Before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, before The Rings of Power, there were others—claimants to the title of The Lord of the Screens. But the hearts of Hollywood are easily led astray…
An incredible amount of detail and devotion went into Peter Jackson’s production. The set construction is a prime example. The location for Edoras was filmed on Mount Sunday, in a nature reserve. Every plant and rock had to be photographed, removed and returned once filming was done. The plants were kept in a greenhouse until construction was completed. Construction took a year, and the final result was a real Anglo-Saxonesque hall and three surrounding buildings. Shooting was finished in 3 weeks and the buildings were torn down. All of the plants were brought back in and replanted. Pentex Productions has a fantastic video on this.
Jackson’s trilogy was filmed simultaneously, over eight years. This was a huge risk for the New Line Cinema, for Hollywood, an unprecedented gamble, one that hasn’t been replicated since. The project stretched over eight years, ran up a 300 million dollar tab, and earned almost three billion dollars, winning 17 Oscars.
There are some deviations from the source material in Jackson’s films. The largest issues lie with Aragorn, Faramir, and Frodo’s characterizations. In the films Aragorn is afraid of power, he believes that because his ancestor Isildur claimed the ring, he could be compromised by the same weakness. This is contrary to the Dunedain’s characterization in the books, in which he has been waiting for the right time.
The issue with Frodo came in the dynamic between him, Sam, and Gollum. In the Jackson Films, Frodo has a trust for Gollum that seems to have no clear motive other than “he is our only guide.” This creates a rift between Frodo and Sam—one so large that Frodo sends Sam away, which the Frodo of the books simply wouldn’t do—because Sam attacks Gollum. In the books, Frodo also distrusts Gollum, but their relationship is more complex. Sam’s lack of pity for Gollum vexes Frodo—as it could just as easily be Frodo in Gollum’s place. Frodo hangs on to the hope of redemption for Smeagol because it is the same hope he holds for himself. Gollum nearly achieves this redemption, when he comes upon the Hobbits sleeping and pities Frodo,
Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee—but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, eBook (London: Harper Collins e-books, 2012), 382.
Sam then wakes and questions Gollum accusatorily, ending any chance of redemption Smeagol had and securing the fate of the ring. Although the fate would have been the same, as the closer the trio grew to Mount Doom the stronger the influence of the ring, and this would have pushed Gollum back into evil.
Faramir’s core motivation in the Jackson Films is gaining the love of his insane father, while in the books he is said to have a wizardly air, “sterner and wiser” than Boromir. One of Tolkien’s greatest lines can be attributed to Faramir, and it shows his character well, “…I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend…” This character is far from Jackson’s daddy-issue caricature.
Despite these few faults, the love that the production team had for Tolkien’s book shines through these films. Hollywood has fumbled and botched adaptations over and over again. Even after Jackson’s trilogy broke box office records and won a record number of Oscars, Hollywood still hadn’t learned its lesson. There will always be book purists who cannot be satisfied. Some writing is impossible to translate well to the screen, but if you have someone at the helm who loves and respects the material for what it is—a good story that is well loved—success is in the bag. Jackson himself said it best, “we made a real decision at the beginning that we weren’t going to introduce any new themes of our own into The Lord of the Rings. We were just going to make a film based upon what clearly Tolkien was passionate about.”
Peter Jackson uncovered the truth about the long-rumored Beatles LOTR when he worked with the living band members for his documentary Get Back. Jackson questioned the band and discovered the intended roles for The Lord of the Rings musical were as follows: George Harrison as Gandalf, Paul McCartney as Frodo, Ringo Starr as Sam, and John Lennon as Gollum, with Stanley Kubrick directing. Tolkien despised the idea of a pop group adapting his books and rejected it outright.