The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Films

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy comprises three live action fantasy epic films; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). For simplicity, the titles are often abbreviated to 'LOTR', with 'FOTR', 'TTT' and 'ROTK' for each of the respective films.

Set in Middle-earth, the three films follow the young Hobbit Frodo Baggins as he and a Fellowship embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring, and with it, ensure the destruction of the Dark Lord Sauron. The Fellowship breaks and Frodo continues his quest with loyal Sam and the treacherous Gollum. The heir in exile to the throne of Gondor, Aragorn, and the Wizard Gandalf must also unite the Free Peoples of Middle-earth in the War of the Ring, as Sauron rises once more to reclaim his prize with the Wizard Saruman.

Peter Jackson directed the movies, which were released by New Line Cinema. The trilogy is based on the book The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and follows its general storyline, despite some major deviations. Considered to be the biggest movie project ever undertaken with an overall budget of $270 million, the entire project took eight years, with the filming for all three films done simultaneously and entirely in Jackson's native New Zealand.

The trilogy was a huge financial success, with the films being the 11th, 5th and 2nd most successful of all time respectively. Critically acclaimed, they won 17 Academy Awards in total, as well as praise for the cast and groundbreaking practical and digital special effects. Each film also had popular Special Extended Editions (SEE), released a year after the theatrical release on DVD.


The Fellowship of the Ring

  • Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, the young Hobbit entrusted as the Ring-bearer, and must travel to Mount Doom, deep in the enemy's territory, to destroy it. He finds his own will tested by the power of the One Ring though.
  • Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, a Hobbit gardener who becomes Frodo's loyal companion.
  • Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor, brave and noble yet doubtful of his own ability and his fate to become king of Gondor, due to the failures of his ancestor to destroy the One Ring. Working as a Ranger of the North, he is also adept at healing, and as a Númenórean descendant, he is long-lived, being in his prime at 87.
  • Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey/White, the wise Wizard who engineers much of the planning to overthrow Sauron. He undergoes death, resurrection and transformation over the course of the trilogy, as his change in titles show.
  • Dominic Monaghan as Merry, a young Hobbit; kinsman of Pippin and Frodo.
  • Billy Boyd as Pippin, another Hobbit, Merry's best friend and somewhat immature.
  • Orlando Bloom as Legolas, an accomplished Elven archer and fighter.
  • John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, a warrior Dwarf, brave and often used as comic relief. He and Legolas have a friendly rivalry over their number of kills.
  • Sean Bean as Boromir, a Gondorian warrior and the eldest son of its Steward, Denethor. He is killed at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring by the Uruk-Hai after wrestling with the temptation of the Ring.

Others introduced in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

  • Sala Baker portrays Sauron the Dark Lord in his physical form. During the trilogy, he is incarnate as a flaming Eye and his presence in the One Ring is voiced by Alan Howard. His wish is to recover the Ring lost in battle many years ago, so that he can restore himself to full power. Sauron commands a vast army of Orcs to help him in this goal.
  • Andy Serkis provided the voice and motion-capture movements of Gollum, once a Hobbit-like being called Sméagol who found the Ring many years ago. The Ring slowly consumed him completely and mutated him into a hideous and lonesome creature; he calls the Ring his "Precious." He initially tracks and follows the Fellowship to recover what was "stolen" by Bilbo, and is forced to help Frodo and Sam in leading them in their journey, though he is ever treacherous.
  • Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, Frodo's uncle. He is celebrating his 111st ("eleventy-first") birthday at the start of the trilogy and is writing a book of his exploits, detailing how he recovered the One Ring.
  • Christopher Lee as Saruman, the corrupted white wizard, who wants to share power with Sauron. He breeds an army of Uruk-hai within his fortress of Isengard, devastating Fangorn Forest in the process and waging war upon the Men of Rohan.
  • Hugo Weaving as Elrond, the Elven head of Rivendell, who guides and helps forge the Fellowship. He lacks faith in Men following their failure to destroy the One Ring, but does his best to convince Aragorn to become King.
  • Liv Tyler as Arwen, Elrond's daughter, and is in love with Aragorn. Arwen is torn between leaving Middle-earth for the Undying Lands with her elven kin, and remaining with Aragorn the mortal. As a token of her love, she gives him the Evenstar jewel.
  • Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, the Elven Lady of Lothlórien. She provides comfort, foretelling, strength and faith to Frodo, and gives individual gifts to the other members of the Fellowship.
  • Marton Csokas as Celeborn, Galadriel's husband, Lord of Lothlorien.
  • Craig Parker as Haldir, an Elven archer who encounters the Fellowship during their stay at Lothlorien in the first film. He is killed by an Uruk-Hai at the Battle of Helm's Deep.
  • Lawrence Makoare as Lurtz, the first of the monstrous Uruk-hai spawned by Saruman who leads an attack on the Fellowship.

