Comedy...Do we have it and if so, how?

Marielle

Well-Known Member
I, for one, am hesitant to sacrifice any named Silmarillion character to comedy, a la Gimli in Peter Jackson's cinematic universe. But I also can't fathom a long-running series without any of the tension breaks or lightheartedness comedy provides. Some can probably be provided in an "aww!", chuckling sort of way (I can easily imagine a scene of a young, eager Feanor asking questions about how EVERYTHING is made that would be adorable), but is that enough? Where on earth can we inject humor into the story of the Noldor?
 

Ray Burns

Active Member
I agree that we can't just have hour upon hour of drama and conflict and horror and sorrow without some attempt to lighten the mood. There is more than enough room in the development of these characters that allows for them to have some sense of humor. At the same time, this is really a brutal sorrowful tale, and if the humor is out of place or tone-deaf to what's going on, it becomes a distraction. Perhaps we show one of two elves who are light-hearted when we first see them in Valinor, and as the age goes on, losing that light-heartedness (for good reason) and becoming more and more serious (I'm thinking Finrod).

And of course, we have to have the opportunity during a conversation with a Dwarf that one of the Elves from the Falas responds to an amazing event with, "By Cirdan's Beard!" and seeing the double-take from the Dwarf.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
It's going to be difficult to create comical situations, as most of the stories we're telling are tragic. But the total absence of things to laugh at can make the series pretty dull. So, what to do? I hope we don't do what PJ et al did. I found that kind of joking painfully silly and lacking of humour. Any humour in the series should be based on the characters' failing attempts to handle desperate situations, not slapstick or funny wigs. The viewers should be as close to tears as they are to laughter in these moments.
 
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Marielle

Well-Known Member
I agree: PJ's humor was often jarringly out of place. But surely even Elf friends tease each other. Maybe a young Maedros (just a random name, could be anyone) stutters or speaks in half-sentences when he's really excited, because his brain is working faster than his tongue? That doesn't have to deminish the character to comic relief, but would humanize the character and add a humorous sort of charm.

That being said, even in the Bliss of Valinor, I imagine there will be very few "laugh out loud" moments in SilmFilm.
 

Marielle

Well-Known Member
Any humour in the series should be based on the characters' failing attempts to handle desperate situations, not slapstick or funny wigs. The viewers should be as close to tears as they are to laughter in these moments.
If we do this right, the humor can serve to increase the tragedy. If we go with my idea above, and make Maedros an excited stutterer, and Fingon his calm friend who just smiles while he sorts his tongue out, then Maedros should never stutter again after Fingon rescues him. That loss of humor would indicate the loss of innocence, and a marring by suffering and evil of what the character was meant to be.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
The Noldor are indeed quite a grim lot. We would have to introduce humor through dialogue, more or less as we did in Season 1. We even gave a joke or two to Oromë, probably the second-most grim of the Valar. Having an otherwise serious character make a rare quip is, in my opinion, much funnier than having a "butt monkey" character.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Humor is one of the most difficult things to handle well. Sprinkling your script with sparkling one-liners sounds brilliant and hilarious, but works better in a setting that is meant to be comedic.

A film like the Princess Bride can rely on throw-away one liners (Fezzik: "It's not my fault being the biggest and strongest; I don't even exercise."), running jokes ("Inconceivable!", Fezzik's rhymes), physical humor (Westley falling down all the time after being mostly dead - "Gently!"), unexpected answers* ("With all dead, there's only one thing you can do - go through his pockets and look for loose change." "The most famous is 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia,' but only slightly less well known is this: 'Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.'"), mispronunciations ("Mawwadge")....and basically every different form of humor, because it is a comedy. Sure, it has its serious moments. The repeated 'Inconceivable!' gives way to the repeated, 'Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!' But the audience is meant to spend most of the film laughing, giving more weight to the "As You Wish" moments.

