Sunday, 1 July 2012
Spark of genius
Tolkien had a quality that his imitators don’t even see. There’s a creative unity to his work. He doesn’t keep throwing any old rubbish at you, he'll never perpetrate the incoherent text. He asks just that you accept the axioms of his world and the rest all falls into place.
To create something on the scale of the Lord of the Rings movies, involving a team of a thousand people over more than two years, is remarkable enough. To do it and maintain that cohesive vision is sheer genius. And only possible because, at the heart of the project, there was the novel itself.
It’s more than a question of having a core design document. You can’t build anything until you have a plan of what you are trying to build. Tolkien’s novel is the design document of the movies, but it’s also more than that. It lights the way for any new artistic work set in Middle Earth. It’s the creative Flame.
Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (the scriptwriters) became keepers of the Flame while they worked on transforming it for the screen. Peter Jackson took it over while directing. Throughout the project, all of his team had that Flame to refer back to.
That’s because the process of good creative design isn’t the dictatorship that some people seem to fear, with “the guy in charge” coming up with rules that everyone must slavishly follow. Nor is it a case of committee thinking, with everyone pitching ideas into the stew.
It’s more like proselytizing a religion. The designer or author is the prophet. He or she lights the Flame, is its keeper, and brings the team to it. Once you see the light, you can go off and do your own thing and the work you do will have unity with everyone else’s.
Movies like Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit - or The Amazing Spider-Man, or Star Trek - show that it’s possible for a team of a thousand creative people to share one dream. A handful of man-years to write the novel – and it lit the Flame for a two thousand man-year project. Doesn’t that sound like a bargain to you?