Introduced in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

  • Bernard Hill as Théoden, King of Rohan, land of the horse lords. He is near-possessed by Wormtongue and Saruman's sorcery. He is healed by Gandalf and leads Rohan during the Battle of Helm's Deep and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, making up for his previous inaction and avenging the death of his son Théodred.
  • Miranda Otto as Éowyn, Théoden's niece. A shieldmaiden of Rohan, she wants to prove herself in battle and also falls in love with Aragorn.
  • Karl Urban as Éomer, Éowyn's brother, Théoden's nephew and second in line for the throne of Rohan after the death of Théodred. He suspects Wormtongue of treachery, and is an accomplished rider and warrior.
  • Brad Dourif as Wormtongue, an insidious agent of Saruman. He attempts to stop Théoden from declaring war and desires Éowyn.
  • David Wenham as Faramir, Boromir's brother, and head of the Rangers of Ithilien. He is brave yet sensitive, trying hard to please his distant father, and is tempted by the power of the Ring to do as such.
  • John Rhys-Davies voices Treebeard, the leaders of the Ents, shepherds of the trees. He soon encounters Merry and Pippin and is initially unaware of Saruman's destruction of his forests.
  • Nathaniel Lees as Uglúk, Uruk-Hai, in charge after Lurtzs death.
  • John Bach as Madril, ranking officer, loyal to Faramir's command and control.

Introduced in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

  • John Noble as Denethor, father of Boromir and Faramir. However, he makes his first unofficial appearance in The Two Towers extended cut. Steward of Gondor, he is opposed to Aragorn's claim to the throne, dislikes Faramir as a "Wizard's pupil" and is so stricken with grief over the death of Boromir that he is blind to the threat of Sauron's army.
  • Lawrence Makoare plays the Witch-king of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl who leads the assault on Minas Tirith, Gondor's capital.
  • Makoare also plays Gothmog, an Orc leading the troop movements on the ground.
  • Paul Norell as the King of the Dead, the ancient cursed leader from whom Aragorn must seek help.
  • Bruce Spence as the Mouth of Sauron, the herald at the Black Gate. He only appears in the Extended Cut.

Prologue characters

  • Harry Sinclair as Isildur, Aragorn's ancestor. He cuts off the Ring from Sauron, but despite Elrond's insistence, he refuses to destroy it, setting the main story in motion.
  • Peter McKenzie as Elendil, the first King of Gondor, who is killed by Sauron. His sword Narsil is broken, and becomes an object of speculation over whether or not Aragorn will become King and reforge it.
  • Mark Ferguson as Gil-galad, the Elven High King who leads the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Seen only briefly.

Development and Screenplays

Peter Jackson first read the book as an 18-year-old, after seeing Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film version. Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, began enquiries about the Lord of the Rings rights in 1995 and struck a deal with copyright holder Saul Zaentz and Miramax Films in January 1997 after production stalled on their King Kong remake.

The trilogy began pre-production as a two-film deal similar to a few other projects. Then Miramax, citing budget concerns, decided to condense the project into one film, but Jackson refused, and on August 24, 1998, after being rejected by other studios, the project was sold off altogether to New Line Cinema. Robert Shaye, head of New Line Cinema, immediately decided to expand the project to three films (with a budget of $270 million), replying to Jackson's offer, "Now Peter, who in their right mind would make two movies?"

As noted, Jackson and Walsh planned The Lord of the Rings as two films. They both wrote a 90 page treatment which Philippa Boyens read in the middle of 1997, and she soon joined the project. The first film was to end with the Battle of Helm's Deep whilst the second was more or less the finished The Return of the King. All in all it took around 13-14 months to do the two film script.

The expansion to three films certainly allowed a lot more creative freedom, and Jackson, Walsh and Boyens had to restructure their script into three films. Each film isn't exactly based on each volume of the book, but rather a three part adaptation, as Jackson takes a more chronological approach to the story, whilst Tolkien retold chunks of his fictional history. Frodo's quest is the main focus, and Aragorn is the main subplot, and any sequence (such as Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire) that didn't contribute directly to those two plots would be left out. Much effort was put into creating satisfactory conclusions and making sure exposition didn't bog down the pacing. Amongst new sequences, there are also expansions on elements Tolkien kept ambiguous, such as the battles and the creatures.

Above all, most characters have been altered for extra drama. Aragorn, Théoden and Treebeard have added or modified elements of self-doubt, whilst Galadriel, Elrond and Faramir have been darkened. Boromir and Gollum are (arguably) relatively more sympathetic, whilst some characters such as Legolas, Gimli, Saruman and Denethor have been simplified. Some characters, such as Arwen and Éomer, are given actions from minor characters such as Glorfindel and Erkenbrand, and generally lines of dialogue are somewhat preserved or switched around between locations or characters depending on suitability of the scenes. New scenes were also added to expand on characterization.

In the meantime during shooting, the screenplays would undergo many daily transformations, due to contributions from cast looking to further explore their characters. Most notable amongst these rewrites was the character Arwen, who was originally planned as a warrior princess, but reverted back to her book counterpart, who remains physically inactive in the story (though she sends moral and military support).

Production Design

Jackson began storyboarding the trilogy with Christian Rivers in August 1997 and assigned his crew to begin designing Middle-earth at the same time. Jackson hired longtime collaborator Richard Taylor to lead Weta Workshop on five major design elements: armour, weapons, prosthetics/make-up, creatures and miniatures. In November 1997, famed Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe joined the project. Most of the imagery in the films is based off their various illustrations. Grant Major was charged with the task of converting Lee and Howe's designs into architecture, creating models of the sets, whilst Dan Hennah worked as art director, scouting locations and organizing the building of sets.

