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Tolkien vs. Jackson: Differences Between Story and Screenplay

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Justification of (Some) ChangesEdit

The director and writers of the motion pictures faced some significant challenges in bringing Tolkien's work to the big screen. Not the least of these was the enormous scale of the story. The Lord of the Rings is a very lengthy story that was, itself, derived from a fictional universe of prodigious dimensions. In it, an entirely original world of the author's manufacture forms the backdrop of a story with multiple intelligent races (Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Ents and Men), their many languages and dialects, a highly developed historical narrative, and a minutely detailed geography of the world that had, itself, changed significantly over time. The result of all this is a level of complexity that is very difficult to apprehend in a screenplay. How does one go about presenting, for example, the historical background of a story that spans an enormous period of history that is outside of the movie to be filmed? The difficulties the writers faced were innumerable, and many compromises to the story were required to successfully adapt it to the medium of film.

Soon after the release of the first movie, controversy began to arise over deviations in the screenplay from Tolkien's own story. Key characters such as Glorfindel and Tom Bombadil were absent, and substantial parts of the story were completely missing. Moreover, characters that were present, such as Elrond, Aragorn, and Gandalf, were substantially altered. The release of The Two Towers took this even further with deviations in character development and major plot elements becoming more significant. Finally, with the release of The Return of the King, more differences appeared and critical plot conclusions were either reduced or removed. The overall effect of the entire movie series was that it told a story that was recognizably that of Tolkien's, but it did so with major thematic and other differences. These differences were not, however, of any importance to the movie's target audience— the enormous worldwide movie going public most of whom knew nothing of the story. Despite the differences, The Lord of the Rings motion pictures are beautiful and stunning epic movies that tell a great story in their own right.

The fact that the movies are a great achievement of movie-making is due, in part, to some of the changes that were required for screen adaptation. The most understandable differences in the screenplay from the story are those that were required to contract the duration of the film and keep up its pace. Even with substantial portions of the story excised in the screenplay, the three extended-edition movies have a combined running time of well over eleven hours, and there is arguably enough material not filmed to make a fourth extended-length motion picture. Considering the relative unimportance— to general audiences— of the missing material, it was probably a wise decision to not include it. Another important consideration in filming a motion picture is the pace at which the story moves. For example, the Council of Elrond is a lengthy episode in Tolkien's book, The Fellowship of the Ring, in which much historical material and explanations of off-camera events are provided. The material was presented in a different way that kept the pace of the movie going along as was required for the medium.

The reason for Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel's extra roles are possibly to give women more screentime.

Some differences between the story and the screenplay, however, are less easy to justify. Characters in the screenplay seem to be developed very differently to those in the story. Moreover, major differences of theme exist— differences that do not seem to make sense or be entirely necessary for film adaption. For example, the result of the Entmoot in the movie was that the Ents decided not to go to war, but then the writers used what seems to be (in some people's opinion) a silly and irrational emotional manipulation to get them to do so anyway. It is fair to ask why they could not have just agreed to go to war in the film as their motivations were in the book. On the other hand, the film's creators stated that the scene had been added to make Merry and Pippin more than just baggage, and indeed it does do a good deal to improve their role in the storyline.

Story BackgroundEdit

The Lord of the Rings is a story about an epic conflict between good and evil powers that is set in the land known as Middle-earth. The struggle, which had begun even before the First Age of Middle-earth, had continued for thousands of years through to the end of the Third Age at which time it reached its final climax and was resolved. The three ages of Middle-earth that had then passed had seen many great battles, and one of the greatest of these was the Battle of Dagorlad in which the Dark Lord, Sauron, was defeated by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Following the battle, Isildur, the son of Elendil, King of Gondor, cut the Ring of Power from the hand of Sauron and took it to be an heirloom of his house. That he did not destroy it as had been advised by Elrond and Círdan setup the historical background of The Lord of the Rings.

