10 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Movies
It’s “Tolkien Week,” which means people all around the world are celebrating that literary genius who gave us ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ book series, and therefore the corresponding movie adaptations. Aside from that, though, it’s the 75th anniversary of ‘The Hobbit’s’ original date of publication, and September 22 is the annual “Hobbit Day.” So, there’s a lot of J.R.R. Tolkien action to be had.
Peter Jackson already played his part for the special occasion by revealing an all-new trailer for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.' While we’re waiting patiently for 'The Hobbit' to hit theaters on December 14 and for "Hobbit Day" to officially kick off, we’re celebrating Tolkien Week in our own way by looking back at ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and revealing a few facts you probably didn’t know about Jackson’s movie trilogy and Tolkien himself.
An entire major movie franchise with The Beatles in the lead roles? Sounds like a made-for-TV movie along the lines of ‘KISS Saves Christmas,’ doesn’t it?
1969 was the year the rights to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ were acquired by United Artists, of whose music label worked with The Beatles. Once the iconic band heard the news, they immediately wanted a part of it and decided Stanley Kubrick, with his past work ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as an example, was the perfect guy to helm a movie adaptation. If all had gone as planned, John Lennon would have played Gollum, Paul McCartney would have been Frodo, Ringo Starr would have been Sam and George Harrison would have been Gandalf. Too bad (or maybe it’s a good thing) the director didn’t feel the same way -– he told Lennon the book was unfilmable, referring to the exhausting task of condensing all that material for the screen.
If things had gone differently for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ casting, we would have had an extremely different “Fellowship of the Ring.” For one, Sean Connery was supposed to play Gandalf, but he turned down the role for a couple reasons. The first, which is the most understandable of the two, was the lengthy filming time frame of 18 months; but it’s his second reason that’ll make you laugh –- “I didn’t understand the script.”
Christopher Lee, the man who became Saruman the White, also wanted the part of Gandalf and in fact states in the commentary that it was a “decades-long dream” of his to play the wizard. If it wasn’t for the physical requirements of the role -– horseback riding, the wizard fight scene, etc. –- he might’ve won it, but his self-proclaimed age limitations ultimately made him a better fit for Saruman.
Stuart Townsend was another would-be ‘Lord of the Rings’ star, but his original role of Aragorn was taken away from him by Peter Jackson himself after realizing literally one day into shooting that Townsend was too young and too ill-equipped as a physical actor for the part. Viggo Mortensen wasn’t even sure he could handle the part, being that he never read the books or met Jackson, but ultimately accepted after getting a needed push from his son Henry.
Due to the extreme time length needed for filming all three movies at once, the cast had to find some ways to hang out, which often meant listening to hip-hop and playing pranks on each other. Ironically, though, none of this horse play really caused any trouble with their actual work, but the one thing that did was surfing. The nine black riders were known around the set for their love of surfing and each had their own black wetsuit. When Mortensen tried it, though, he got hit in the face with his surfboard, which was why you saw so many profile shots of him during the Mines of Moria/Balin's Tomb scene. If the camera had shot him at any other angle, you would've seen his swollen face and black eye. "Viggo, being the cool guy that he is, said that he fell down the stairs or trod on a frog or something like that and we got away with it," said his partner in crime Dominic Monaghan (Merry), citing the additional fact that all the actors were barred from participating in active sports in the likely event an injury should occur.
Speaking of injuries, Mortensen's previously mentioned surfing accident was not his only one. The actor also broke his toe while filming the scene where he stumbles on the Uruk-hai massacre and kicks the helmet in anger. (Note: that's why he falls to his knees and screams.) He had to run with the injury in the early scenes of 'The Two Towers,' and later, in an unrelated moment, Mortensen almost drowned during the scene where he floats down the river after getting pushed off a ledge during the Warg attack. Oh yeah, and he lost a tooth during one of the battle scenes. Speaking to the latter, he said, "There were a lot of people who got hurt worse than me. We all had pulled muscles and twisted this and that, and broken toes." He's referring in part to Orlando Bloom's fall off his horse that cracked his rib, a Gimli size double's dislocated shoulder, and the real Gimli's near drowning experience after his boat capsized during the canoe scene in 'Fellowship.'
After the lead cast members of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ were cast, they turned into immediate superstars following the premiere of the first film and will forever be linked to their roles in the film franchise. But there were some other not-so-familiar faces you’ll be interested to know had their own parts to play.
We mentioned earlier about Aragorn’s son in real life, Henry, getting his dad to accept the role, but did you also know that Henry himself appears in the movie? The first orc that Aragorn kills at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in ‘The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ was played by Mortensen Jr., who (as a side note) was also tasked with researching when Thorin’s map appears in ‘The Hobbit’ so as to find a plausible way to have it appear in ‘LOTR’). Then there’s that cloaked ringwraith who demands to know where “Shire… Baggins” is in the first film. We’ll give you a hint -– the same guy who voiced that line had another major, not-so-“precious”-looking part. Yup, Gollum (aka Andy Serkis) lent his voice for that five-second-ish moment.