Jackson's vision of Middle-earth was described as being " Ray Harryhausen meets David Lean" by Randy Cook. Jackson wanted a gritty realism and historical regard for the fantasy, and attempted to make the world rational and believable. For example, the army helped build Hobbiton months before filming began for real growth to the plants.


Auditions began in April 1999 with calls for 15,000 extras: in total 20,000 would be used. Jackson admitted that he was under no pressure to cast "big names" for the trilogy, due to the popularity of the book securing an already large audience. Popular rumours before filming included Sean Connery as Gandalf, who was actually approached but declined. Then couple Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman were also rumoured for Faramir and Éowyn. Auditions provide an interesting insight into what could have been: Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies auditioned for Faramir and Denethor respectively, and Stuart Townsend was cast as Aragorn and set for filming.[ citation needed]

Elijah Wood was the first cast member cast, on July 7, 1999. By the time filming began, Astin, McKellen, Lee, Tyler, Monaghan, Boyd, Bean, Bloom, Rhys-Davies, Dourif, Holm and Blanchett had been cast. During 2000, casting would continue for the likes of Otto, Weaving and Noble.

Before filming began on October 11, 1999, the principal actors trained for six weeks in sword fighting (with the legendary Bob Anderson), riding and boating. Jackson hoped such activities would allow the cast to bond so chemistry would be evident on screen as well as getting them used to life in Wellington. For example, Astin, a father-of-one, took it upon himself to look after 18 year old Wood. They were also trained to pronounce Tolkien's verses properly.


Principal photography for all three films was conducted concurrently in New Zealand from October 11, 1999 through to December 22, 2000 for 274 days. Pick-up shoots were conducted annually from 2001 to 2004. The trilogy was shot over 150 different locations in the North and South Island, with as many as seven different units shooting, as well as soundstages around Wellington and Queenstown. As well as Jackson directing the whole production, other unit directors included John Mahaffie, Geoff Murphy, Fran Walsh, Barrie Osbourne, Rick Porras and any other assistant director, producer or writer available. Jackson monitored these units with live satellite feeds, and with the added pressure of constant script re-writes and the multiple units handling his vision, he only got around 4 hours of sleep a night.

Peter Jackson described the production as the world's largest home movie, due to the independence and sense of family. Barrie Osbourne saw it as a travelling circus. Fran Walsh described the production as "laying the track down in front of a moving train" (paraphrased). Jackson also described shooting as like organizing an army, with 2,400 people involved at the height of production. Due to the remoteness of some of New Zealand's untamed landscapes, the crew would also bring survival kits in case helicopters couldn't reach the location to bring them home in time.

Late 1999

The first scene filmed was the Wooded Road sequence where the Hobbits hide underneath the tree from a Ringwraith. The focus was generally on The Fellowship of the Ring when the Hobbits try to reach Rivendell, such as a single night in Bree exteriors. Second units also shot the Ford of Bruinen chase and the deforestation of Isengard. Liv Tyler generally came to New Zealand for stints, and spent 5 days on a barrel for Bruinen whilst riding double Jane Abbott got to ride on horseback.

During the first month of filming, an immediate event took place: Stuart Townsend was deemed too young to play Aragorn, and within three days Viggo Mortensen became his replacement, just in time to film the Weathertop sequence. Mortensen, who decided to take the role because his own son was a book fan, became a hit on set, going fishing, always taking his "hero" sword around and applied dirt to improve Ngila Dickson's makeshift look to his costume. He also headbutted the stunt team as a sign of friendship, and bought himself his horse, Uraeus, as well as another horse for Abbott.

Sean Bean began filming in November for most of the handful of his scenes. It was during this time shooting became focused on the battle of Amon Hen. Despite the focus on Fellowship, floods in Queenstown prompted the crew to shoot mountain interiors from The Return of the King for Wood and Astin: a single day ( November 24) of Astin's coverage from a pivotal scene. This would become a general failsafe measure if the weather disrupted the shooting schedule. Wood's coverage wouldn't be done until November 30, 2000.


A Christmas break followed, and filming resumed on January 17. This was when the shoot truly became that of a whole trilogy. Ian McKellen, fresh from filming X-Men, arrived to film scenes in Hobbiton and the Grey Havens. McKellen didn't become that close to the lead actors due to generally working with their scale doubles, but when Christopher Lee arrived in February, they became very friendly. Unfortunately, shooting the fight sequence in Orthanc exteriors without air conditioning (for atmosphere) and with heavy wigs and robes became "murder". The Grey Havens sequence, which takes place at the end of The Return of the King, ended up being shot three times due to 1) Astin forgetting his vest after lunch and 2) an out of focus camera.

