Why ”Rings” fans should embrace Liv Tyler
By now, you probably know that a little movie called ”The Fellowship of the Ring” is upon us, and that it’s the first in a hugely ambitious trilogy of films that adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved ”Lord of the Rings” to the screen. This news affects you in one of four ways:
a) You plan not to see the movie because it looks silly, you never read the books, and besides, there’s no such thing as Hobbits;
b) You read the books a long time ago, or you never read the books, but anyway, you’ll probably go to the movie because the trailers look pretty amazing;
c) You’ve read the books enough times that you dream in Elvish, and your entire life for the past four years has been leading up to the moment in which you finally sit down in the theater on opening day wearing your Gandalf hat; or
d) You’ve read the books enough times that you SPEAK in Elvish and you have no intention of seeing this bastard filmic commercialization of the great work, not least because the filmmakers had the dwarfish audacity to cast Liv Tyler as Arwen. The teen babe from ”Armageddon” as Elrond’s fair daughter?! O Elbereth! Why not just cast Adam Sandler as Frodo and be done with it?
It is to those horrified Harfeet, the supercilious ”d” crowd that will brook no interpretation of Tolkien but the one in their own heads, that this column is addressed. I am in the ”b” category myself (loved the trilogy when I was 15, passed notes written in dwarf runes for a few months, moved on), I have seen the movie, and I am here to tell you that Tyler does no disrespect to director Peter Jackson’s conception of Middle-earth. On the contrary: The actress, and the character she plays, provide a moment of grace and loveliness just at the moment the movie needs it.
WARNING: ORCLIKE SPOILERS AHEAD
First of all, understand that Tyler is onscreen for all of 10 minutes, as is Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. (Never has it been more apparent that Tolkien’s universe is a male one.) Jackson has in fact enlargened the role of Arwen, bringing the elf maiden out of Rivendell to meet up with the heroes before they cross the Ford (thus replacing the character of Glorfindel), and helping Frodo escape the Black Riders by summoning the equine tidal waves that wash them away (which was her father Elrond’s doing in the book).
This last bit, rumored on message boards for some time, has the Tolkien faithful in an uproar. The lady Arwen turned into an action heroine: Sacrilege! But here’s the thing: It works beautifully in the playing. When Arwen appears in the woods, it’s immediately established that she has magical powers rather than Schwarzenegger muscles, and her instant intimacy with Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) — developed in several lovely later scenes in Rivendell — imbues ”Fellowship” with the properly mythological love story that it needs.
In other words, ”Fellowship” only starts to play like a grand, epic Legend-with-a-capital-L when Liv Tyler appears. Who’d’a thunk it? She certainly looks gorgeous enough in her sylphlike white robes, but what makes Arwen work as an otherworldly character is her voice. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure at first that it WAS Liv Tyler?s voice; it’s so deep, yearning, and grave, that I thought she might have been dubbed. (Even now, I wonder if there was some digital fiddling going on). Her lines aren’t many, but they’re said with a splendid, rich sense of purpose, and with a tragic foreboding of what lies ahead for herself and her lover. Is this great acting? Great directing? Great synthetic voice manipulation? Who cares? All I know is that when Arwen and Frodo cross the Ford, ”Fellowship” makes the jump into something much larger and scarier.
But maybe you simply can’t buy the idea of Steve Tyler’s big-lipped daughter in anything that doesn’t require a tube top. Ah, well, your loss. Way back in August of 1999, I wrote in this space about how hardcore Tolkien fans were already griping about the choices Jackson had made well before he had even commenced principal photography. ”Who, when all is said and done, OWNS a story?” I asked then. ”Obviously, in this case, Tolkien does, but he’s kind of busy being dead. Given that, shouldn’t Jackson be trusted to make whatever creative choices he wants without the threat of a million fans excoriating him in fluent Elvish?”
It would remain a valid question even if the director had come up with a big old stinker. He didn’t, though — he came through beautifully, Liv Tyler and all. But can the faithful bring themselves to acknowledge that?