The hot and cold wars that were continually underway between the powers of Middle-earth were, themselves, part of a greater struggle between the Valar and Sauron, and Morgoth before him. Those wars, though never welcome, were understood to be the appointed task of the lords of Middle-earth, and in their support, the Valar had sent the five Istari, or wizards, from among the lesser powers known as Maiar. The lords of the people of Middle-earth who stood against Sauron were the heads of the various houses of Elves and the wizards. The Elf-lords were Elrond, Galadriel, and Cirdan, and the wizards were Saruman the White, Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown, and the Blue Wizards, Alatar, and Pallando. As a result of corruptions and debasements of the various wizards, the only one, in the end, that stood with the Elf-lords was Gandalf, and consequently, he became the chief mover of the events of that time.

The story of The Lord of the Rings is that of the final War of the Ring that was fought at the end of the Third Age. This war would have been unnecessary had Isildur destroyed the Ruling Ring instead of taking it for his own, but the persistence of the ring meant the persistence of its master, Sauron. It was the task of the lords of Middle-earth to take council on how finally to destroy Sauron and then to effect that destruction. Their decision was to send the Ring to the Fire, and a group was formed, called the Fellowship of the Ring, to see it done. The path before them was unclear, however, and they were soon turned from their way. Over time, the Fellowship was divided with the Ring-bearer taking his journey to Mordor with his faithful companion while the others were dispersed, by fate it would seem, to other tasks. As the Ring-bearer made his way in secret, diversionary battles had to be fought to prevent the destruction of the various peoples and to hold the gaze of the Dark Lord away from his own lands. Thus was the destruction of Sauron achieved. The Ring was finally cast into the Cracks of Doom destroying both it and its master, and the West was liberated from the oppression of the Dark Lord. Once Sauron had been destroyed, the king could take up his throne in Gondor and also restore the northern kingdom of Arnor.

Major DifferencesEdit

Major thematic and character differences exist between the movie screenplay and the written story. These differences are presented in the article linked below.

Timeline Differences Edit

LOTRtimeline

Timeline suggested, positing that there is a one year gap instead of 17 years between Bilbo's 111st birthday and Fellowship.

The movies do not follow Tolkien's timeline of events. This was most likely done to move the plot along faster. The biggest indicator of this change is Frodo's age during Fellowship of the Ring.

Frodo is considerably younger in the film versus the book. In the book he begins his quest at age 50, 17 years after Bilbo's 111th birthday and the passing of the One Ring from Bilbo to Frodo. In the film, this gap does not appear to exist, while there is time between the party and Gandalf's reappearance, Frodo's youthful appearance does not support a gap of 17 years. While Hobbits may age a bit differently, Bilbo's appearance in The Hobbit shows a firm movie-verse example of a 50 year old hobbit, an appearance not shared by Frodo in the Lord of the Rings films, who hasn't aged since the birthday party.

The film also positions Merry and Pippin as age-contemporaries to Frodo and Sam, a dynamic not seen in the book, where they are quite a bit younger (Merry is 36 and Pippin is 28). This timeline shift of the trilogy alters other aspects of the film verse timeline, such as the birth year of Aragorn, since he states his age, 87, in Return of the King to Eowyn. (Book Birth 2931 VS Movie Birth 2916)

This change is significant because it explains Thranduil's words to Legolas at the end of Battle of the Five Armies. In the book timeline, Aragorn was only 10 during BoFA, meaning he was still living in Rivendell and had yet to take up the name Strider. With the revised timeline, Aragorn is 25 during BoFA, five years after he left Rivendell, but 2 years before he goes to fight for Gondor and Rohan, a time when he was living with the Dunedain. This change connects these two film moments into a clear logical timeline. 

Differences by MovieEdit

In addition to the major thematic differences described in the article above, a number of other differences exist of varying degrees and significance, and these are related in the articles linked below.

External links Edit

The one ring animated Lord of the Rings Wiki Featured articles The one ring animated
People: Faramir · Sauron · Witch-king of Angmar · Gollum · Elrond · Frodo Baggins · Samwise Gamgee · Meriadoc Brandybuck · Peregrin Took · Gandalf · Aragorn II Elessar · Legolas Greenleaf · Gimli · Boromir · Galadriel · Elves · Hobbits
Locations: Gondor · Mordor · Middle-earth · Rohan
Other: Mithril · The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game · The Fellowship of the Ring (novel) · Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien · The Lord of the Rings · The Lord of the Rings (1978 film) · Ainulindalë · Tolkien vs. Jackson · Tengwar · Quenya

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