Translating Tolkien’s pointillistic imagery in The Lord of the Rings novels to the cinema is quite a complicated task – one that Peter Jackson and his crew pull off with exquisite sophistication. The world is built with near-perfect accuracy, from the sleepy-green Shire to the craggy charcoal of Barad-dûr, and everything in between.
However, there are a few characters whose book versions differ greatly from the movies, sometimes for the better, but not always. That said, it’s unfair to expect everything to be perfect in artistic adaptations of pre-existing works, because personalities depend on the actors as much as the screenplay.
Characters The Lord Of The Rings Ruined
Ruined: Frodo’s Arc Is Far Bleaker Than It Should Be
Frodo’s mind is suspended between darkness and light, but the latter almost always wins out, even during times of stress (with the exception of the moment of truth at the story’s climax).
The effect of the One Ring on his personality is identical in both versions, but Elijah Wood’s stellar performance is possibly just a shade too morbid. That said, the unavoidable difference in flavor between text and film is bound to change its protagonist’s nature, however slightly.
Ruined: Legolas & Gimli Never Go Beyond The Sea
Of the nine members of the Fellowship, only Boromir dies before the end of the plot. Gandalf leaves Middle-earth with Frodo, with Sam following a few decades later, and Merry and Pippin live out their lives between Gondor, Rohan, and the Shire.
However, after Aragorn’s death, Legolas and Gimli are supposed to build a ship and cross over to the Undying Lands, “and when that ship passed, an end was come in Middle-earth of the Fellowship of the Ring.” This event isn’t even hinted at in the films.
Ruined: Saruman Of The Many Colors Doesn’t Get His Shire Storyline
Saruman’s grandiose fantasies are cut short when the Ents march into Isengard, destroying his orc mutants and tearing the place apart. The self-titled wizard “of the many colors” plummets to his death from Orthanc’s apex, never to be seen again.
In the books, Saruman flees to Hobbiton, where he subjugates innocent Hobbits to his now-diluted power trip. As written by Tolkien, his arc ends with Saruman “cast down, and utterly humbled, and perished at last by the hand of Gríma Wormtongue:” a considerably better ending for such a wily Maia.
Ruined: Sauron’s Physical Appearance Is Far From Macabre
Sauron is a master of disguise, having taken on a wide variety of forms since the First Age – a few of them were even said to be divine. The physical form he takes in the movies is certainly imposing but ends up taking away from the mystery factor in the novels.
Tolkien mentioned Sauron’s “daunting eyes” and “dreadful presence,” as well as his apparently extreme skin temperature. The films depict him as a gigantic human-shaped suit of spiky black armor, armed with a cudgel and a single gold ring, but without his characteristic malevolence.
Ruined: The Balrog Of Moria Is An Overwrought Expression Of CGI
The Balrog of Moria, also known as Durin’s Bane, was meant to be marginally larger than a human, which is conceivable given that these beasts used to be a breed of Maia corrupted by Morgoth (like Sauron).
Another aspect of these once-angelic entities is that they could mutate at will, as Gandalf describes the Balrog’s appearance after plunging into water as “a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake.” Cinematically less impactful, perhaps, but narrative strength is not all about CGI.
Characters The Lord Of The Rings Fixed
Fixed: Gollum’s Guile & Desperation Can Be Felt Through The Screen
Gollum is an exceptionally challenging character to manifest, even with CGI support. Nevertheless, Andy Serkis’ performance earned him widespread acclaim and several prestigious awards.
Gollum is engulfed by his hunger for the One Ring; he covets it more than he cares about life itself, but there are times when compassion shines through all that grime and greed. Serkis captures the radical duality of Gollum using nothing more than body movement, facial expression, and vocal tone.
Fixed: Arwen Is A Lot More Tenacious In The Movies
Literary Arwen is comfortable in the backseat, content to watch events play out and accept the destiny that’s been written for her. Liv Tyler’s Arwen couldn’t be more different: she ferries an injured Frodo across plain and meadow, later “destroying” the Nazgûl by bringing the might of the river down on them.
It’s unlikely that Tolkien intended for her to have any knowledge of battle, a feature that Peter Jackson excellently subverts. The only problem is that the movie version shows Arwen’s agency is somewhat displaced in favor of her father, Elrond.
Fixed: Gandalf’s Cinematic Majesty Illustrates His Resolve
Several actors were considered for the role of Gandalf, including Patrick Stewart, Sean Connery, and David Bowie, but it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Ian McKellen.
He takes his character through the biggest metamorphosis in LOTR, from smoky gray to blinding white, emerging as a powerhouse of proportions more intimidating than his consistently jolly novel representation. McKellen shows why Gandalf, not Frodo or Aragorn, is the prime mover in the War of the Ring.
Fixed: Gríma Wormtongue Is The Definition Of His Name
Wormtongue is a craven creature bent on nothing more than the destruction of Rohan, although Saruman’s influence over him cannot be discounted so easily.
Under advisement from Peter Jackson, actor Brad Dourif added a personal touch by removing his eyebrows (which would make anyone’s face look inhuman). Wormtongue slithers and snivels his way through the movies, a far more visceral rendition of his milder self in the novels.
Fixed: Galadriel Deserves The Respect She Gets & More
Galadriel is a tricky character to portray effectively, given the overwhelming aura she is said to emit. Cate Blanchett does all that and more; even the scene where she transforms into a “dark queen” is terrifying.
Words flowed like honey in Tolkien’s hands, but the visual radiance of movie Galadriel surpasses all textual descriptions of the character. She isn’t as feeble as in the books, and she seems significantly more exhausted with existing.
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