Another father-son duo that made a really minor cameo in the movies was Peter Jackson and his son Billy. The director appeared in the first movie as a rain-soaked, shadowed man in Bree chewing a carrot. He was originally supposed to smoke a pipe, but it made him sick so he switched to the veggie. He then appears down the road in ‘The Two Towers’ as a Helm’s Deep soldier chucking a spear at an orc. Billy, on the other hand, was one of the little hobbit kids listening intently to Bilbo’s story during the birthday party scene at the beginning of ‘Fellowship.’ He was the only one of the children who didn’t have to wear a wig for the scene because he, funny enough, had “perfect hobbit hair.”
Most semi-interested fans know that all three ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies were filmed at the same time over an 18-month time span, but as far as where they were filmed, New Zealand is a just a generalization. More than 350 sets were utilized for the over 100 different shooting sites, which meant bad news for one cast member in particular. As far as getting to these locations, the cast and crew were transported by helicopter, and our buddy Boromir (played by Sean Bean) didn’t like flying (and probably still doesn’t). It was after shooting the scene where he tries to take the ring from Frodo in ‘Fellowship’ that pushed him over the edge, and from then on he refused to fly in the helicopter. So to get to the remote locations, he sometimes had to climb uphill for miles at a time in full Boromir attire. The only other major snag was shooting outside the Black Gate of Mordor, of which the area in real life was the site of a military testing ground and had to be cleared of unexploded ammo.
Other sets weren’t so difficult to film, fortunately. Fangorn, for example, was created through a combination of miniature pieces, CGI and set designs. Then there was Osgiliath, which was only 25-by-30-feet wide in real life. The majority of it was made of polystyrene and was so lightweight that the entire thing blew away at one time due to high winds.
‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy earned a slew of awards for directing, effects, music and, perhaps most impressive of all, costume and makeup. With the help of Weta Workshop, the costume and makeup teams produced 1,000 full suits of armor (not even including the full number of non-armored costumes) and 10,000 facial prosthetics. What landed 'The Lord of the Rings' in the Guinness Book of World Records, however, was the record number of 1,800 hobbit feet, most of which went to the main actors. The material was so flimsy that once the players took them off their feet, the fake moldings fell apart, hence the high volume of hairy feet.
Liv Tyler (aka Arwen) pointed out many times that the majority of her dialogue in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was in Elvish, referencing the daunting task of learning a made-up language. Fortunately, she had an Elvish coach by her side to help walk her through the pronunciation, and for all those lines the two collectively couldn’t decipher, an expert was stationed in the US for translating duties.
It was no trouble for Tolkien when he first made it up, though, considering the process of creating new languages was a hobby of his. Some of his poems and songs were even written in thought-up and universally extinct languages. Pretty much all the ones he wrote, including Elvish, were generated by the basic principles and dialects of existing languages. The Elvish you hear in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and read in the books, for example, is actually two dialects –- Sandarin, which most of the characters speak, and Quenya. Christopher Lee broke it down in an interview a while back, saying, “Sindarin is, basically, Welsh” and “Quenya is Finnish” … more or less.
It's no secret that the character of Gollum was nearly all CGI-ed with his movements based off of Andy Serkis, but we say "nearly" because there were certain moments where parts of the actor stuck out. Most of the filming was done with Serkis in a black bodysuit to record his facial expressions and body motions, which were then digitally copied onto the screen. Other times, though, he was filmed in the scene opposite his castmates, and his appearance was then digitally switched out for the computer-generated version. It's with this latter technique that Serkis' actual drool was able to appear in the movie.
You might've noticed that the original image of Gollum in the first film where he's stalking the "Fellowship" was not how he ended up looking later on. That's because after the pre-corrupted scene of Smeagol in 'Return of the King' (portrayed by the non-computerized Serkis) was filmed, the crew wanted to redesign his image into the monstrous version we all know and love, so as to make him look more like his hobbit self.
It’s funny to think how many people are at the level of ‘Lord of the Rings’ fandom where they learn to read and speak Elvish, and dress up in Middle Earth garb on a regular basis, especially when Tolkien himself didn’t hold his fantasy works on the same level as his other intellectual property. More important to him were his criticisms of ‘Beowulf’ and translation of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’ In fact, he was somewhat shocked to realize the fan base springing up as a result of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ As for the fans themselves, he didn’t care for them much, thinking them incapable of truly grasping what his books were really about. Sorry, guys.