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Lord of the Rings Vs. Harry Potter: Which Film Series Better Captured their Books’ Spirit?

Or are both solid examples of how to turn an iconic fantasy series into satisfying blockbusters for the whole family?

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PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

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May 27, 2014 - 4:35 pm

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

Also check out yesterday’s question: ”Which Science Fiction Novels Should Be Made into Films and TV Miniseries?“ the previous weeks’ writing prompts and email in your thoughts on any questions that strike your fancy: 5 Questions So We Can Figure Out the Cream of the Crop In Popular Music Genres5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy5 Controversial Questions To Inspire Spirited Debates About Music.

Dave Swindle: Harry Potter Is Better Than Star Wars and Star Trek

Hannah Sternberg: 4 Keys to Harry Potter‘s Success Missing From J.K. Rowling’s New Book

Roger Kimball: Harry Potter and the Deathly Shallows

This week we’ll begin a discussion about the best — and worst — ways to adapt stories from one medium to another. Your ideas and suggestions are always appreciated.

Chris Queen: Sean Astin Opens Up About His Faith

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios

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Top Rated Comments   
I thought the LOTR honed fairly closely to the books and I've read them many times. Whole sections were cut, but Peter Jackson didn't have 20 hours to tell the story. He was extremely lucky to get three films financed.

And in any story with a large number of characters, there's no time to do in-depth character studies of everyone, especially when you have a sweeping story to tell. All things considered, both Tolkien and Jackson did a good job fleshing out the main characters, giving them separate histories and personalities and even cultures and languages.

I was skeptical the LOTR could ever be put on screen in any meaningful telling. I was wrong. Peter Jackson and the writers and the actors did a remarkable job bringing that story to life. I think they deserve huge credit.

I've never read the Harry Potter books, so I can't comment on those.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (21)
All Comments   (21)
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Peter Jackson said when adapting LOTR that he had to narrow the focus to the story of the ring itself, everything else was "too much" I owned, and lent out (idiot) my extended edition of the movies. They never came back (surprise) and bought the theatrical versions. I liked those better.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
I far prefer LotR, with that being said, the Harry Potter books better captured their stories.

I loved the LotR movies until I read the books, then realized that Peter Jackson completely changed a story where man was the center of the story to one where men were secondary to the far better other creatures.

Harry Potter was far more faithfully captured.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The LotR movies were abominations that bore little resemblance to the books on which they were based.
In the books, there is always the sense that the adventure was taking place in the context of a larger world. In the movies, this is systematically eliminated and the focus is tightly on the characters. Everything revolves around them.
The party can't be defeated by Caradhras, it has to be Saruman.
Old Man Willow (despite important foreshadowing), Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow Wights are ruthlessly purged.
The ents march on Isengard to a new theme of "this time it's personal".
All of the stories and songs are eliminated. Even the one about the rings of power which is paraphrased in the opening voice-over.
That's just to start.
And that's without getting into such silly things as dwarf-tossing, shield-surfing, and using large catapults to launch your walls at a besieging enemy.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've gone round and round on this, and stand by the idea that Jackson's vision for LOTR was about as good as you're gonna get. (set aside 'The Hobbit', for now.)

Remember, film is not a book. They are different mediums, with differing needs. I remember thinking before seeing that both Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire (the latter one of my fave chapters) would not make the cut. They just wouldn't. Bombadil was too.... odd, and jiminy, try to imagine the already drawn out ending of RotK with the Scouring added.

And as for the songs..... sorry, but no way. Tolkien purists would appreciate, but it would come off like Bollywood via Middle Earth to everyone else. I knew those would be dumped from the get-go as well.

And note that, I timed my extended DVD's, including credits only for RotK, at an eleven hour, forty-two minute story, just under four hours for each volume. Not long enough for ya?

The "context of a larger world" observation has merit. But that may be a film vs. written issue. On the whole, Jackson pretty much nailed it, and waiting for someone to outdo that is gonna be one long wait.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
In order to answer this question, I'd have to define what the "spirit" is for each set of writings. It's clear the "spirits" of both are the classic Good vs. Evil. Whew, that was easy. Now, which one captured that best in the films? Please take my biased opinion that it was The Lord of the Rings. I haven't read or watched an entire Harry Potter book or movie, and I don't plan on it.

I think the only reason there were so many Potter books and movies was because Rowling decided to cash in on the first time ever the general public were actually waiting in line for hours to get into a book store. It seems a little contrived to me, and I imagine her writing suffered from it.

