Some opinions on the Lord of the Rings movie aesthetics

The problem is, “good” is not a very developed concept in the director’s mind. Very common problem. (See also: Good is dumb on TV tropes.) This is actually the major problem with the LotR movies: they do an incredible job of presenting the hidden beauty of mundane things and expressing the aesthetics of evil. But they don’t do nobility very well.

I think the only people who pulled off decent depictions of nobility were Saruman, Theoden, Arwen, and Galadriel. Gandalf did okay. Viggo Mortenson did the job they gave him well, but they gave him a bad crib sheet to work from. The old 1978 cartoon did Aragorn better.

Mortenson’s Aragorn isn’t very kingly. He’s more of a teenager’s heartthrob. Theoden pulled off a bit of kingliness. Denethor was a travesty. He’s supposed to be a Saruman-like king and they made him another Wormtongue. And they didn’t give Elijah Wood any of the lines that showed Frodo to be the hobbit version of an old money aristocrat, although he was pretty good overall.

Hugo Weaving made a sporting effort but he was hopelessly miscast as Elrond. I’ll express this mismatch in a meme:


Doesn’t really fit, does it?

High elves are probably Tolkien’s worst-treated legacy. The correct understanding would begin with a nuanced angelology. The best example of this that I’ve seen was in Vox Day’s early series, The Wrath of Heaven etc. Most people’s conception of angels is joyless authoritarian Puritans. But “joyless” and “unsympathetic” are precisely opposite of the correct conception.

Tolkien’s elves, in contrast, were characterized by emotional depth, ranging from fey to lamentation. The way to understand elves properly is to imagine angels became nations on earth, like men. Whereas the D&D conception of elves is like the worst kind of modern scientist, austere, judging, and aloof. Possibly the worst offender is Skyrim, where the high elves are used as a metaphor for Jews.

There’s a sort of logic to this, since Europeans tend to conceive of Jews as a priestly race, and further associate priests ~ angels ~ elves. Hence, the joyless authoritarians who somehow manage to have beautiful Tolkienesque aesthetics in their clothing, armor, language, etc. Even though people who are ugly on the inside never make beautiful things. Most of the elf characters in the LotR movies look like children pretending to be adults in suits that are too big for them. The exceptions, although only somewhat, were Live Tyler as Arwen and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel.

Actually, I think Orlando Bloom was a pretty good Legolas, except they managed to make all of his action sequences look silly and he could have put a bit more of a sense of humor into it. But the character is pretty good, since he’s supposed to be youthful and energetic, and the strong jawline etc. balances out the girly hair. Sort of a warrior prince character. Except elvish.

The less said about the portrayal of Gimli the better. They wanted a comic relief character and succeeded in making him very funny, but it wasn’t the same Gimli as the books.

The aesthetics of everything evil was spot on, no complaints. Especially the orcs. You get the sense they wouldn’t look any less pretty with their skins off. You can SMELL the orcs when you see them. The sound production for their roars and screams is incredible. Their armor is perfect too. All hanging animal skins and hard edges and curves and points. The average orc looks like a homeless drifter and the Uruk-Hai look like genetically engineered super soldiers in SWAT armor. Wormtongue was perfect.

Sean Astin was the most perfect Samwise Gamgee I can imagine. Again, they did the hidden beauty of mundane things very well. The best way to see this is to look at the practical effects they put into all the manmade scenery of everyday things like house decorations.

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3 Responses to Some opinions on the Lord of the Rings movie aesthetics

  1. Boneflour says:

    “Welcome to Rivendell… Mister Anderson.”

  2. G[lenn]MT says:

    I find elves very interesting as a concept. There is a concept in physical anthropology of progressive vs. archaic physical features, pretty self-explanatory. Progressive features include things like high nasal bridges, strong jawlines, upright foreheads, stuff like that. These traits are universally considered more attractive than their archaic alternatives. These traits are most common in Europeans, and northern Europeans in particular. (There is similar dynamic in Asia, where NE Asians are considered more attractive than SE Asians for the same reason.) Elves are almost always depicted as having hyper-progressive features. Orcs, like Africans, have the opposite traits, and people seem to instinctively expect primitive, chaotic behavior from them.

    A more on the nose example of how people view these kind of races was from the original Warcraft game series. In the first game, there were just humans and orcs. The humans looked European, vaguely nordic/Anglo. The orcs looked almost like an African caricature–flat nasal bridge, wide nostrils, prognathism, dumb expressions, carrying clubs and other primitive weapons. The plot of the game was basically a race war (IIRC), with humans having the advantage of intelligence and technology and orcs having the advantage of short lives and higher reproductive rates. In the third game, they added night elves, which are basically the extreme anti-orc. In World of Warcraft MMORPG, female players disproportionately choose night elves as characters, and there seems to be a sentimental fan art community around them that is wholesome and

    Something you almost always see with elves is vaguely pagan/pre-Christian backgrounds. Elves often live in forests (the ancient habitat of Europeans), are attributed very ancient histories and traditions, and observe some kind of nature-based religion or tradition. They are very insular and xenophobic, causing them to be aloof to the broader changes in neighboring lands. Why would pagang be equated with progressive features? I have a theory but am likely too lazy to ever end up writing it.

    • Robotnick says:

      “Progressive” and archaic features are dispersed among most races in different ways.

      Negroid is probably a relatively new race, considering the anthropological record for anatomically negroid skeletons isn’t much older than 10,000 years old.
      Some africans have upright and relatively high foreheads. Many are prone to R selection and thus pump out a lot of miniskulls and otherwise degenerates. But there are certainly some formidable specimens as well.

      If you want to go for truly primitive you can look at many austronesian tribes and australian aborigines, who seem entirely unable to integrate into civilization as we know it, but interestingly tend to have insanely high viseospatial abilities.

      Some native americans have rather low vaulted craniums and very large facial dimensions.

      Europeans are most prone to having relatively strong brow ridges, though of course not as extreme as those of Aborigines.

      I don’t think progressive or archaic traits are all necessarily good or bad.

      I imagine the most “progressive” individual to be a shallowsock melonhead with a high upright forehead and having northwest European or perhaps east Asian descent. I’d imagine this kind of person being the most well-adjusted to the modern world. Take that for what you will.

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