“Die lassen sich ziemlich in die Karten gucken.” Die Worte meines Freundes Jochen im Herbst 2002 kommen mir jedes Mal in den Sinn, wenn ich an die eine Quelle denke, aus der ich vermutlich am meisten über die Art und Weise gelernt habe, wie heute Filme gemacht werden. Was für andere Filmfreaks Truffauts Mr. Hitchcock, wie haben Sie das gemacht? oder Sidney Lumets Making Movies sein mögen, sind für mich die “Anhänge” zu den Mittelerde-Filmen von Peter Jackson.
Als Gastgeber des Film Blog Group Hug habe ich mir das Privilleg und/oder die undankbare Aufgabe herausgenommen, den Reigen der Geschenkempfehler zu eröffnen – und ich möchte euch die Special Extended Edition von The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ans Herz legen. Nicht unbedingt wegen der 13 zusätzlichen Minuten des ohnehin schon langen Films, die ich selbst noch nicht gesehen habe (warum ich ihn trotzdem mag, habe ich ja bereits zu Genüge aufgeschrieben, wäre die Trilogie eine 10-teilige Fernsehserie, alle würden sie feiern), sondern vor allem wegen der zwei Discs mit “Anhängen”, auf denen sich insgesamt neun Stunden Bonusmaterial finden.
Die “Anhänge” auf den Extended Editions der Lord of the Rings-Filme gehören für mich fast genauso mit zu den prägenden Erfahrungen meiner Filmerziehung wie die zugrundeliegenden Filme – und der Hobbit setzt diese Erfahrung nahtlos fort. Im Gegensatz zu den Making-ofs, die sich auf landläufigen Heimvideo-Releases finden, und die selten mehr sind, als eine phrasengeladene Werbeveranstaltung für den Film, schafft es Michael Pellerin, der Regisseur der Jackson-Anhänge, einen echten Eindruck davon zu vermitteln, was es bedeutet, ein Filmprojekt wie den Hobbit auf die Beine zu stellen. Jackson und sein Team lassen sich, im Gegenzug, aber auch tatsächlich in die Karten schauen. Die familiäre Atmosphäre der Produktion, für die Peter Jackson berühmt ist, wird sozusagen auf die Fans ausgedeht – was auch bedeutet, dass eigentlich sehr intime Momente mit dem Publikum der “Anhänge” geteilt werden. Von Ian McKellens Frust angesichts des schwierigen Schauspiels im Slave Motion Control Setup, bis hin zur Exaltation des letzten Drehtags.
Natürlich sind die Anhänge nicht ungeschönt. Besonders die umstrittene Entscheidung, aus zwei Filmen drei zu machen, bleibt unerwähnt, ebenso wie die schwierige Rechtslage rund um den “Hobbit” und den Rest der Tolkien-Mythologie – während Jackson und Philippa Boyens in den Rings-Anhängen noch bereitwillig Auskunft über ihre Adaptions-Philosophie gaben. Auch die Historie des Films mit Guillermo del Toro, der den Hobbit einst inszenieren sollte, wird nur gestreift. Die Dreharbeiten, Designs und das Worldbuilding des Films sind dafür aber umso ausführlicher dokumentiert. Für jeden, der bei Filmen gerne hinter die Kulissen schaut, bietet dieses Extended Edition also alles, was man sich wünscht. Und man muss ja nicht gleich die ganz teure 3D-Blu-ray kaufen wie ich.
At the end of my podcast with Kirsten Dietrich about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a topic of discussion came up that I would like to mull about a bit longer in this post. We talked about whether the Harry Potter movies, even if they are maybe not the best possible translation of the books into moving pictures (I still think that a TV series might have made for a better, if more expensive, adaptation), have become the definitive visual representation of the seven novels, not least because the author J. K. Rowling was very involved in the production and casting from the very beginning.
Translations from one medium into another usually involve several changes in the ur-text to fit and, indeed, adapt it to the new medium. In this way, they generally create a new universe related to but not congruent to the universe of the ur-text. In one of the videos on the Extended Edition of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, the screenwriters and some Tolkien experts broach this topic when they talk about adapting Tolkien’s novel. I think it is Brian Sibley who points out that, in the future, there will be two important Rings texts: Tolkien and Tolkien as interpreted by Jackson.1
In the case of Harry Potter, because the author was so heavily involved in the adaptation process, the two universes are almost alike. The films, although they differ from the books in some ways, have almost become part of the Harry Potter canon (and indeed are seen this way by the fans of the HP universe) and have succeeded in creating the definitive visual representations of characters and some events in the books because they have Rowling’s seal of approval. This has even been enforced legally, as Kirsten points out in the podcast. When Sabine Wilharm, the illustrator who created the covers for the Harry Potter books in Germany, created additional paintings that show other scenes from the books, Warner Bros. sued the commissioning publisher. The same brute force has been applied to creators of fan sites.
Ownership of and control over an intellectual property is the foundation of succesful franchising. While it does goes to silly extremes sometimes (as mentioned above), it’s a key ingredient to make the franchise work and fit together. For the process of adapting source material into film while controlling that source material at the same time (as Rowling did), this still seems to me to be a relatively new mainstream concept that I would trace back to the creation of Marvel Studios in 1996. I’ve read enough “development hell” stories to believe that adaptations, for example of comics, used to be handled differently. The IP owner would sell their license and the studio would go and adapt it, sometimes screwing up, sometimes not, but always with very little input from the IP’s originators.