Tolkien, a Catholic, was clearly affected by the horrors of World War I. Therefore, he was able to portray the glory of having the courage to stand up against evil in his books in a much more wholehearted way.

To name a few of the distinctions that separate from a numerous and overly whimsical and Potter movie franchise are how Jackson and company had better actors, better sets, better special effects, and a better story to portray.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Harry Potter enterprise - books, movies, action figures, et al, is a broken, failed, emasculated, postmodern, pajama-boy attempt at achieving what Tolkien did.

Comparison is ignorance and conceit and foolishness distilled. An attempt to make a younger generation feel like it mattered as much as what came before. A Godfather III to I or II. The level of excellence and relevance to Western culture in each is so far apart that is like comparing apples to lockwashers.

Tolkien eats five Rowlings for breakfast and sh!ts them out before lunch.

Deal with it, Potterpeople.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I thought the LOTR honed fairly closely to the books and I've read them many times. Whole sections were cut, but Peter Jackson didn't have 20 hours to tell the story. He was extremely lucky to get three films financed.

And in any story with a large number of characters, there's no time to do in-depth character studies of everyone, especially when you have a sweeping story to tell. All things considered, both Tolkien and Jackson did a good job fleshing out the main characters, giving them separate histories and personalities and even cultures and languages.

I was skeptical the LOTR could ever be put on screen in any meaningful telling. I was wrong. Peter Jackson and the writers and the actors did a remarkable job bringing that story to life. I think they deserve huge credit.

I've never read the Harry Potter books, so I can't comment on those.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree. People perhaps forget that for years that book was considered unfilmable - not only because of the special effects but its length. You just didn't make three films of one book. And then someone did.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agreed - a pretty good job on LOTR.

I have to admit that I missed the cutting of Tom Bombadil and the journey through the Barrowdowns - but that was somewhat of a "side excursion" in the books, anyway.

The one problem I have with the LOTR adaptation is something that Jackson left in (he couldn't very well have left it out). Theoden's speech when he unfurled the banners of Rohan in front of the Fields of Pelennor - that scene in The Return of the King raised hairs on the back of my neck, and still does when rereading. In the film, it was more of a "meh - he's kind of upset, isn't he?"

Of course, Bernard Hill, while a very fine actor, is not a Charleton Heston. That is the kind of performance that the "revitalized" Theoden needed.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Lord of the Rings Vs. Harry Potter: Which Film Series Better Captured their Books’ Spirit?"

Absolutely no contest:
Harry Potter

There is almost nothing of the spirit of the LotR in the movies that hijacked their name.
The characters are nearly caricatures of the ones whose names they take from the books and their relationships are abandoned or corrupted into post-modern, pop drivel.

Harry Potter while afflicted with similar examples still maintains a functioning faithfulness to the original.
Of course that original in no way compares favorably to LotR, or much else beyond the other young adult tripe being inflicted on readers and moviegoers alike these days, but that is another discussion.

"Or are both solid examples of how to turn an iconic fantasy series into satisfying blockbusters for the whole family?"

Is the only way to make one of those out of one of them by abandoning the spirit of the book?
Or by maintaining the spirit of the book?
That "or" makes the question itself a bit of a logical fallacy or non sequitur.

And of course it prejudges that both movie series are actually "satisfying" "for the whole family". "Blockbuster" is objective, those are not.
For me, what the Kiwi hack did to LotR is about as "satisfying" as what the Dutch hack did to Starship Troopers, or the sad failure that Disney inflicted on John Carter.
And I know a fair share of younger people that agree with me.
Of course I also know a fair share that disagree.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Potter films were frequently brilliant and better retellings of the stories. That entire fleshed out and altered sequence in 3 where Harry and Hermione go back in time is solid gold on the screen. In the book it's bare bones prose not nearly as tense. In the movie you have these startling night scenes with a full moon and brilliant little things in the movie not in the book like Hermione distracting the werewolf with a call and complaining about how her hair looks from behind. The last little bit is a nice little touch. The short scene where Hermione frees Sirius Black from his cell is a triumph of editing I watch again and again although it's less than 15 sec. long. That was a really bright team of artists who worked on some of those films.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, straight up the Potter books are trash.
I mean RPG game-fic (turning your adventure into a book) trash.
The writing is feeble, the language worse, the setting absurd, and the exposition that attempts to turn it into something swinging wildly between overwritten and underwritten.
So in a sense, the movies started with a major advantage in terms of being able to improve on the original.

