If you’re like me, you love your Tolkien. You’ve read all his books, you’ve seen all the film adaptations, and you’ve got a restraining order against you saying you can’t get within 200 feet of Liv Tyler. But hey, even if you’re not exactly like me, as a fan of TheOneRing.net you’ve probably heard a lot of things about the making of The Lord of the Rings movies. You know that Gandalf hitting his head on the rafters of Bag End was really an on-set accident, and that Sean Astin cut his foot on a piece of glass. You might have even heard that The Two Towers didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Score because it was ineligible. But, much like the idea that Salem, Massachusetts once held witch burnings, or that the U.S. has a national holiday named “President’s Day”, these things just aren’t true.
1. The myth: Peter Jackson discovered The Lord of the Rings when he bought a paperback copy to read on a train ride. He became an obsessive fan and later came up with the idea to make film adaptations.
Why we think it’s true: the publicity materials for film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
But actually: According to Jackson himself in his authorized biography, he was introduced to The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi’s film adaptation. He then bought a copy of Tolkien’s book that was a tie-in to the film (with Bakshi’s art on the cover). While Jackson did enjoy the book, he hardly became an obsessive fan. After reading it once, he set it aside and never bothered to read the book again… until his wife suggested it might be a good source for a fantasy film in 1995.
2. The myth: New Line Cinema made three Lord of the Rings films because there are three books.
Why we think it’s true: Logic, the DVD bonus materials
But actually: The number of books didn’t factor into the decision.
You’ve probably heard the story: Jackson was preparing to make two The Lord of the Rings films for Miramax when he was asked to condense everything into one film to save money. Jackson went to New Line Cinema to plead with them to buy-out the project and make two films instead of one. Bob Shaye, head of New Line Cinema, replied:
“Why would I want to do two films? There are three books. Why not do three films?”
It’s a good story, but there’s one problem: Bob Shaye himself has said that it’s bunch of baloney. “I didn’t say, ‘Aren’t there three books’ or whatever,” Shaye later said in an interview for the book, Peter Jackson: A Film-Maker’s Journey. Shaye was thinking more in terms of business than in terms of Tolkien. “I was cognizant of my discussions with Michael Lynn about our need for sequels. I knew that, after conferring with Michael… we were going to make three films.”
“Bob was getting pretty excited,” New Line executive Mark Ordesky said about the meeting, “because he sees what Peter was saying artistically, but because he’s also seeing three video releases, three network television sales…”
Interestingly, turning The Lord of the Rings from two films to three films would turn out to be quite the challenge for the writers. (In retrospect, maybe four would have been better!) But regardless, New Line Cinema was having trouble making sequels to their more successful films, and when Shaye saw an opportunity, he pounced on it – regardless of how many books Tolkien used to tell the tale.
3. The myth: While shooting at the Bag End set, Ian McKellen accidentally hit his head on the rafters. Because it was a funny moment, and McKellen gamely kept going with the scene, Jackson decided to keep it.
Why we think it’s true: Jackson says so himself in the DVD commentary.
But actually: McKellen himself addresses the issue on his website, writing “Peter, for once, is wrong. The head-banging was my idea but I’m glad if it seemed spontaneous, the aim of all actors.”
4. The myth: Jackson pays homage to Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings with a scene where the hobbits hide under the roots of a tree.
Why we think it’s true: It’s not in the books, yet it’s in both the animated and live action adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring.
But actually: The story is a little more complex.
It is true that this manner of hiding is not in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. Near the beginning of the book, the hobbits do hide from a “black rider” (twice). In their first encounter, Pippin and Sam hide in a hollow away from the road (Merry is not present) and Frodo hides next to a tree – though not under its roots:
“Just in time he threw himself down in a patch of long grass behind a tree that overshadowed the road. Then he lifted his head and peered cautiously above one of the great roots.”
The second encounter is similar (which is probably why both film adaptations condense it to one):
“They had no time to find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the trees. Sam and Pippin crouched behind a large tree-bole, while Frodo crept back a few yards towards the lane.”
So the idea of the hobbits hiding under the roots of a tree with the Black Rider peering overhead, (and the iconic framing,) is an invention of Bakshi’s film. In 1985, a young artist by the name of John Howe used the scene as a basis for a painting. On his website, he says, “This painting was inspired by the Bakshi movie, where the Hobbits cower under a tree root as the Black Rider seeks them. I thought it was the best scene in the movie, and it must have trod a path in my subconscious, as it certainly is nowhere to be found in the Fellowship of the Ring. After a long hike on the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island, I returned with exactly this photo – minus the hobbits and the Ringwraith, of course, and painted it for my own pleasure.”
