The Lord of the Rings: Book vs Film!


I can't quite believe I've never done a proper comparison review for The Lord of the Rings - a film series that will forever make me nostalgic and that recently, I've been falling in love with all over again. I re-read the books for the first time since I was twelve and the Covid cinema experience (the local cinemas started showing old films because there were no new releases) gave me the gift of the films on the big screen again. As adaptations and as films, there are flaws. I still prefer the original cinema releases to the extended editions (there is a reason those scenes were cut - it's already too long) and there is one significant change that always makes me furious. But overall, they couldn't have been done better and I'm (almost) sure that Tolkien would have loved them. I never had quite the same attachment to the books, but on my recent re-read I've become a real fan. Is there a dearth of female characters and some stodgy bits that you have power through to get to the good stuff? Yes. But some of the writing is beautiful and the characters are so warm and loveable. And it's just a great story. 

Peter Jackson gets all the glory for LotR, as directors always do, but Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens who were the primary screenwriters, never get enough credit. The books must have bene a monster to adapt and they kept the feel and the soul of the novels intact. I think the female writing team is part of the reason that the finished films appealed to women as well as men, despite the story being all about the boys. It was still Tolkien's story, but it was Fran and Phillipa's too. 

And before I go off into the three films separately, what else, overall was great about the adaptations? The casting was spot on, as was the chemistry between them (my favourite casting choices? Ian McKellan's Gandalf, Sean Bean's Boromir, Sean Astin's Sam and Bernard Hill's Théoden. Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn. Oh and Andy Serkis as Gollum!) The music is so beautiful. And the amount of detail that went into everything - the sets, costumes and the CGI  - which still hasn't really dated, unlike The Hobbit, which is looking pretty bad already, despite being ten years younger. I finally watched all the special features on the extended editions and I can't get my head around how much thought went into every little design decision - but it definitely paid off. And obviously, you've got to give Peter Jackson kudos too.  

Anyway, here's my wrap up of the three films: 

The Fellowship of the Ring:

The main changes: All the changes they made in this one were spot on. Goodbye Tom Bombadil (a man with no reason to exist) and roughly twenty years of procrastination in the Shire. More Arwen and Aragorn (in the book I think she has like, one line) and Arwen gets the flight to the ford, instead of Glorfindel (dispensable elf character) which was a stroke of genius. Boromir's death takes place at the end of this chapter, rather than the start of the next. It just made sense.

The good stuff: This one feels the neatest of the three, and probably works the best as a standalone film. All the Fellowship are together, which is what we like to see. My favourite scenes are Boromir's final moments, the Moria sequences, the flight to the ford, and just anything where the Fellowship are interacting, basically. There's a scene between Aragorn and Boromir in Lothlorien that I really love too. Plus black riders are much scarier on horses. 

Bad stuff? Not really. Only that this one is still set-up. And if we're talking extended editions, so much unnecessary Shire filler. 

The Two Towers:

The main changes: With both this and the third film, the writers have balanced out the events so we're getting them in chronological order, rather than the way the book does it, which is half the book Sam and Frodo, half the book Aragorn and co. I don't think that the films could have set it up any other way, and the decision definitely works.  Some of the Rohan stuff is different from the book too, but not in essentials, and all the changes made in that area are good I think (I love the Elves marching in at Helm's Deep.) 

The biggie here is Faramir. It is not necessary for him to try and take the ring. I don't care how much they protest that you need it for cinematic purposes and drama. The drama is found in the whole bit with Sméagol and the pool anyway, and the threat of taking the ring. There is so much else going on in this instalment that the big, pointless detour to Osgiliath just drags. We are already having to cope with cutting back and forward to the Ent Moot when really we'd rather be at Helm's Deep, we definitely don't need this whole extra thing added. Also the whole point of Faramir is that he's DIFFERENT from Boromir. 

The good stuff: Helm's Deep! Enough said really. I like anything Rohan and the Eowyn stuff is done well. Sam and Frodo can drag in places, but as an adaptation of the book those scenes are mostly perfect. Andy Serkis was such a great find. I like when the Ents come to Isengard too.

Bad stuff? See above with Faramir. Also the Arwen and Aragorn scenes drag a bit, especially in the extended editions. Oh, and that weird Bjork song on the credits.

The Return of the King

The main changes: No scouring of the Shire! As much as I enjoy it, I understand why it was culled. And we don't really see the Faramir/Eowyn love story - except for a bit in the extended editions - which is a shame because it's lovely, but I probably would have cut it too. 

The good stuff: I love the staging of the battle of the Pelennor fields, and how Eowyn and Théoden have a moment together before he dies. I love all Sam and Frodo's little scenes towards the end, Aragorn's speech at the Black Gate, and the scene where the beacons are lit. Despite all the endings, the very last scene is so lovely.

Bad stuff? It's just too long. You've got to admit, and the extra scenes are unnecessary in this one too. Also that bit where Frodo tells Sam to go home. You what? He's thousands of miles from home with no food? It's not in the book you know. 

- Written for the Tolkien blog party at The Edge of the Precipice

What do you think of The Lord of the Rings films as adaptations? What changes did you like, and any you disagreed with?



  1. Nice write-up. I enjoy the three movies but that third one IS a monster -- the EE is so long, I often have to break it up into chunks to finish it, else towards the second half it drags. But... I have to disagree on one point: there's never too much Arwen and Aragorn. ;)

    1. Thanks! haha I love the third one despite the length. And I like Arwen and Aragorn, their scenes all just seem slow motion... Love her dresses though!

  2. You might be interested in reading a comparison of the logistics of the battles. The book's make. Lot more sense than the movies'. I wish I could find the link.

    One difference that comes to mind is, taking of women and children to Dunharrow (book) vs. into Helms Deep (movie), and how this doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

    I found the following linm but I don't think this is the thing I read originally:

    1. Thanks for the link, will have a look! I preferred Helms Deep in the films (and although taking the women and children there does make less sense, I can see why they went with it - higher stakes!) but I really loved reading all the siege of Gondor stuff in the books!!


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