At around 1,200 pages, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the same length as the Bible – with readers who defend it just as devoutly.
Peter Jackson’s ability to squeeze the epic into a few short hours of screen-time, while pleasing casual moviegoers and hardcore fans alike, is beyond impressive. In fact, most critics would agree the director successfully turned the world’s most epic fantasy novel into the world’s most epic fantasy movies.
However, the adaptations are not without their shortcomings, and not all of these shortcomings are down to a simple lack of space.
While a couple of the items on our list refer to issues in the books, or simple excisions, most take issue with what Jackson decided to change in the shuffle from page to screen; some points boil down to opinion, where others highlight legitimate production challenges, but hopefully all will give fans something to chew on. Also, apologies in advance to everyone who is reading about the ‘Great Eagles’ plot-hole for the thousandth time; we couldn’t not mention it.
And, of course, if at the end of our list, fans find themselves looking at the LoTR films in a negative light, they can always watch The Hobbit trilogy and remind themselves everything’s relative – including butchery.
15. The Movies Lose Tolkien’s Poetry (Literally)
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings contains over 60 poems, and almost every major character, from all ends of Middle Earth, recites one at some point in the story.
Readers quickly pick up that the hobbits’ poems are whimsical, the elves’ mysterious, the ents’ booming and rhythmic; each race carries an oral tradition which feels as organic as the clothes they wear, or food they eat.
While Jackson does draw from LoTR’s poetic stockpile with Pippin’s ‘The Edge of Night’, or Aragorn’s coronation song, the performances appear as special events, rather than an everyday part of Middle Earth’s culture. And while interweaving poetry and song into film as deftly as Tolkien wove it into his literature is a difficult task for any director, middle-earth is a less playful and storied world in its absence.
14. Sam and Frodo Have an Unexplained Servant-Friend Relationship
Plenty of jokes have been made about Sam and Frodo’s special relationship. Part of what makes the relationship so odd is Sam’s servile devotion to Frodo, who, if anything, looks like Sam’s junior.
In the books, however, Frodo is meant to be at least 10 years Sam’s senior, which makes the ‘Misters’ and ‘Sirs’ feel more natural. But beyond this, Tolkien places the hobbits’ relationship in a more stratified version of the Shire. The books make perfectly clear Frodo is a wealthy landowner, while Sam, like his father before him, is a personal gardener – and possibly even Frodo’s tenant.
Like in the rural English society Tolkien based the Shire on, this difference in class would have been marked by signs of deference. So while ‘feudal’ may be too strong a word, it’s easier to understand Sam’s scraping attitude towards Frodo within the English class system Tolkien envisioned, vs. Hollywood’s more democratic portrait of village life.
13. Gimli is a Caricature
Jackson’s Gimli serves as little more than comic relief.
In the books, however, Gimli is a relatively stern character, even imposing. Over 100 years older than Aragorn and of royal blood, he commands the fellowship’s respect as a fearsome warrior and emissary for the Dwarvish race. He is also capable of great eloquence, as when speaking with Galadriel, or describing the Glittering Caves to Legolas.
Ultimately Jackson stooped to basing Gimli’s character on his appearance, relying on heightism for most of the character’s jokes. After all, it’s far easier to blow off some comic steam using a dwarf than an elf, particularly when that elf is played by the ever dashing Orlando Bloom.
12. The Accents Are Off
Nobody has ever been able to fully explain why four Hobbits from the same town have three different accents between them. Sam and Merry speak some version of West Country accent, while Frodo speaks in ‘Received English’, and Pippin is inexplicably Scottish.
One could argue that Frodo’s accent is a product of his class; he is part of the landed gentry, while Sam and Merry are rural laborers. However, even upper-class accents bear the stamp of their region and Frodo sounds like he was born in another county entirely. And class divide doesn’t remotely explain Pippin’s brogue (which, if anything, is most similar to Gilmi’s).
Still more problematic, every Orc in the trilogy has a thick Cockney accent. The choice may be in keeping with Tolkien’s dialogue (and bias against industrialization), but it still gives the trilogy a classist whiff Jackson could have avoided with a bit more subtlety.