The painting subsequently appeared in the 1987 J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar and caught the attention of Peter Jackson. Later, when Jackson was making his Lord of the Rings movies, he showed his people John Howe’s work: “Peter so enjoyed a beautiful painting that John Howe had done,” Richard Taylor later said, “that all of our brief and the Art Department’s brief was to try and generate the very feeling of this painting.” (In fact, Jackson even had a tree imported to the path just for the scene.)
And so in the end we actually have Jackson’s interpretation of Howe’s interpretation of Bakshi’s interpretation of Tolkien. And the best part is, the scene really works!
5. The myth: For the battle of Helm’s Deep in the animated Lord of the Rings, director Ralph Bakshi used footage from the 1938 historical drama Alexander Nevsky.
Why we think it’s true: The internet says it’s so.
But actually: It’s a mix-up of information.
Director Ralph Bakshi did indeed use footage of Alexander Nevsky (which wasn’t a legal issue, because the film is in the public domain) but not for The Lord of the Rings. He rotoscoped the footage for his 1977 film Wizards after 20th Century Fox refused to increase the film’s budget to allow him to animate the battles in a traditional way. The film was a success, and after this positive experience with rotoscoping, Bakshi decided to use it extensively his Lord of the Rings movie; but all the live action was shot by Bakshi himself in Spain. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the money to animate all the shots, so he resorted to posterizing some of the footage (mostly in the second half of the film) instead.
6. The myth: After Bakshi’s film failed at the box office preventing a “Part 2”, Rankin/Bass decided to finish up the story with their version of “The Return of the King”.
Why we think it’s true: The internet, the media, and common sense
But actually: This is one time common sense will work against you.
Heck, we all know critics and fans hated Bakshi’s film. We all know he didn’t make a Part 2 and that Rankin/Bass stepped up to the plate with their own sequel. It’s not hard to read between the lines and guess what happened.
But the truth is stranger than fiction.
To begin with, and this is going to be the opposite of what you’ve always heard, Bakshi’s film was actually a box office success.
“The theatrical release in 1978 had a domestic total gross of nearly $90 million at the box office,” said Amit Desai, WHV Vice President of Family, Animation & Partner Brands Marketing said in a press release to announce the film’s release on Blu-ray.
Actually, Amit, it was more like $30 million. But considering the film’s budget was $6 million and that the movie made some additional money overseas, it’s safe to say the film turned a healthy profit and was a success by 1978’s standards.
Whatever the case, “Part 2” was never made, opening the door for Rankin/Bass… except that Rankin/Bass was already in the room, so to speak. A year before Bakshi’s LOTR film was finished, and before anyone had yet seen the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit, Rankin/Bass was already hard at work on The Return of the King. From the November 27, 1977 edition of the New York Times:
“We will go on to complete our next Tolkien work, which will continue the characters we have established in ‘The Hobbit,’ and will be adapted from ‘The Hobbit’ and the last book in the Ring trilogy, ‘The Return of the King.’ At this point we are scripted, the music is composed and recorded, our backgrounds are painted, the sound track is partially completed, and new characters are designed-such as Frodo Baggins.”
It’s really bizarre when you think about: there were two different animation studios working on The Lord of the Rings at the same time, and for a period it looked like they were both going to be adapting the same material at the same time. Yet the movie that actually makes millions of dollars gets no sequel, and meanwhile the other guys do The Return of the King as a sequel to The Hobbit simply because it sounds like a good idea. If it seems like some crazy person was involved, I’ll remind you that the guy who held (and still holds) the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is the same guy who once sued John Fogerty for sounding too much like Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Whatever the case, the result is interesting: the independent choices of all parties involved coincidentally led to two animated Lord of the Rings movies by two different studios covering different ground, yet the two movies nearly dovetail and form a Part 1 and Part 2.
7. The myth: Cameron Rhodes plays Farmer Maggot in The Fellowship of the Ring movie.
Why we think it’s true: The film’s credits, Wikipedia, TheOneRing.net
But actually: someone else plays Farmer Maggot
It sounds like the ultimate imposter caper, something out of “Catch Me if You Can”: this guy, Cameron Rhodes, has fooled the media into believing he’s “Farmer Maggot” in the Lord of the Rings films, and now he’s able to work the convention circuit and sign autographs for $10 a pop.
Actually, this isn’t a case of someone who had nothing to do with The Lord of the Rings movies sponging off their success. (That’s my territory, darn it!) Rhodes, in fact, was bought on board the Lord of the Rings film project before Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, and most of the other actors. Early on, Jackson needed voice actors for a first pass at the script, and he had Cameron Rhodes (as well as Craig Parker and Peter Vere-Jones) record an audio version his Lord of the Rings. Rhodes was later cast as a hobbit in The Fellowship of the Ring, with a part that was derived from Farmer Maggot’s story in the book . Flanked by his dog, the character tells a Black Rider, “There’s no Bagginses around here. They’re all up in Hobbiton. That way!”