Whilst the Hobbit leads enjoyed scenes in Hobbiton and Rivendell exteriors in Kaitoke Park with new arrival Ian Holm, Mortensen, Bloom and Rhys-Davies filmed scenes involving the Rohirrim countryside. Mortensen broke his toe kicking an Orc helmet on camera, Bloom fell off his horse and broke a rib, and the Gimli scale double, Brett Beattie, dislocated his ankle. They spent 2 days as the walking wounded for the hunting sequence seen in the second film. Soon after, they spent a month of day shoots at Helm's Deep and another three months of nightshoots handled by Mahaffie, in Dry Creek Quarry outside of Wellington. Mortensen got on very well with Bernard Hill, a practical joker. Mortensen himself though would get his tooth knocked out and Hill was smacked on the ear with a sword. Amusingly, the extras had a blast, insulting each other in Maori and improvising stunts, primarily as those dressed in Uruk-hai prosthetics got extremely cold.

The production got larger, with Wood and Astin shooting scenes in Mount Ruapehu for Emyn Muil and Mount Doom. On April 13, 2000, Andy Serkis joined the cast. During this shoot, cross coverage was used for a pivotal scene in The Return of the King. In the meantime, prologue scenes and the Battle of the Black Gate were shot, during which Sala Baker put on the Sauron armour. The latter was filmed at a former mine field in the Rugapi Desert (causing concern for all involved), and real soldiers served as extras. The Fellowship then reunited with the return of Sean Bean, as they proceeded to shoot the Moria sequence and the Rivendell interior, including 5 days of dull coverage for the Council of Elrond.

In July they began shooting scenes with Cate Blanchett on soundstages for Lórien, as well as a week of exterior shooting for the farewell sequence.

Edoras was built on Mount Sunday, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was shot in Twizel with 250 real horses.

As filming ended, the nine actors portraying the Fellowship got an Elven '9' tattoo, bar John Rhys-Davies, who sent his scale double. Jackson and Bernard Hill got an Elven '10', and Hill and Mortensen founded the C-Bago club, the 'c' standing for an expletive. Originally, the cast members promised each other they would not show the tattoos on-camera. However, Sean Astin shows his (on his ankle) on an Oprah appearance, justifying the move by pointing out Elijah Wood showed his to Jay Leno and Orlando Bloom accidentally shows it in Pirates of the Caribbean.


Pick-ups were conducted from 2001 to 2003 for six weeks every year to refine each film's edit. For the first two films they often returned to sets; for the third, they had to shoot around the clock in a car park full of set parts. Pick-ups provided a chance for cast and crew to meet in person again, and during The Two Towers pick-ups, Sean Astin directed a short film entitled The Long and Short of It.

Notable scenes filmed in the pick-ups included The Two Towers Extended Edition's flashback with Boromir, and the reshot Witch-king scenes with his new helmet design for The Return of the King, the latter with improved Orc designs and the new character of Gothmog. Theoden's last scene was reshot just after he finished; Bernard Hill was luckily still in New Zealand. Andy Serkis also had to shoot a scene in Jackson's house during post-production.

Amusingly, the final and only pick-up in 2004 were a few shots of falling skulls in The Return of the King as part of an extended Paths of the Dead scene. Jackson joked that "it's nice to win an Oscar before you've even finished the film".


Post-production would have the benefit for a full year on each film before their individual December releases, often finishing in October-November, with the crew zooming immediately into the next film. Later on, Jackson would move to London to advise the score and continued editing, whilst having a computer feed for discussions to The Dorchester Hotel, and a "fat pipe" of internet connections from Pinewood Studios to look at the special effects. He had a Polycom video link and 5.1 surround sound to also organise meetings, and listen to new music and sound effects generally wherever he was. The Extended cuts also had a brief schedule at the start of each year to complete special effects and music.


To avoid pressure, Jackson hired a different editor on each film. John Gilbert worked on the first film, Mike Horton and Jabez Olssen on the second, and longtime Jackson collaborator Jamie Selkirk and Annie Collins on the third. Daily rushes would often last up to four hours, with scenes being done throughout 1999-2002 for the rough (4 1/2 hours) assemblies of the films. In total, six million feet of film (over 1,800 km) was edited down to the 11 hours and 23 minutes (683 minutes) of Extended DVD running time. This was the final area of shaping of the films, when Jackson realized that sometimes the best scripting could be redundant on screen, as he picked apart scenes every day from multiple takes.

Editing on the first film was relatively easygoing, with Jackson coming up with the concept of an Extended Edition later on, although after a screening to New Line they had to re-edit the beginning for a prologue. The Two Towers was always acknowledged by the crew as the most difficult film to make, as "it had no beginning or end", and had the new problem of intercutting storylines appropriately and Jackson even edited the film when that part of the schedule officially ended. So much so, scenes including the reforging of Andúril, Gollum's back-story, and Saruman's demise were moved to The Return of the King, the latter controversially cut when Jackson felt it was not starting the third film effectively enough. As with all parts of the third film's post-production, editing was very chaotic. The first time Jackson actually saw the completed film was at the Wellington premiere.

Deleted scenes

Many filmed scenes still remain unused, not included even in the Extended Editions.