The early films produced with Marvel Studios in tow, such as Sam Raimis Spider-Man films and Bryan Singers X-Men films, already had a certain amount of faithfulness to the source material “in spirit” that earlier incarnations had not achieved (or so, I gather, fans believe), similar to Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien. By setting up the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), however, the former comic book publisher has added another layer to the cake: harnessing the process of filmmaking, which involves hundreds of people in contrast to the few involved in creating a comic book, to produce a number of films that tie in to create one cinematic universe that, while not corresponding one-on-one to its source material, is canonic in its own right. In effect, they too are creating definitive cinematic versions of their comic book characters.
I have already expressed my admiration for the Avengers film, the first culmination of the MCU, in this blog one year ago and there is nothing more illuminating about the process than this quote by Marvel president Kevin Feige:
It’s never been done before and that’s kind of the spirit everybody’s taking it in. The other filmmakers aren’t used to getting actors from other movies that other filmmakers have cast, certain plot lines that are connected or certain locations that are connected but I think for the most part, in fact, entirely everyone was on board for it and thinks that its fun. Primarily because we’ve always remained consistent saying that the movie that we are making comes first. All of the connective tissue, all of that stuff is fun and is going to be very important if you want it to be. (Source)
The result might be thought of as a slap in the face to the individual artistic expression of any one director but it’s very effective. Marvel are applying to movies what has been general practice in TV series for ages, even more so since the advent of complicated series with multiple narrative strands such as The X-Files or Lost. They are continuing down this route, rebooting Spider-Man (as they already did with The Incredible Hulk) and, in effect, X-Men to integrate them into their grand scheme. And DC, with their umpteenth version of Superman (Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder) and, probably, Batman in the works, are hard on their heels.
The difference to a TV series, of course, is that there is no real linear plot to the MCU. While the films leading up to The Avengers share a certain timeline, each narrative strand also stands on its own with just a few nods to its sister narratives. If the actors are willing to participate, the films allow for endless tangents and intersections while they, at the same time, stay locked together in one unified and definitive worldtrack2 controlled by Marvel.3
This article only summarises some of the things I have been thinking about lately. I have probably forgotten important ideas and misinterpreted others. I would be very happy to discuss the thoughts sketched out above in more detail with readers of this article. Head to the comments!
1 Jackson very cleverly mediated between his version of Tolkien and the visual interpretations that had come before him by enlisting John Howe and Alan Lee as concept artists. In this way, there is no real “break” between how many fans had always imagined Middle-Earth to look like, including cover illustrations etc. into their imaginations (as one does), and how it looked like in the film. ^
2 I have just finished reading Neal Stephenson’s novel “Anathem” and borrowed this word from the book. ^
3 A multi-faceted adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series with Ron Howard at the helm that, in its concept, shares some ideas with something like the MCU has, unfortunately, just been canned. ^
The sentence “sound is half the picture” is usually attributed to George Lucas. It seems fitting, then, that one of the most beautiful books about the oft-forgotten topic of sound design has now been released about Lucas’s Star Wars saga. What makes “The Sounds of Star Wars” by J. W. Rinzler so beautiful is, first of all, the fact that it is more than a book. Attached to its spine is a sound module containing 256 sonic examples from the original library of the film series, every one of which can be selected and played individually. Coming from the built-in speakers they can sound a bit tinny at times. However, a headphone jack allows the listener to hear the wide selection of sounds – everything from R2D2 beeping to the star destroyers thundering past – in high fidelity as well.
But even without this gadget, “The Sounds of Star Wars” would be an outstanding book for everyone interested in film production. Every one of the six feature films and the TV series “The Clone Wars” is treated to an introduction spanning several pages and featuering many production photographs that mostly explain the modus operandi of sound designer Ben Burtt, who, together with Walter Murch, is one of those people who made the stitch perfect tailoring of sounds to moving images an art form in itself. The introductions are followed by descriptions of the secrets behind every sound in the module, bears for Chewbacca’s voice acting and a scuba mask for Darth Vader’s breathing. A more thorough spotlight is given to the saga’s most iconic scenes.
The book is clearly and fortunately directed at interested laymen. Processes of recording and mixing are not skipped over for fear of being too difficult to understand, but the descriptions also don’t drift off into technical gibberish.
This last sentence cannot be confirmed for the second large format book about the acoustics of big film sagas from the last few months, but that’s not necessarily a drawback. Doug Adams’s “The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films” excels through its detailed insight into the notes and thought process of composer Howard Shore. Those who want to comprehend them should be able to read music and ideally have a piano next to their reading armchair. A rudimentary knowledge of musical theory is an advantage as well, despite the fact that Adams has packed his most theoretical analyses into special sections.
Once you accept the fact that you are dealing with a musicology book, “The Music” is a real treasure trove for fans of Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Adams first discusses every one of the over 90 musical motifs of Shore’s monumental composition on its own, before devoting three Chapters to what he calls an “annotated score”, basically a running commentary for each musical cue in the extended trilogy. It’s worth watching the films again with the book in your lap to discover them all over again.
Previously unreleased photographs, a chronicle of the recording process, the full lyrics of all vocal pieces (with translations into English) and a CD full of musical rarities – containing unused alternative versions as well as MIDI demoes of several cues – round off the package.
There is only one weakness to the book. I really missed a key explaining how the score’s cues correspond to the tracks on the three soundtrack albums, which differ significantly from each other. Adams probably suspected that a true fan would of course own the “Complete Recordings” box sets anyway.
J. W. Rinzler: The Sounds of Star Wars. Foreword by Ben Burtt. Chronicle Books, 304 S. $60,00.
A German version of this review appeared in the magazine epd film 5/11