Here’s the problem: Rhodes’s character, which seems awfully young to be the curmudgeon, old farmer from the book, is never actually named in the film.
I can hear it now: “J.W, you’re being silly! Just because he’s not named doesn’t mean he hasn’t got a name. After all, Lurtz’s name is never spoken in the film either, but he’s still Lurtz.”
That is true, but there’s also this: later in the film, another character based on Farmer Maggot is introduced. He’s called Farmer Maggot, and he is a curmudgeon, old farmer, and he’s not played by Cameron Rhodes. He’s played by a scythe… and the voice of supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins (who sounds quite different than Rhodes). This is like the reverse of a composite character: we’ve taken a character from the book and given him two different parts! We could, perhaps, say that Hopkins is Farmer Maggot Senior and Rhodes is Farmer Maggot Junior (or just pretend they’re the same character) but there’s really nothing in the film to indicate this. Moreover, if there’s only to be one actor credited as Farmer Maggot, wouldn’t it be common sense to credit the guy who’s actually identified in the film as Farmer Maggot?
Well, there’s the catch. You see, credits don’t really exist for the sake of the audience (as this whole section illustrates: it’s unlikely anyone would say to themselves, “I wonder who plays that hobbit with the dog? Maybe he’s the son of that farmer hobbit and shares his name. Maybe I’ll just look for that other hobbit’s name, it will tell me who played his son.”) The real reason credits exist is because they are, along with monetary compensation, part of the agreement between a studio and the cast and crew. Simply put, New Line Cinema agreed to credit Rhodes as Farmer Maggot. This also allows him to credit himself as “Farmer Maggot” at appearances. And the truth is that Rhodes has a substantial enough part to deserve recognition. (Isn’t his contribution to the film fabulous?) Meanwhile, Mike Hopkins probably saw his voiceover in the film as part of his duties as Supervising Sound Editor, for which he’s given proper credit. So it all works out in the end. But that said, Mike Hopkins – who sadly died in a rafting accident in December – will always be Farmer Maggot to me.
8. The myth: While shooting a scene for the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sean Astin cut his foot on a shard of glass.
Why we think it’s true: It’s mentioned in all the bonus materials and you can read about it all over the internet.
But actually: While Astin did cut his foot, nobody was able to find the sharp object. (For those of you who live in New Zealand, what an opportunity this gives you! If you can find the object in question, you’ll have a great piece of film memorabilia. Maybe Mr. Astin will even sign it for you.) In his book, There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale, Astin talks about what happened: “When the crew prepared the lake for this scene, they ran a rake along the bottom to smooth and make sure nothing was there. Unfortunately, they might have churned something up that was buried. Also, I was putting such force into the way I was marching into the water, while wearing just my hobbit feet, that anything with a sharp tip was going to do some damage.” While we’ll probably never know what the object really was, Astin has speculated that it might have been a branch – something the crewmembers might have overlooked before and after the accident in their search for a something sharp.
9. The myth: New Line Home Entertainment ripped off the fans by releasing two different DVD sets for each LOTR film.
Why we think it’s true: After we all bought the first DVD set, New Line released a better one.
But actually: New Line released the DVDs in a very fan friendly way
People are still mad about this one. The most popular review of The Hobbit on DVD and Blu-ray at amazon? A two star rating berating Warner Brothers: “As with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Warner Bros. is trying to stick it to the consumer again by hoping people will buy both versions.”
Setting aside that Warner Brothers had nothing to do with The Lord of the Rings extended editions, let’s take a look at what actually happened:
Back in 2000 and 2001 two things happened simultaneously: DVD players began sweeping over the world, replacing video cassette recorders, and Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings film was taking shape. Jackson and New Line Cinema looked at the situation and, in an epiphany, realized that they were now going to be releasing The Lord of the Rings films into two different markets with two different sets of demands.
For the theater, pacing and running time are vital to success, because there’s no pause button and it’s important for the film to have a flow that keeps people into the story as it moves from scene to scene. It’s also important to remember that theatrical audiences are sitting in foreign chairs, sipping their sodas, waiting to eventually use the bathroom and go home. But maybe even more importantly, the shorter a film’s running time, the more opportunities it has to make money, since it can play more times each day.
For DVDs, it’s a different ballgame. Pacing is less of an issue, because people often watch them in parts, almost like reading a book, and people are watching from their comfy chair or couch, taking bathroom breaks whenever they like. With no pressures limiting the running time, the director can let his hair down and tell the story in a different way with more details and more character development: and fans love it. Just as importantly (and unlike video cassettes), DVDs offer a chance for commentaries and bonus features you could never have in theaters.