11. The CGI is Sometimes Great, Sometimes Not
The LoTR trilogy was all shot at the same time, but post-production was tackled release by release. When New Line Cinema realized how big of a hit they had on their hands, they increased the production budget for each sequel, which helps explain why the CGI quality varies so much between The Fellowship and Return of the King – despite the films being released within a 3 year span.
Of course, the stand-out effects in the trilogy weren’t CGI at all, but practical effects built by NZ based special effects and prop company Weta Works. Weta coined the term ‘Bigatures’ for the 72 impressively large miniatures used during shooting: including models of Osgiliath, Rivendell, and Minas Tirith.
10. The Hobbits Follow Stretch Armstrong Logic
How do you make a 5” 6’ actor appear 3’ 6”?
The answer is surprisingly complicated.
At times, Jackson’s crew would use two different versions of the same set, built at different scales. Imagine Elijiah Wood running down a hallway twice the size of the one Ian Mckellan runs down, with the two shots eventually combined to make it appear a towering Gandalf is chasing tiny Frodo.
Simpler techniques included actors kneeling, the use of scale doubles, and making average sized actors wear oversized clothing to make them appear smaller.
Yet for all the trilogy’s many innovations – or perhaps because of them – the hobbits grow and shrink erratically in relation to other characters. Astute viewers will notice Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin ranging from the size of small children to short men, even shifting heights within a single film.
9. Where is Tom Bombadil?
By Tolkien’s own admission, the character of Tom Bombadil serves little narrative purpose in The Fellowship of the Ring – and Jackson felt adding the Withywindle chapters would tack on unnecessary screen-time to an already lengthy blockbuster.
But narrative purpose is not the only purpose a character can serve; Tom Bombadil is the exception that highlights Middle-Earth’s rules, providing ambiguity and depth to a world that can, at times, feel reductionist.
Physically, Tom is similar in appearance to a man, but older than the elves, and, within his domain, more powerful than a wizard. Some have theorized Bombadil is a Maia – one of the primordial spirits who shaped the world – but Tolkien deliberately left the question unanswered. He is also the only character upon whom the ring has no effect.
8. The Infamous Eagles
If the Great Eagles were able to rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom, why didn’t they drop them there in the first place?
This question is probably the best known, and most hotly debated, ‘plot-hole’ in the LoTR fanverse. Fans’ common answer to the riddle is that, had the Eagles attempted to enter Mordor, the Nazgul would have confronted them on their Fellbeasts, and put the entire plan at risk.
Still, it seems odd the possibility wasn’t even discussed at the Council of Elrond; even if the Eagles couldn’t bring the Fellowship straight into Mordor, they could have at least cut down travel time considerably, and helped the travelers circumvent danger on the ground.
The plot-hole was never surfaced in Tolkien’s lifetime, so a definitive answer to the riddle does not exist. Jackson could’ve provided a real service to the narrative, however, with a clever line or two to explaining the Eagle’s absence in earlier plot points.
7. Gandalf’s Powers are Inconsistent
Gandalf’s powers are even more interesting than his past.
At certain points of the story he indeed appears to be no more than a “conjurer of cheap tricks,” whereas at others he is capable of turning the course of entire battles, or defeating Middle-Earth’s most powerful creatures in single combat.
Gandalf’s unpredictability is partly by design. Tolkien envisioned the wizard as an Odinic character, masking his true power behind a stranger’s rags, then revealing it when required, or deserved. And, of course, Gandalf’s transformation from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White was always meant to be accompanied by an exponential increase in power.
But in Jackson’s films, Gandalf’s powers often seem to be driven less by character design and more by plot requirement. A good example is the wizard’s battle with the Witch-King in RoTK, in which Gandalf is knocked off his horse without so much as a light beam or shockwave in return – all to provide a convenient ‘darkest moment’ before the Rohirrim arrive.
6. Nobody Thought of a Moat?
Middle-Earth is clearly advanced in the art of siege warfare.
Orc armies are well equipped with explosives, battering rams, catapults, siege towers, and grappling hooks – and yet not a single city, apparently, has thought to build a moat.
If Helm’s Deep had been surrounded by water, as almost every actual medieval fortress was, the majority of the Orc’s tactics would have been useless, including the detonation that finally breached the city’s wall. (We’ll ignore the fact a massive, unguarded weak-spot was left exposed to the enemy in the first place.)