  • Additional footage from the Battle of the Last Alliance.
  • Famous footage of Arwen at Helm's Deep, cut by Jackson during a revision to the film's plot. Foreshadowing this sequence were scenes where Arwen and Elrond visit Galadriel at Lothlórien (seen in The Two Towers teaser trailer). The scene was edited down to a telepathic communication between Elrond and Galadriel.
  • A line of dialogue during the death of Saruman, in which he reveals that Wormtongue poisoned Théodred, giving further context as to why Wormtongue kills Saruman and Legolas in turn kills Wormtongue.
  • Further epilogue footage, including that of Legolas and Gimli, as well as Éowyn and Faramir's wedding and Aragorn's death and funeral.
  • Faramir having a vision of Frodo becoming like Gollum.
  • Dialogue from the Council of Elrond, such as Gandalf explaining how Sauron forged the One Ring.
  • An unknown scene displayed in The Two Towers preview of Éomer lowering a spear while riding his horse.
  • Éowyn defending the refugees in the Glittering Caves from Uruk-hai intruders.
  • An obscure shot from the trailers of two Elven girls playing about in Rivendell.
  • Sauron fighting Aragorn at the Black Gate. A computer-generated Troll was placed over Sauron due to Jackson feeling the scene was inappropriate. Sauron is also seen in a beautiful form as Annatar, giver of gifts.
  • Also at the Black Gate sequence, Pippin was seen in the trailer holding a wounded Merry, a scene which did not take place.
  • Further scenes between Elrond and Arwen following her decision to stay with Aragorn. This is presumably set after the reforging of Andúril.
  • More Arwen footage, including a flashback scene of her first meeting with a beardless Aragorn.
  • Aragorn having his armour fitted during the preparations for the Battle of the Black Gate. This was the final scene filmed during principal photography.
  • Footage of Sam confronting the Gate Watchers of Cirith Ungol.
  • An attack by Moria Orcs on Lothlórien. Jackson replaced this with a more suspenseful entrance for the Fellowship.
  • An extended scene between Gandalf and the Balrog, as the beast is extinguished in water while they battle upon the Endless Stair.
  • Footage of Theoden proclaiming Eomer as his heir, reshot later on.

Peter Jackson has stated that he would like to include some of these unused scenes in a future 'Ultimate Edition' home video release of the film trilogy. They will not be re-inserted into the movies but available for viewing separately. This edition will also include outtakes.

Special effects

The first film has around 540 effects shots, the second 799, and the third 1488 (2730 in total). The total moves up to 3420 with the Extended cuts. 260 visual effects artists worked on the trilogy, and the number would double by The Two Towers. The crew, led by Jim Rygiel and Randy Cook, would work long and hard hours overnight to produce special effects within a short space of time, especially with Jackson's overactive imagination. For example, they produced several major shots of Helm's Deep within the last six weeks of post-production of The Two Towers, and the same amount of shots for The Two Towers within the last six weeks on The Return of the King.

Interestingly, despite WETA being the major stylistic force behind the films, a single scene where Arwen confronts the Black Riders in The Fellowship of the Ring was done by Digital Domain.

Production was complicated by the use of scale doubles and forced perspective on a level never seen before in the film industry. Elijah Wood is 5ft 6in (1.68 m) tall in real life, but the character of Frodo Baggins is barely four feet in height. Large and small scale doubles were used in certain scenes, while entire duplicates of certain sets (including Bag End in Hobbiton) were built at two different scales, so that the characters would appear to be the appropriate size. At one point in the film, Frodo runs along a corridor in Bag End, followed by Gandalf. Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen were filmed in separate versions of the same corridor, built at two different scales, and a fast camera pan conceals the edit between the two.

Forced perspective was also employed, so that it would look as though the short hobbits were interacting with taller Men and Elves. Surprising the makers of the film, the simple ruse of kneeling down was used to great effect. As well as this, some actors wore over-sized costumes to make average sized actors look small. As well as this, there were numerous scale doubles, who are disguised with costumes, and an avoidance of close-ups and numerous backshots, and even animatronic faces for the Hobbit doubles.

Bigatures is the nickname for the 72 miniatures from WETA, so dubbed for their massive size by any person's scale, such as 1:4 scale for Helm's Deep, which alongside Khazad-dûm and Osgiliath, was one of the first built. Most sets were constructed to allow compositing with the models and matte paintings. Notable examples include the Argonath, Minas Tirith, the tower and caverns of Isengard, Barad-dûr, the trees of Lothlórien and Fangorn Forest and the Black Gate. Alex Funke led the motion control camera rigs, and John Baster and Mary Maclahlan led the building of the miniatures. The miniatures unit worked more than any other special effects crew, working over a 1000 days. Often they held parties to celebrate each landmark, such as day 666. Their final shot was one of the Black Gate for the third film in November 2003, after they actually wrapped.

Creatures such as Trolls, the Balrog, the Ents, the fell beasts, the Wargs, the mûmakil and Shelob were created entirely within a computer. Creatures would spend months of creation and variation as sketches before approved designs were sculpted into five-foot maquettes and scanned into a computer. Animators would then rig skeletons and muscles before animation and final detailed colouring scanned from painted maquettes. Treebeard had a digital face composited upon the original animatronic, which was scanned for the digital model of his longshots.

