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David Pence: The world of 'The Lord of the Rings'

Sean Astin and Elijah Wood star in
Sean Astin and Elijah Wood star in "The Lord of the Rings"  

David Pence is the webmaster for He joined the chat room from California to discuss New Line Cinema's recently released movie of J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings," and all things of Middle Earth.

DAVID PENCE: Hello, everybody.

CNN: Why is "The Lord of the Rings" so popular?

PENCE: I think it's the depth of realism that Tolkien put into his work. He really managed to build a believable world. That's the major reason people are drawn to it. You get a sense of history, mythology, science, culture, everything.

Gallery: 'The Lord of the Rings' 
Glossary: Ten things to know about 'Lord of the Rings' 
Timeline: 'Ring' leader -- J.R.R. Tolkien through time 
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RESOURCES Behind the scenes at 'The Lord of the Rings' 
Official movie site: 'The Lord of the Rings' 
Houghton Mifflin: 'The Lord of the Rings' 
HarperCollins UK: J.R.R. Tolkien 
'The Hobbit' - Chapter 1 
'The Fellowship of the Ring' - Chapter 1 
'The Silmarillion' - Chapter 1  * All excerpts courtesy of HarperCollins UK; must have Adobe Acrobat to view .pdf files

CHAT PARTICIPANT: I've heard a lot of comment from the people I know saying that the film would have worked better as two two-hour movies -- one covering everything up to the Council of Elrond, one covering everything afterwards. What are your thoughts on that?

PENCE: I don't think so. I think three movies is the minimum. I've heard some say it might be better as a six-part, two-hour mini series for TV. I've heard more people say they want more, not less.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Where there any characters from the books you wish the film could have spent more time with? I personally wish they had spent more time developing more of the Hobbits.

PENCE: In the movie, I think they could have spent more time developing all of the characters, but I think Aragorn, Frodo, and Elrond could have been developed more.

CNN: What are some of the major differences between the book and the movie?

PENCE: The time span, for one. The movie was far more compressed. There's a seventeen year span between the end of the party and when Gandalf returns to tell them about The Ring. The biggest change that everyone talks about is the expansion of Arwen's character, replacing another character. So it's the compression of time, and Frodo's age. In the book, Frodo is fifty when he sets out, not a teenager, and that's a change that affects the whole character. I felt that it made more sense for a 50-year-old Frodo to have a 20-something servant, and for that servant to be so loyal, than for a teenager to have a teenage servant. But all the changes are subtle.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: [Do you think] the enlargement of Arwen's role a move made for the sake of better storytelling, or as a nod to political correctness?

PENCE: It was definitely to make women feel more included in the storyline, which I felt was unnecessary, because one of the most powerful characters was Galadriel, a woman. Peter Jackson, [the director,] said in a couple of interviews that he wanted to attract that female audience. In the second book ["The Two Towers"], there is a warrior woman they could have dealt with.

J.R.R. Tolkein
J.R.R. Tolkein  

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you think about the director's decision to eliminate most the poetry and songs in telling the story? In my mind, that was always one of the things that made Tolkein's world unique.

PENCE: I think he should have included some of it, definitely. But I don't think it hurt the story all that much. But he should have included some of it.

CNN: What are people on your site saying about the movie?

PENCE: It's falling into two camps. You have people who are fans of fantasy type movies, and they love it. And you have people who have read the book and are familiar with the story line who weren't happy with it at all. So it's like 50/50. There doesn't seem to be a middle line.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: We haven't seen much of Gollum: shouldn't he be a major player?

PENCE: Gollum's character doesn't really come to prominence until the second movie or book, so I wasn't really surprised that he wasn't brought out.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What feature of the film were you most happy with?

PENCE: The overall look and feel of it. It was basically an Alan Lee painting come to life. Alan Lee was a popular Tolkien illustrator. I liked Ian McKellen [Gandalf]. Also, [Viggo] Mortensen, who played Aragorn. He did a good job. Aragorn, in the book, didn't have as much doubt about who he was, but Mortensen's character did. I thought that was a mistake.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What has been the reaction to Sean Bean's performance as Boromir?

PENCE: People like him. He did a good job. I think that Ian McKellen, Mortensen, Sean Bean all did a great job. A lot of the fans are focusing more on Aragorn's character than they did on Sean Bean.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think that they gave the Balrog justice?? Do you think Gandalf is a human, elf, or like Merlin (part succubus and incubus)?

PENCE: The Balrog was done well, I thought. Gandalf, this is interesting, the two wizards, Sauron and the Balrog were all the same kind of creatures, in the mythology of Middle Earth.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: There was obviously some pretty harsh editing in the second half of "The Fellowship," particularly Lorien -- do you see a 'Directors Cut' or an extended DVD coming down the road?

PENCE: It's my understanding that the DVD will include cut out material. I've had a lot of people in the film industry point out to me that they feel there was a lot of last-minute editing done. The release date for the DVD is something like August.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What did you think of the changes to the Council of Elrond

PENCE: I thought the changes were harsh, and that was the time where you really got a chance to learn who the characters were in the books, and they missed that in the movie. So I thought the Council of Elrond was destroyed. It's an enormous story to tell, so some changes had to be made. It must have been difficult to know what to change, and what to leave in.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why didn't they attempt a movie for "The Hobbit" first? It would have been a great movie and would have introduced the idea of Hobbits, Middle Earth..etc

PENCE: There's a rumor that if the movies do well, which it appears they will, that Peter Jackson does want to do a version of "The Hobbit," but there's some discussions about it. But should they have done it first? No, I don't think so.

CNN: Do you think the movie will make people want to read the books or will they see the movie in place of reading the books?

PENCE: I know for a fact that people are buying the books in droves because of the movies. It spawned the biggest increase in Tolkien sales since the '60s.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How do you think the movie would be appreciated by someone who had never read any of the books? Do you think the plot and sequence of events would be understandable enough?

PENCE: I think people that see the movie without reading the book will see an action/adventure film. That type doesn't need a lot of character development or plot. I think that was the target audience, regardless of what they say.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you think of the sound track? Was there a theme, really?

PENCE: The soundtrack was subtle. It was good. Not a Don Williams soundtrack, with a recognizable theme coming from it. (John Williams)

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Of all the omissions in the movie, did you miss the character Tom Bombadil?

PENCE: No. Tolkien himself said that Tom Bombadil could have been removed from a screen adaptation.

CNN: What were Tolkien's thoughts on a screen adaptation?

PENCE: There's a book called "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," and one letter discusses precisely that. In the 1950's, Disney planned to make a "Lord of the Rings" movie, and he wrote a letter about what he wanted and did not want in a screen adaptation.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: It it going to beat the Harry Potter movie for income?

PENCE: I think it will tie it. I think it's basically getting the Harry Potter crowd.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Did the breaking up of the fellowship differ that much from the book and do you agree with it?

PENCE: Yes, it did differ, and no, I didn't agree with it. In the book, Boromir tried to take the ring from Frodo. Frodo puts the ring on and leaves. His companion Sam discovers that and follows him, and those two alone leave. In the movie, Aragorn finds Frodo, and lets him go. That's something Aragorn would have never done. He would have gone with Frodo to the end. I think that was a change that was unnecessary.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why are some elves portrayed as unfriendly in the movie? Do you agree with this?

PENCE: In the book, the elves do tend to be haughty. That's a character trait they brought over. They weren't unfriendly, but they were superior. They weren't unfriendly, though.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments to share with us?

PENCE: Read the books!

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

PENCE: I appreciate it.

David Pence joined the chat room by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Monday, December 24, 2001. New Line Cinema is a division of AOL Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.


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