We...have to do the opposite. Take the inexorable weight of the tragedy that is the Silmarillion and lighten it with character moments that will just make the audience weep harder later. There are films that are unrelieved in their seriousness/horror. The humor is used very sparingly, and more poignant than laugh out loud funny. The Passion of the Christ doesn't have a lot of light moments. I mean, there's about 2 hours of bloody torture, so even flashbacks where characters are having a normal conversation and no one is in pain or covered in blood seem jarringly idyllic. But there is one light moment that gets a laugh - a flashback to Jesus-the-carpenter building a table, and his mother expressing doubts about the design. He explains that it is high enough for chairs, and she says "It will never catch on." The scene most likely to make the audience cry? The flashback of Mary running to help toddler!Jesus interspersed with Mary running to Jesus who has fallen while carrying the cross. The audience is invested in her as his mother, and the earlier scene helped to set that up.

I have not seen U-571, but I've been told it is intense. There are films that deal with dark topics and still manage to inject humor. Jakob the Liar is a tragi-comedy set during the Holocaust (Warsaw ghetto) featuring Robin Williams. A much better comedy set in a WWII concentration camp is La Vita Bella (Life is Beautiful). I mean, the Silmarillion is dark, but it's not actually genocide/torture dark for most of it. There are a few scenes like that, and the story of Túrin is *all* tragedy - but we have the Frame to handle that. If the frame is Aragorn out adventuring in the Wild, we could have running jokes throughout the season there. For instance, Halbarad could take every bad situation they get into and say something along the lines of 'it could be worse...' and then it gets worse. Beleg could do something similar *once* in the main story, and it might be funny at the time.

The trick is not to be tone-deaf, and not to force the humor if it doesn't work. Allowing for some light-heartedness is not the same thing as having a Jar-Jar character. I mean, C-3PO fulfilled the same role in the original Star Wars trilogy, by always being afraid and misunderstanding....but he was tolerated much better by audiences. Do we need comedic background sidekicks, like the guards in elf-king's cellar in the Hobbit? Minor side characters who make foolish mistakes? Or just are at the mercy of the decisions made by higher-ups? I would prefer to give all characters their dignity. Saeros is going to have an ignoble death, as is Salgant of Gondolin, so it's not like *all* of the characters will be noble and heroic. But I'd rather not have a 'I am only here for comic relief' character - those are annoying. We're not making a children's show, and even if we were, Bebop and Rocksteady are annoying in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bulk and Skull are annoying in Power Rangers. Please let's just not.



* The term I was looking for was paraprosdokian: A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect.
 
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Hatleking

Member
Yeah, we definitely do not need an Alfred here. Not the quick jokes during battle either (as Marvel does a lot). Well, we sort of can have Tulkas for that I suppose. At least the laughing part. I think your examples are good. As we are dealing with Men (and elves) we are also dealing with relations, conversations and so on. Humor and some wit is of course instrumental and we have to be smart about it.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Agreed - no Alfred, and no treating battle as a joke. Húrin is going to count the 70 orcs he kills, but it's not going to be funny. Laughter and joy when in a winning battle is natural enough, but as we all know...that won't last for long.

For instance, we could use the inherent humor involved in cultural misunderstandings and faux pas to allow a character to make a blunder. Not full on anime trope of guy-crashes-through-a-door-and-finds-himself-in-the-girls'-bath levels of blunders, but still something that will make the audience smile and further the story of 'hey, these two characters are not from the same culture.' An example of this in the LotR films is Aragorn's greeting of Haldir at Helm's Deep. They start out doing the formal-elf-half-bow thingy, and end with Aragorn embracing the confused Haldir in a more natural greeting among Men.


Túrin taking Saeros' seat at the table is this type of social blunder, and we could see the other elves react to it with nudging each other and smiles, like, oooh boy, he's going to be in trouble....and then of course Saeros takes the insults too far, and Túrin massively over-reacts, and we wind up with Túrin chasing a naked Saeros through the woods to his death. Ooops. Haha?
 
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Marielle

Well-Known Member
I COMPLETELY agree that we don't want an Alfred running around in the SilmFilm project. But we do have a number of characters who are pretty much blank slates, and, as humor can function as a coping mechanism, I don't think it would be inappropriate, or mood breaking, to have the occasional character who is more "quippy" or wry. Not constantly, not a film-Ron Weasley character, just someone who tries to find humor to get himself through the day. And the days he can't find any... well, doesn't that just make it worse?
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
I think what we may find is that a good deal of our characters will come out quite intelligent, and able to make a witty statement or two at the right moments without it being silly. It will, as you say, make it that much more tragic when they die horribly.
 