That said, they do deserve credit for that improvement.
As you say, they have significant rewatch value because of scenes like that, much more than the books have reread value.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Could be trash could be I'm in the wrong age group. Some people call Edgar Rice Burroughs "trash," yet he had a way of telling a story that trumped his failings as a writer.

I think one thing the Potter books do very cleverly is telling an overall story, then a story in each novel, and pausing to let people simply enjoy that world, and letting the overall plot slowly subsume the exploration and happiness of simply being in that world. It's a familiar technique now in long series, but not so easy to pull off. Robert Jordan put his braid-pulling sniffing harridans in a circus for about 8 kazillion pages for no reason whatsoever and I fell asleep.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
ERB is pulp, which has its own issues. I make no bones that ERB is 50 books with 1 plot and I still like them.
And even then, they have a style, language, setting, and exposition that are far and beyond anything from Rowling.

You mention Jordan:
Back when a friend was showing me a Game of Thrones book and trying to describe it, I quipped "What, he's Robert Jordan crossed with Robert Heinlein - he's going to take 5,000 pages to tell me he wants to boff his mom?"
And that's why I started buying only books written before 1950 until I gave Larry Correia a chance.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Neither film series is up to the level of the books. But they were both an excellent try.

For those of us who read, NO film can match up to the books. What we can create in our heads (especially with all of the details that an eight-hour read has, and a two or three hour film cannot) is far more vivid, and emotionally gripping - because it is OUR vision, only guided somewhat by the author.

(So far as the Dutch hack goes - I cannot agree with you more. There are times I wish I were a Muslim cleric, just so I could declare a fatwa...)
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
While ultimately any film does have that problem of overcoming the mental images created by a quality book, I try and stick with the core thematic elements.
With HP, I saw those thematic elements, even if the visuals were rather different from what I had imagined.
With LotR, I saw virtually none of the thematic elements, and so even though the visuals were striking, I found myself having to suspend disbelief to accept the story.
And to note, that was even worse with the first chunk of the pseudo-Hobbit. Great visuals, but . . . other than proper noun harvesting, almost no relation to the themes in the story I read.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree Carter and Troopers don't trust the source material and have little to do with them. LoTR does not pander like that and is far more faithful to the source. Aside from that the 3 films are somewhat of a cinematic achievement. The Potter films are also very good. 4 and 5 are classics of what is still a very young film genre - fantasy.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
LotR has background from the source it just doesn't have the characters from the source.
Maybe I could tolerate turning Merry and Pippin into stoners.
Maybe I could tolerate turning Gimli into comic relief and Legolas into eye candy.
Maybe I could tolerate turning Boromir into a standard Sean Bean role and Aragorn into a boytoy for Liv Tyler.
Maybe I could tolerate turning Gandalf into an erratic mumbler.

But . . .

Losing any reference to the character growth of Merry and Pippin, and particularly their quasi-royal backgrounds?
Losing the culmination of the relationship between Gimli and Legolas, and glossing over their royal backgrounds?
Hacking off Faramir's relationship with Boromir and Denethor and his relationship with Eowyn, and thus Eomer?
Never presenting any of the rest of Aragorn's background while hyping Arwen?
Cutting Gandalf right before he stands up and makes his best speeches?

And finally,

Turning Frodo and Samwise into BrokeRing Mountain?

Visually, sure, yeah, I won't argue.
But faithful to the source material?
Well, there was a ring AND a volcano . . .
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I said it was more faithful, and it is. Carter is so ditzy I think we can say the original book has yet to be adapted into a film. The plot of the film has nothing to do with the book. Carter himself is not a diffident hopping kangaroo but a man of great resolve and confidence. Thoris has no role in the first three books but to act as a magnet to propel Carter on a pole to pole journey we all amaze at. I don't disagree LoTR did the things in the film you say, but it could've been far worse - we've seen that. Given the reality of what it must take to have financial backers go with a project like that, I'll excuse the fluff and pay attention to the good stuff, and there's a lot of good stuff.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, there's the thing . . .

If they had been titled "Random Fantasy Movie", I'd likely nerdgasm all over those movies.
For movies titled "Lord of the Ring" . . . not so much.

And at core, I'd rather a lower budget, "real people instead of actors" version ala Act of Valor than the overproduced, CGI-fest that was presented.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
I *will* ding Jackson for his Mandatory Diversity Moment in "The Desolation of Smaug". It not only took me out of the movie, but set me to wandering where those women were supposed to be from, and how they got to Laketown.

The idea of Lake Men buying wives from the Southron didn't make me feel all that favorable towards them.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
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