As well as creatures, WETA also created highly realistic digital doubles for many miniature longshots, as well as numerous stunts, most notably Legolas. These doubles were scanned from having actors perform movements in a motion-capture suit. There are even morphs between the doubles and actors at times. Horses also performed with mo-cap points on them, although deaths are animation.

Whilst Jackson insisted on generally using miniatures, sometimes shots would get too difficult for that, primarily with the digital characters. Gary Horsfield led the creation of digital versions of Dwarrowdelf, the Chamber of Marzabul, ruins in Eregion, Helm's Deep, the Barad-dûr and Black Gate for complicated sequences, such as destruction or having an arena for a digital camera to move around. He himself spent his entire Christmas 2002 break creating the Barad-dûr for The Return of the King's climax. Sometimes natural elements like cloud, dust, fire (which was used as the electronic data for the Wraithworld scenes and the Balrog) would be composited, and natural environments were composited to create the Pelennor Fields.

To give a "painterly" look to the films, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie worked on every scene within the computer to strengthen colours and add extra mood and tone to the proceedings. Gold was tinted to Hobbiton, whilst cooler colours were strengthened into Lothlórien, Moria and Helm's Deep. Such a technique took 2-3 weeks to do, and allowed some freedom with the digital source for some extra editing.

Weta began animating Gollum in late 1998 to convince New Line they could achieve it. Andy Serkis "played" Gollum by providing his voice and movements on set, as well as performing within the motion capture suit. His scenes were filmed twice, with and without him. Originally Gollum was set to solely be a CG character, but Jackson was so impressed by Andy Serkis' audition tape that they used him on set as well.

Gollum's CG model was also redesigned during 2001 when Serkis was cast as Sméagol, Gollum's form before he is cursed by the One Ring, so as to give the impression Andy Serkis as Sméagol transforms into the CG Gollum. The original model can still be glimpsed briefly in the first film. So over Christmas 2001 the crew proceeded to reanimate all the previous shots accordingly within two months. Another problem was that the crew realized that the cast performed better in the versions of the film with Serkis. In the end, the CG Gollum was rotoscoped and animated on top of these scenes. Sometimes due to Gollum not being human, they fully animated some shots such as him crawling upside down. Serkis also did motion-capture for the character, to animate the body whilst animators did the head. Gino Acevedo supervised realistic skin tones, which took four hours per frame to render.

MASSIVE was the name of a computer program developed by WETA to create automatic battle sequences rather than individually animate every soldier. Stephen Regelous developed the system in 1996, originally to create crowd scenes in King Kong. The system creates a large number of choices for each "agent" to pick when inside a digital arena. Catherine Thiel provided the movements of each type of soldier, like the unique fighting styles or fleeing. To add to this, digital environments would also be created for the simulations.


Howard Shore composed the trilogy's music. He was hired in August 2000 and visited the set, and watched the assembly cuts of Films 1 and 3. Although the first film had some of its score done in Wellington, the trilogy's score was mostly recorded in Watford Town Hall and mixed at Abbey Road Studios. Jackson planned to advise the score for six weeks each year in London, although for The Two Towers he stayed 12. As a Beatles fan, Jackson had a photo tribute done there on the zebra crossing.

The soundtrack is primarily the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and many artists such as Ben Del Maestro, Enya, Renee Fleming, Sir James Galway and Annie Lennox contributed. Even actors Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto (extended cuts only for the latter two) and Peter Jackson (for a single gong sound in the second film) contributed to the score. Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens also wrote the lyrics to various music and songs, to which David Salo translated into Tolkien's languages. The third film's end song, Into the West, was a tribute to a young filmmaker Jackson and Walsh befriended named Cameron Duncan, who died of cancer in 2003.

Shore composed a main theme for the Fellowship rather than many different character themes, and its strength and weaknesses in volume are depicted at different points in the trilogy. On top of that, individual themes were all given to represent different cultures. Infamously, the amount of music Shore had to write for the third film every day increased dramatically to around seven minutes.


Sound technicians spent the early part of the year trying to find the right sounds: animal sounds like tigers and walruses were bought, and sometimes human voices in the mix, such as Fran Walsh as the Nazgûl scream and David Farmer as some Warg howls. As noted, they also hired voices for the Ring, and some sounds were unexpected: a donkey screech is the Fell Beast, and the mûmakil roar comes from the beginning and end of a Lion. In addition, there was ADR for most of the dialogue.

They worked with New Zealand locals to get the right sounds. They re-recorded sounds in abandoned tunnels for an echoey effect in the Moria sequence. 10,000 New Zealand cricket fans provided the sound of the Uruk-hai army in The Two Towers, with Jackson acting as conductor within a single cricket break. They spent time recording sounds in a graveyard at night, and also had construction workers drop stone blocks for the sounds of boulders firing and landing in The Return of the King. Mixing generally took place between August and November at "The Film Mix", before Jackson commissioned work on a new studio in 2003. Annoyingly, building wasn't fully completed as they started mixing on The Return of the King.