Of course none of these oversights are Jackson’s fault – all told, he does a fantastic job bringing Tolkien’s battles to life. But given the amount of attention the trilogy devotes to offensive siege weaponry, Helm’s Deep lack of something so basic as a moat – or just a competent sewage architect – comes across as a bit implausible.
5. The Ringwraiths Suck at their Job
Given how long they’ve been at it, it’s no wonder the Nazgûl have lost all interest in their job.
Still, at times, it’s almost like they don’t want to succeed.
On Weathertop, with the Ring inches from their grasp, five of the Nazgul are driven away Aragorn, armed only with a sword and torch. Given the sole reason they exist is to capture the Ring, and that none of them were actually harmed, the Nazgul’s retreat is nothing short of feckless. We can only imagine the excuses they had to come up with for Sauron.
Then there’s the scene at Minas Tirith, when The Witch-King simply walks away from a defeated Gandalf after the Rohirrim arrive. Fair enough, the world’s largest cavalry force is a legitimate distraction, but it would only have taken 30 additional seconds for the Witch King to destroy the Fellowship’s leader and greatest asset. Talk about a job half done.
4. Aragorn Breaks his Truce (Extended Edition)
On and off the battlefield, Aragorn is a paragon of chivalry – which is what makes his actions at the Gate of Mordor in the film’s extended version so confusing.
In the opening shot Aragorn and his party are seen riding to the gates of Mordor under a flag of truce, to request negotiation with Sauron.
While the emissary sent forth – the Mouth of Sauron – is an unsavory character, he still abides by the rules, and even customs, of traditional parley. From his welcoming of the party to Mordor, to his question of who has the authority to treat with him, it appears he’s there to talk and only talk.
While a hard line is crossed when The Mouth vaunts Frodo’s torture and execution, many fans question Aragorn’s decision to behead the emissary with a surprise attack.
From the middle-ages onwards, a breach of parley has been considered a grave military offense; and while we can’t judge Middle-Earth by the standards of our own military history, it does seem unlikely that Tolkien – a British Military Officer himself – would have endorsed the scene.
3. Legolas is Boring As Hell
The best word for Legolas’s character in the books is ‘otherworldly’.
Tolkien describes Legolas as being almost beyond the comprehension of his companions; capable of “blending living night and deep dream”, prone to long mystical ballads, and “fair of face beyond the measure of men. In other words, Legolas is a great character to imagine, but a difficult character to depict.
What comes across in text as subtle, ethereal, and mystical may on screen simply appear dull – e.g. Bloom’s long, brooding looks into the horizon. So while some of the elf’s battle-scenes are undoubtedly cool, and his banter with Gimli occasionally amusing, the film only ever manages to suggest depth, not convey it.
2. Elrond Lets Isildur Walk Away with the Ring
According to LoTR’s backstory, defeating Sauron the first time around was a bloody challenge that cost countless human and elvish lives.
Why then would Elrond risk that bloodshed and misery again by allowing Isildur to simply walk away from Mount Doom with The Ring of Power?
In Elrond’s own words, “It should have ended that day, but evil was allowed to endure.” The reality is, Elrond himself allowed evil to endure by not forcing Isildur to relinquish the ring. As an elf, with millennia of accumulated wisdom, he should have foreseen the danger of letting a man keep the world’s most dangerous object.
1. Jackson’s Faramir is a Mini-Boromir
Tolkien intended Faramir and Boromir to be two very different characters.
For starters, Tolkien’s Faramir completely rejects the Ring, and allows Frodo and Sam to pass on their journey unmolested. Before even understanding the true power of ‘Isildur’s Bane, he vows never to take it up, in defense of Gondor or otherwise. Faramir and his men also treat their captive Gollum with kindness, not cruelty and derision as they are shown to in the films.
This original contrast between Faramir and Boromir helped illustrate that the Ring’s power is not over races, or even families, but individual souls – and that two men bound by the same obligations are capable of separate reactions.
Unfortunately, Jackson lost the subtlety of this point when he made Faramir a miniature version of his brother.
Did we miss any major problems with Lord of the Rings that you want brought to light? Let us know in the comments!
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