So in late 2001, New Line decided there would be two versions of The Fellowship of the Ring. Their first order of business was to manage the theatrical cut and theatrical run, so it wasn’t until 2002 that they mapped out a DVD strategy. But when they got around to it, their idea was impressive: the theatrical cut would be released on DVD along with all the bonus material they already had in the can (trailers, tv specials, and anything else that didn’t require any work) and an “extended edition” would be released with new scenes (requiring new effect shots) and new bonus material assembled specifically for the set. Because the theatrical set was basically just an assembly of ready material and the extended set was something that need to be developed nearly from scratch, the two sets were going to be ready at different times.
All fine and good, you might say, but why didn’t New Line Home Entertainment tell people about the extended edition before people ran out and bought the theatrical cut?
They issued a press release and personally shared the information with us here at TORN. It was exciting news! If you were a huge fan, you could get the theatrical set and the extended set, and you’d get both versions of the film and all that bonus material. The two sets worked well together, because they contained no overlapping material and gave you the most bang for your buck. On other hand, if you were just interested in the extended edition set, you could skip the theatrical set and save some money. And if you weren’t a big Lord of the Rings fan, but you liked the movie in theaters and just wanted to pick up a cheap DVD with the theatrical cut, you could buy the theatrical set. It seemed like New Line had covered all the bases and found a way to please everyone.
We posted all these exciting details on TheOneRing.net for the world to see, including a list of specific features on each DVD set, but the problem was the world didn’t see it.
Back from 2001 to 2003, before social media like Facebook and twitter, there was a definitive dichotomy for the public’s appetite for LOTR movie news: a season and an off season, so to speak. If we posted a story in December or January, it was big news. Fans would talk about it on message boards, the media would pick up the story and include it in newspapers, and everyone seemed to be in the loop. On the other hand, if we posted a story in May, June, or July, it was more likely to fly under the radar. People were out and about enjoying their summers (or winters in the southern hemisphere), and they certainly weren’t checking iPhones or iPads for the latest news. So the details of the DVDs went unnoticed (and unpublished by most newspapers, which didn’t really care), and after fans rushed out to buy the theatrical DVDs when they were released in August, they were quite angry when they found out there would be a better DVD set released later. (We could say that what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.)
As a postscript, it’s worth mentioning that the home video market has changed since the time of The Lord of the Rings movies. The emphasis now is to get the movies into stores as cheaply as possible, which is why The Lord of the Rings Blu-ray sets have no new bonus features. It’s interesting to note that if The Lord of the Rings had been released five years earlier or five years later, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the magnificent extras that are now part of posterity.
10. The myth: The Two Towers music wasn’t eligible for the Academy Award for Best Score
Why we think it’s true: The media widely reported it, and most fans still believe it today.
But actually: It was declared eligible.
The music of The Lord of the Rings is timeless and one of the greatest aspects of the stunning trilogy. The Fellowship of the Ring was nominated for and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The Return of the King was nominated for and won the same award. The Two Towers? Nothing. Not even a nomination. What the heck?
Ask a knowledgeable fan and he’ll tell you. “It wasn’t eligible because of a silly rule at the time.” In fact, it still says as much on Howard Shore’s Wikipedia page:
“Shore’s score for The Two Towers was deemed ineligible for submission to the Academy, due to a new rule that disallowed the submission of scores which contained themes from previous work.”
More accurately, Shore’s score was submitted but subsequently called into question due to the new rule; as TORN and newspapers throughout the world shared with everyone. Unfortunately, most people missed the follow-up story where the Academy said it was indeed eligible.
“The music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences moved Friday to deflect a brewing controversy by postponing a ruling that would have disqualified for nomination a popular musical score. [Howard] Shore… was notified Friday afternoon that ‘The Two Towers’ will remain eligible after all for this year’s Oscar. Said Charles Bernstein, music-branch governor: ‘Due to the lateness of the date, and the crunch that takes place at the end of the year, the committee felt that it would be much more fair to leave this year alone and apply the rule in a more clearly articulated form next year.’”
Of course, The Two Towers was still not nominated, but that was due more to stupidity than rules.
So there you are. Ten myths cast into Mount Doom. Now I just have to find a way to start a TV show called “Middle-earth Mythbusters” where I do cool experiments to confirm or bust the things we’ve learned from The Lord of the Rings. Can you really reforge a sword? Is it really possible to toss a Dwarf 15 feet? Can you really forge a Ring that turns you invisible? Tune in next time and find out!