The online promotional trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was first released on April 27, 2000 and shattered records for download hits, registering 1.7 million hits in the first 24 hours of its release. The trailer used a selection from the soundtrack for Braveheart, and The Shawshank Redemption among other cuts.

In 2001, 24 minutes of footage from the trilogy, primarily the Moria sequence, was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, to great reception. The showing also included an area designed to look like Middle-earth. A full description of the footage can be found here:

Fans first received a preview of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers at the end of the theatre showings of Fellowship of the Ring. A promotional trailer was later released. The trailer contained some music re-scored from the film Requiem for a Dream.

The promotional trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was debuted exclusively before the New Line Cinema film Secondhand Lions on September 23, 2003.

Each film had many premieres around the World, with Official "World" premieres in London, Paris and Wellington for each film respectively. The Wellington premieres were often the most spectacular, with dedicated fans lining the streets as well as statues of the Cave Troll, Gollum reaching for the Ring and the Witch-king on his steed respectively. For the first film, Wellington changed its name to Middle-earth for a single day.


  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released December 19, 2001. It grossed $47 million in its U.S. opening weekend and made around $871 million worldwide.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was released December 18, 2002. It grossed $62 million in its first U.S. weekend and outgrossed its predecessor with $926 million worldwide.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released December 17, 2003. Its first U.S. weekend gross was $72 million, and became the second film (after Titanic) to gross over $1 billion worldwide.

Each successive film made more money at box offices worldwide than the last; the reverse of what normally happens to a film series. Each were released onto standard two disc edition DVDs containing previews of the next film. The success of the theatrical cuts brought about 4 disc Extended Editions, with new editing, added special effects and music. With the films and special features spread over two discs apiece, they were issued as follows:

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, November 12, 2002. Containing 30 minutes more footage, in a green coloured sleeve. It contains an Alan Lee painting of the Fellowship entering Moria, and the Moria Gate on the back of the sleeve. An Argonath styled bookend was issued within a Collector's Edition.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, November 18, 2003. It contains 42 minutes more footage. Red coloured, with a Rohirrim sun symbol on the back of its sleeve and a Lee painting of Gandalf the White's entrance. The Collector's Edition contained a Sméagol statue, with a crueler looking statue of his Gollum persona available for order during a limited time.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King December 14, 2004. It has 50 minutes more footage, and a blue sleeve with the White Tree of Gondor. The Lee painting is the Grey Havens. The Collector's Edition is a model with Minas Tirith, with Minas Morgul available for order during a limited time.

The Special Extended DVD Editions also had in-sleeve maps of the Fellowship's travels. They have also played at movie theaters, most notably for a December 16, 2003 marathon screening culminating in a midnight screening of the third film.

On August 28, 2006 both versions were put together in a Limited Edition ' branching' version plus a new feature-length documentary by Costa Botes. The complete trilogy will also be released in a 6 Disc set on November 14th, 2006.

Public and critical response

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is widely and currently considered to be the most popular and is verified to be the currently highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, besting such other film franchises as the Star Wars trilogy and Harry Potter. The film trilogy also tied a record for the total number of Academy Awards won.

Critical acclaim has hailed the trilogy as "the greatest films of our era", and "the trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal." In particular, performances from Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Andy Serkis and Bernard Hill stood out for many, and special effects for the battles and Gollum were praised. The Return of the King became the most popular individual film of the trilogy, being marketed later on DVD as the trilogy's "crowning jewel".

Comparison of worldwide box office figures

The Lord of the Rings trilogy: $2.92 billion

Harry Potter "trilogy" (first 3 movies of a projected 7): $2.64 billion

Star Wars: Episodes I, II, and III prequel trilogy: $2.424 billion

Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (incomplete; first 2 movies): $1.618 billion

Academy Awards

The three films were nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, of which they won 17, which is a record for any movie trilogy. On its own, The Return of the King tied the previous record for academy awards and won in every category it was nominated in, an extremely rare feat.

  • The Fellowship of the Ring — Nominations: 13, Wins: 4
  • The Two Towers — Nominations: 6, Wins: 2
  • The Return of the King — Nominations: 11, Wins: 11

The Awards were as follows (a win is marked with a "W" A nomination is marked with a "N"):

Award Awards Won
The Fellowship of the Ring The Two Towers The Return of the King
Art Direction No No Yes
Cinematography Yes
Costume Design No Yes
Directing No Yes
Film Editing No No Yes
Makeup Yes Yes
Music (Original Score) Yes Yes
Music (Original Song) No "May It Be" Yes "Into the West"
Best Picture No No Yes (for Drama)
Sound Editing Yes
Sound Mixing No No Yes
Supporting Actor No Ian McKellen
Visual Effects Yes Yes Yes
Writing (Previously Produced or Published) No Yes

As well as Academy Awards, the trilogy scored a hattrick with Empire, MTV Movie Awards' Best Film, and the Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation categories. The first and third films also won the Best Film BAFTAs. It must also be noted that the soundtrack for the Two Towers did not receive a nomination because of the rule prohibiting a soundtrack including music from a previous soundtrack to be eligible for nomination. This rule was overturned in time for the Return of the King to receive the Oscar for Best Music Score.

