Page to Screen: The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy (Extended Editions)

The Lord of the Rings
based on
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Let’s be honest–I’m completely biased when it comes to these films. For three glorious years, The Lord of the Rings films was a gift from the heavens to a wee lass who loved fantasy. Dashing heroes, amazing production design, costume design I still swoon over to this day, a soundtrack that makes me weak in the knees, even the fandom… I can truly go on for days about this film trilogy, but I’ll try and restrain myself.

The Lord of the Rings follows Frodo Baggins and a Fellowship that represents the free people of Middle-Earth in their quest to destroy the One Ring, an infinitely powerful and infinitely evil artifact that ever seeks to return to its master, the Dark Lord Sauron. As Sauron grows ever stronger and the shadow of war grows deeper, the Fellowship is sundered, and the tale splits three ways–Frodo and Sam attempt to take the Ring to the fires it was made in, Merry and Pippin find themselves among the Ents and find their own glory as military men, and Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn seek to save Rohan and Gondor.

Because I saw the films first and they mean so much to me, I find the cast absolutely flawless. Sean Astin, particularly, is Samwise Gamgee, and it’s a delight to watch Sam go from devoted friend to protective gardner to the hero we know he is. (“But I can carry you!” is a line guaranteed to make me burst into tears.) However, I do have to say that Miranda Otto’s portrayal of Éowyn is not my vision of Éowyn–Otto does a marvelous job, of course, and a great deal of it can be chalked up to the fact that film Éowyn is simply written differently than book Éowyn. There’s less of Éowyn’s total lack of self-preservation and her grim desperation for glory, and more of her determination and valor. She’s a fine and wonderful Éowyn, but she’s simply not my Éowyn.

Much has been made during the Readalong about the Jackson’s changes and omissions in the film, especially regarding Faramir’s story and the addition of self-doubt to Aragorn’s story. Having just read the books, I have to say–I loved all of these changes (including Jackson’s very sly wink to the readers when Sam, in Osgiliath, mentions that “by all rights we shouldn’t be here”). Jackson has made it very clear that the main story in the film is the story of Frodo taking the Ring to Mordor, with the subplot of Aragorn’s kingship. I’m quite happy to see that this production, which loves and respects the novel, isn’t afraid to cut and adapt as necessary. I especially like Arwen’s larger role, although I will always prefer Éowyn to her. While the novel is one long novel, each film has to be satisfying on its own, since only fans such as myself watch them all in one go. Looking at it from the perspective of a filmmaker rather than a reader eases any concerns about adaptation that I could have.

I have to say, I love the Extended Editions. The extended and added scenes help ground some of the more controversial changes, especially Faramir. It’s easier to see why he would try and take the Ring to his father when we see how awful Denethor is to him and how desperately he wants his approval. It’s strange–this was really the first time I saw all the parallels between Faramir and Éowyn (right down to their respective hobbits). There’s plenty of mythology nods, like Aragorn at the grave of his mother and Aragorn singing the Lay of Luthien, but there’s also a bit more character interaction. I loved Éowyn and Merry’s short scene when she gears him up for war, especially when she starts defending him to Éomer and we suddenly realize they are not talking about Merry anymore. However, I do have to say that the Extended Edition includes a bit more silly humor from our comic relief, Merry, Pippin, and Gimli. A lot of it is good, but some of it uses Gimli poorly, especially the drinking game and during the Paths of the Dead. (Interestingly, these scenes vanished once Gimli made Legolas shoot Peter Jackson’s last cameo in the chest.)

The care, love, and respect of this film production continues to blow my mind. Pretty much the entire production was staffed by people who loved and cared for the novel–the fans themselves. (Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman, actually had correspondence with and met J. R. R. Tolkien himself.) The sheer amount of detail, from the cuts around Frodo’s neck in The Return of the King to planting the plants in Hobbiton a year before filming began to the music containing appropriate lyrics in Elvish, Dwarvish, or the Black Tongue, is staggering. While parsing through the special features on the Extended Editions, I was particularly struck by Jackson’s philosophy that, while they can never truly show the depth and breadth of Tolkien’s world in a film, they can at least suggest that depth through attention to detail. And these two things, I think, are what makes these films a worthy adaptation of the novel–the love that suffuses the production and the sheer attention to detail.

Bottom line: Jackson’s trilogy is a worthy and respectful (but certainly never slavish!) adaptation of Tolkien’s epic novel. Why haven’t you watched these yet?

You can also read my reviews of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.

I bought these DVDs.

12 thoughts on “Page to Screen: The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy (Extended Editions)

  1. I’m an LotR geek. I own all films, extended editions and theatre release editions; I have two copies of each of the three LotR book plus one combined edition; I own the HoME series, the Sil, biographies of Tolkien, philosophy books related to LotR, and so on and so forth. As I said, an LotR geek. It is so wonderful to see someone else who adores these books and films!

  2. A wonderful essay–I give you an A. They are wonderful films, I am a huge fan and I also think they were perfectly cast. I like how you suggested that Jackson’s attention to detail gives the suggestion to the depth and breadth of Tolkien’s work. Both works are masterpieces. I enjoyed reading your post today.

  3. I’m a dork and watched a bunch of the making-of features, and I swear, every time I thought that I had reached my maximum level of impressed-ness at how much detail went into these films, they’d show something new and I’d be blown away all over again. Whatever criticisms can be made of these films, lack of love and respect for the source material should never be one of them.

    (But I wish Faramir hadn’t tried to take the ring to Gondor.)

    • The two gentlemen who spent their entire time on the production making the chain mail no longer have fingerprints on their index fingers and their thumbs. That is dedication and love.

      (I’m less upset about that than I thought I might be, because of the demands of a fairly self-contained film.)

  4. What Jenny said 🙂 I know I get cranky about some of the changes, but the Faramir bits are the only ones that got me well and truly steamed, and it’s not even so much because the Faramir arc in the movie is bad; it’s just because I wanted *my* Faramir, the wizard’s pupil, to be in the movie. Faux Faramir is all well and good, but he’s not my literary boyfriend, and thus my interest in him is not so great.

    And totally agree that there are some areas, especially with Arwen, where Jackson made some good, smart changes.

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the marathon rewatch!

  5. Well, now I am wavering again on watching the movies. Knowing the changes were coming and thinking of the movies as separate works of art might soften my disappointment that they weren’t completely the same as the books. Thanks for making that case convincingly!

    • Tolkien himself thought the book was unfilmable, which is why he let the film rights go for a song. Unless the BBC steps up with a miniseries far, far in the future, we’re never going to get a straight adaptation- it’s just that some things work on the page that don’t work on film, and vice versa. These films are absolute masterpieces- I highly encourage you to watch them and set the book aside in your head for a bit.

  6. Pingback: Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2010 « The Literary Omnivore

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