can say for Peter Jackson, though: his casting was superb. He clearly didn’t understand the books, but he actually read them, particularly the descriptions of the various characters. He made them do stupid things, but they looked good while they did it.
Amazon apparently bought the rights to a property they neither understood nor read.
Again With The “Our Fans Are Racist” Marketing Strategy
There is no clearer proof that the end product is going to stink than when justifiable concerns about casting decisions are immediately used to attack the core audience of the production.
While I understand that some people prefer their sword and sorcery films to be set in multi-ethnic societies that mirror our own, trying to turn an essentially British-based story into a university diversity seminar is a bad idea. It’s already clear that Amazon didn’t want to faithfully capture the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, they wanted to convert them to woke ideology.
I guess at this point, we should wonder why the project is even moving forward at all, since we all know that orcs are now racist.
The first thing we have to understand is that Tolkien was a man of immense historical knowledge and he put that to good use when creating the setting for his stories. Yes, he used fantastic creatures, created his own languages and an elaborate history, but the remarkable thing was how realistic it is. He reasoned that you’re much more likely to buy into the idea of orcs and dragons if they exist within an otherwise relatable environment.
As part of this, he understood that in pre-industrial times, tribes of people all tended to the look the same. They intermarried with one another and as the generations passed, that shared ancestry led to shared physical features. You also had extended kinship systems, and while Tolkien makes fun of this with his digressions on Hobbit genealogy, it is the centerpiece of the quest to restore the Kingdom of Gondor by placing the Heir of Elendil upon the throne.
When one decides to go and throw “diverse” people into this situation, it wrecks the entire construct. As expected, anyone who objects to a visibly African person playing a Dwarf of Moria is being denounced as a White Nationalist racist, but let’s unpack this. Dwarves are famously clannish in Tolkien’s world, being divided into exactly seven nations, each with own common ancestor. They also live underground. This means that under any normal construct of biology, they would tend to be both pale and – within each nation – look a lot alike. So when you have someone with strikingly different features, it stands out.
Keeping It Real
As is customary, I will have to include a disclaimer that of course it’s great to have people of every ethnicity appear in movies and television shows. That’s not the issue – the issue is whether they should be in specific settings.
For example, Akira Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece Ran is brilliant retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in feudal Japan. The visuals, the acting, music – everything about it is stunning. You know what would ruin it? Having a blond dude be one of the samurai. I guess you could, but you’d have to explain what the heck he’s doing in feudal Japan. At that point you’re changing the story.
This applies to pretty much all period pieces – if you put a story in a specific time and place, you populate the set and cast with things appropriate to that time and place.
Going back to Ran, what if one of the samurai decides that swords are kind of lame, so he goes full Zardoz and starts mowing down his enemies with a Webley-Fosbery revolver? Wait, what? How’d that get there? And why is the guy next to him wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt?
In order for fiction to work, you need to have the willing suspension disbelief. This is critically important when you choose a different time and place. In a movie like St. Elmo’s Fire, you don’t really have to worry much about fixing things so that they look “realistic” because you’re basically setting the film down the street.
Yes, you can do “modern dress” versions of the classics, and they can be great. Obviously, people have done that with Shakespeare and the works of Jane Austen, and putting an old story in a new setting can tell you a lot about both eras.
But when your story is set in a mythic land of dragons and elves, a failure to maintain a consistent look and feel can wreck the entire enterprise.
The New Ignorant Monoculture
Part of the problem is that our current creative class lives in a bubble. They don’t understand how unique our society is in the scope of human history. Far from being mired in racism, it is the most open and ethnically tolerant that has every existed. They either don’t know or don’t care how prior societies looked and if they do, they’re taking it upon themselves to re-write history.
This is both lazy and racist.
If you want to celebrate African culture, the proper way to do so is to make movies about it. Study the legends, cultures, and languages and tell those stories.
You’ll also quickly learn just how much differentiation there is within Africa itself. There is no way you can confuse a Nigerian with a Kenyan. Even within the various nations, the tribes can pick each other out on sight. The problem is that this takes effort.
Simply dropping a random African into Tudor England isn’t diversity, it’s lazy tokenism.
The Reserved Judgement of Apathy
For the record, my hair isn’t on fire over this. I expect every modern film to be garbage and that’s why I’m rarely disappointed.
I will give a brief shout-out to Amazon’s Legend of El Cid, which by the way checks all the ethnic and gender boxes because it is set in Medieval Spain, which was an actual multi-ethnic crossroads at the time. How cool is that?
It’s very much a Game of Thrones-style tale with Christian and Muslim rules working to screw each other (literally!), and it fully plays up the cultural differences.
I can’t recommend it unconditionally because it is ongoing, so there’s plenty of time to screw it up. Still, someone there gets how to do a period piece that preserves its sensibilities. This is probably because it’s being made in Spain by actual Spanish people.
There is also the possibility that Amazon is trying to pre-empt later accusations of insufficient diversity because the actual film will be much more white than these teasers indicate.
If that’s the case, it’s still a stupid move. The way to stand up to the woke is stand up to the woke. By buying into their tokenism, you alienate the core audience and you will not make that up with woke viewers.
Jeff Bezos may end up having made the biggest flop in history. Or it will be good. I’m comfortable with either outcome.