Reactions to changes in the movie trilogy from the book

While the movies were generally liked by readers and non-readers alike, some of the former have decried, with varying levels of strength, certain changes made in the adaptation, including changes in tone and themes; various changes made to characters such as Aragorn, Arwen, Denethor and Faramir, as well as to the main protagonist Frodo himself, and the deletion of the next to the last chapter of the book, " The Scouring of the Shire", a part Tolkien felt thematically necessary. For example, Wayne G. Hammond, a noted Tolkien scholar, has said of the first two films:

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
"I find both of the Jackson films to be travesties as adaptations... faithful only on a basic level of plot... Cut and compress as necessary, yes, but don't change or add new material without very good reason... In the moments in which the films succeed, they do so by staying close to what Tolkien so carefully wrote; where they fail, it tends to be where they diverge from him, most seriously in the area of characterization. Most of the characters in the films are mere shadows of those in the book, weak and diminished (notably Frodo) or insulting caricatures (Pippin, Merry, and Gimli)... [T]he filmmakers sacrifice the richness of Tolkien's story and characters, not to mention common sense, for violence, cheap humor, and cheaper thrills... [S]o many of its reviewers have praised it as faithful to the book, or even superior to it, all of which adds insult to injury and is demonstrably wrong..."
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

It is important to note that many who worked on the trilogy are fans of the book, including Christopher Lee, who alone among the cast had actually met Tolkien in person, and Boyens once noted that no matter what, it is simply their interpretation of the book. Jackson once said that to simply summarize the story on screen would be a mess, and in his own words, "Sure, it's not really The Lord of the Rings... but it could still be a pretty damn cool movie." Other fans also claim that despite any changes, they do not matter within the context of stand-alone films, and nonetheless they serve as a tribute to the book and yet appeal to those who have not read it, and even lead some to. The Encyclopedia of Arda's Movie Guide states:

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
"It seems appropriate to end with a word of acknowledgement of Peter Jackson and everyone else associated with the movie version of The Lord of the Rings. Though of course they haven't come close to the scope and intricacy of the original story — that would be quite impossible — what they have produced is still nothing less than a masterpiece. The film-makers, and of course Peter Jackson in particular, have to be admired merely for having the courage to take on such an immense challenge, let alone to produce such an exceptional result. The complete story of The Lord of the Rings is probably unfilmable, but Peter Jackson has come closer than anyone could have imagined possible."
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

Is it a trilogy?

Because the films were shot together and then edited into three separate films released theatrically over a span of three successive years, a significant number of fans and critics have come to regard the trilogy as a single film. They argue that similar to the book, which was intended as a single work, but was first released in three parts for marketing and budget reasons (leading to the common but erroneous label of "trilogy"), Jackson's trilogy is one long 10-hour film. Tolkien wrote the story as six books produced in three volumes. When Time magazine placed the trilogy in its top 100 list it was done under a single heading. While this grouping into a single entity is debated it is not unusual as Krzysztof Kieślowski's The Decalogue was originally released as ten separate short films with intersecting themes and characters but now is regarded by the majority critics as a single work. Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy is also grouped together quite often.

The character development, continuity, look and feel of all three films are regarded by its fans as seamless and consistent and that unlike other trilogies where sequels often stand apart, each entry is completely dependent on the earlier and successive entry and cannot exist on its own. This is one of the reasons why critics have regarded the Oscar sweep of the third film as a proxy award. Recently, when coming top of an Australian film poll, the trilogy was regarded as one.


The release of the films saw a surge of interest in The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works, vastly increasing his impact on popular culture. For example, in 2003, the BBC conducted a poll to find the U.K.'s favourite book, and The Lord of the Rings won, at the height of anticipation for the third film. Despite higher sales, the Tolkien family became split on the trilogy, with Christopher Tolkien and Simon Tolkien feuding over whether or not it was a good idea to adapt. Capitalizing on the trilogy's success, a musical adaptation of the book was launched in Toronto in 2006, but it closed after mixed reviews.

Jackson has become his own mogul like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and has befriended some industry heavyweights like Bryan Singer, Frank Darabont and James Cameron. He was also finally given a chance to remake King Kong in 2005. On a personal level, he found it hard to leave the trilogy and still keeps the Bag End set (as a guest house) and Rivendell miniatures. He has also become a "favourite son" of New Zealand. Howard Shore also found leaving difficult, and in 2004 toured with The Lord of the Rings Symphony, consisting of two hours of the score.

Alongside the Harry Potter films, the trilogy has also renewed interest in the fantasy film genre. Around the same time, fellow New Zealand director Andrew Adamson began The Chronicles of Narnia film series, credited by many to be stylistically influenced by The Lord of the Rings, being also shot in New Zealand and having art direction from WETA, as well as its own extended edition. MGM wishes to make an adaptation of The Hobbit in co-operation with New Line, although Jackson is not signed on due to a dispute with the studio.

The use of motion capture was used for characters in King Kong and I, Robot. Kingdom of Heaven is one of many epics to use the MASSIVE technology. In non-filmic terms, tourism for New Zealand is up, possibly due to its exposure in the trilogy, with the tourism industry in the country waking up to an audience's familiarity.

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