lord of the rings book movie comparison

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Published: 1954

Director: Peter Jackson | Released: 2003
Screen Play: Fran Walsh
Starring: Vigo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kings is the final chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s LOR series. Like its predecessors, the movie has a fair share of accurate portrayals of the book’s journey, and throws in its own elements as well. It is hard to argue against the book or film, unless you want to argue against one of the most beloved authors of all time or groundbreaking, record-shattering filmmaking. Still, like most stories passed down through the ages, The Return of the King has changed with the times. And if for nothing else, we can set the record straight here and now…
Time Lapse
One of the bigger differences in timing shows through when High Elf Elrond (Hugo Weaving) delivers Anduril, the fabled sword to cut the ring from Sauron’s hand, to Aragorn. In Tolkien’s version, Aragorn has the sword far earlier. About two books earlier. Jackson uses the sword as a climactic shift in Aragorn’s temperament. After receiving the sword, he starts acting like king–breaking hearts and kicking even more arse.

Long Live the…Pimp?
As I have mentioned in my reviews of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, there is much more romance in the screen adaptations of Tolkien’s story. In this movie, director Peter Jackson includes many dream elements for Aragorn (Vigo Mortensen) and Arwen (Liv Tyler). Their star-crossed love is magnified in the movie, whereas in the book you can hardly feel its presence. Jackson’s nurturing of the love story is an interesting interpretation of the original work, and it made me miss not seeing more of it in Tolkien’s writing. Tolkien focused far more on the journey of Aragorn and Ring-Bearer Frodo (Elijah Wood).

Also, the lady Eowyn’s affection for Aragorn is exagerrated in the movie. In the movie she is a passionate woman devoted to her father, King of Rohan, her people, and Aragorn. The book portrays her much more of an Amazonian warrior, and her affection towards Aragorn is only suggested, rather than made into a mini soap opera.

Chopping Block
Jackson made some precise choices in making the film. Like I’ve mentioned, he wanted to focus heavily on the love stories. He also wanted to cut out new characters to focus on ones that were already established. Characters such as Beregrond, a citidel soldier, and the Dunedain, Aragorn’s kinsmen, didn’t make the final cut. Beregrond had lengthy scenes with Pippin inside of Gundor’s walls. He represents the strength of Gondor’s people and the attitudes of its soldiers. The Dunedain are Aragorns kinsmen and valiant warriors. They met Aragorn and rode with him through the Dimalt Road (Road of the Dead) in the book, but in the movie it was only Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas who accompanied him on the perilous road to the City of the Damned.

Though I didn’t really miss Beregrond in the movie, the Dunedain created a more realistic feel for medieval battle, whereas in the movie you get the feeling that it is one man versus an army throughout the saga. To be fair, though, the addition of the Dunedain made it difficult to learn the new characters and follow some of the plot lines, but only minorly.

Jackson also cut much of the action following the epic battle at Gondor. After the enemy is beaten back, there are chapters dedicated to the recovery of the survivors–mainly Merry and Eowyn. This is also the time where we watch Faramir court Eowyn, whereas in the movie this is totally left out. Tolkien also includes a history behind the Great White Tree–Gundor’s symbol and the mythical plant signifying the days of the King. Jackson includes the tree, but not with the depth that Tolkien provides. Tolkien’s details help create a history to Gundor and a sense of majesty to the return of the king, whereas the movie assumes much of these sentiments.

There are many cuts the movie makes. Some of the larger ones include: Aragorn’s staring battle with Sauron through one of the seeing stones is cut from the film; orc squabbling in the guard tower where Frodo is kept prisoner; much of Frodo and Sam’s (Sean Astin) adventures through Mordor.

It is also important to mention that the book and movie start at different points. The movie opens up with a flashback of Smeagol murdering his kinsmen for the One Ring; whereas the book upons up on the precipice of war with Gandalf and Pippin travelling to Gondor. Also, Jackson gives Pippin a singing scene…which I could have done without.

Bird-Eye Vs. First Person
Beating the dead horse, I have to mention one final time the differences in perspectives Tolkien and Jackson use in their versions of the LOR story. Tolkien prefers to deliver the story from a much larger point of view when describing battles, landscapes, and the characters’ journies. Jackson focuses much more heavily upon his cast. He uses cinematography to show an entire army storming the castle in the climactic battle, but you really watch the action unfold from the eyes of Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Aragorn, Frodo, and the supporting cast.

In my opinion, the book and the film are equally worth viewing. Nobody can describe a landscape, or create an alternate reality, quite like J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a brilliant art form long forgotten. Peter Jackson did an equisite job throughout the saga in visually representing the landscapes and creating an epic sized journey. He also did a great job at staying true to Tolkien’s vision when it counted. Frodo’s scene at Mount Doom; Aragorn’s storming of the Black Gate, and many other vital scenes were left in tact and represented honestly.

The movies are wonderful companions for the books, but to be truly immersed in Middle-Earth, you are going to have to read Tolkien’s work. It is hefty reading, but truly rewarding.  Now that I think of it, Jackson created nine hours of film to represent the three books, so both are pretty lengthy but well worth the commitment.

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