Ray Burns

Active Member
Generally, the way to inject humor into tragedies like this is to have a character that is either irreverent who says or does something that takes the edge of events. Game of Thrones has Tyrion and Bronn as two characters who will, out of their established personalities, say or do something that allows the audience to take a breath. The one good thing about the Silmarillion, is that there never is enough of a up close and personal look where we know exactly what someone's personality is. At the same time, as MithLuin says, we don't want something that seems inappropriate.

We can eliminate some people right off the bat as being either too serious or too established to be irreverent (i.e. Feanor, Turin, Thingol). But, there are plenty of secondary character, and even some primary characters, who could be the comic foil. Beleg. Voronwé. I'm sure there are others, but those two just popped into my head immediately (and would make Beleg's death even more devastating for the audience because these characters tend to become favorites).

The one thing that would be disastrous would be to create a character like Alfrid. Nuff said.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Hmmm, I have been picturing Halbarad as this type of character, a 'here we go again...' full of wry remarks and not easily phased by hardship. This would of course be in contrast to a just-starting-out Ranger Aragorn who would be a bit more excitable/easily panicked until he grows into the character we know and love. Of course, that would only be in the Frame, and I'm not sure what season we'll get to him (we do seem to want Aragorn every-other-season, so....we should have the opportunity to make the Grey Company make an appearance).

I think I tie Beleg and Halbarad together as 'similar' types of characters, so that works for me.

And of course...we will just make the audience love them so they'll hate us when these characters die.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Alfrid is an awful character, I agree. But the Thenardiers are delightfully awful characters in Les Mis. People hate them, but in a love-to-hate-them way. These are not people you'd want to be acquainted with, of course. They are truly awful (willing to sell a 6 year old girl to an old man they assume is a pervert, stealing from corpses, threatening to kill their own child, etc). But, 'clear away the barricades and we're still here!' speaks to their staying power. They are not 'successful' - they are merely still alive. And they're just as grasping as they were in the beginning, so no amount of wealth or good fortune would ever redeem them - they'd never become a Jean Valjean. It's much easier to get away with this in musical theater, but I'd point out that Les Misérables isn't exactly non-stop comedy. This is the show with Fantine's plight as a jobless single mother forced into prostitution, the failed revolution of the schoolboys and the barricades where everyone dies, even the woman and child in their ranks, Valjean's unjust punishment for a minor crime, 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' (a more Maglor song was never written, I don't think.) And yet, it has these two:


I would not be at all surprised to find out that Alfrid was meant to be a Thenardier-like character. Or a Harvey Mudd (from Star Trek:TOS). I don't think there's much room for such a jaded, cynical, grasping, lying character in our story. We can have dishonest charlatans, of course, but...they'd be servants of Morgoth, in the end, I think. Good guys can be cowards or murderers, but I don't see room for setting out to intentionally harm someone without compunction happening on the side of the good guys. It's a tricky line to walk, where anything that is part of the human condition could exist in Middle Earth, but such characters are so thoroughly un-Tolkien. [With the understanding that Tolkien created Bill Ferny and Ted Sandyman and Lotho Sackville-Baggins.]
 
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MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I don't think a ridiculously large weapon that can't be lifted by the person wielding it unless it is made out of styrofoam has any place in this project, even just as a visual gag. We do want our viewers to take the world we are building seriously. Now, if an orc trips and falls down mid war cry, that might be acceptable - anyone could do that without straining the audience's suspension of disbelief. If an orc *tried* to pick up a troll's weapon and struggled to lift it so badly that the orc fell down? That's okay. Visual gags are fine. Floppy axes are...less fine.

(The 2 min mark in this clip from Braveheart shows what I mean - you really can't use fake weapons without jarring the audience out of the scene)

There were certain things the Conan movies were trying to be serious about. But there were certainly people involved in the project who thought a fantasy world meant you could just make stuff up. We are decidedly avoiding a sense of whimsy in the world of the Silmarillion. This TV show is not going to be directed by Tim Burton.
 
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