One of the most successful franchises of all time is also one of the most discussed with hundreds of debates (still) endlessly raging online.
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We separate the fact from the fiction.
David Bowie wanted to play Elrond
He did indeed. Bowie’s movie career, as well as being sporadic, has always been a bit underrated but he fancied the Tolkien adaptation. Specifically the part of the elf ruler which eventually went to Hugo Weaving. Director Peter Jackson wasn’t so keen, saying, “To have a famous, beloved character and a famous star colliding is slightly uncomfortable.” Maybe he was worried Bowie would demand a ‘Labyrinth’-sized codpiece and put out an album in Elvish.
There’s a car in the back of shot in ‘Fellowship of the Ring’
Yep, that’s true. It’s hard to believe they missed it, but when Sam and Frodo walk the furthest Sam has ever been from the Shire, a motor was zooming down a road in the distance. It was spotted during the cinema release and digitally removed for the DVD release (which is why there’s no hard evidence now), though the film still contains a reminder. Look closely at the back right of the shot and not only will you see the dust generated by the moving vehicle as it bombed along the track, but you can see the sun reflecting of the windscreen. Oops.
The inscription on Balin’s tomb says “Joe was here”
Well done to a member of the crew’s carpentry team for perpetrating a fine prank here. This myth emerged when a po-faced LOTR scholar got angry because the phrase had apparently been included during the Moria scene in ‘Fellowship’ despite production designer Grant Major being unaware of the mistake/gag. The lesson? Don’t be too poncey about a fictional dwarvish gravestone in front of Kiwi chippies.
Bret McKenzie’s appearance in the film was fuelled by fans on the internet
McKenzie can thank one Iris Hadad for his added contribution to the ‘Rings’ franchise. Back in 2000, Flight of the Conchords weren’t famous and the comedian was pleased to have scored a role as a featured extra in the first film’s Rivendell scene when the Fellowship is created. After Hadad spotted the good-looking Kiwi and started talking about him on the forums, the fans gave him a name (Figwit) and he became a cult character. That led to Jackson giving him dialogue in ‘Return of the King’, as a nod to the audience.
Stanley Kubrick was originally going to direct the film – starring The Beatles
As bonkers as this sounds, it is true. At the height of their fame, the Fab Four approached the legendary director about helming the project, which would have been their follow-up to ‘Help!’ (1965). And get this: Paul McCartney would have played Frodo, George Harrison Gandalf, Ringo was keen to be Sam Gamgee and John Lennon would have been a big-screen Gollum. What a tragedy it never happened.
Stuart Townsend was fired as Aragorn for being too young
The Irish actor’s firing from the cast as Strider a day before filming started is now up there as one of the great Hollywood missed-opportunity stories. The party line from the filmmakers now is that they realised – too late – that Townsend, then 26, was too young to play the future king. Townsend himself told Entertainment Weekly in 2002, “[Jackson] really wanted someone 20 years older than me and completely different.” But back when it happened, a studio exec said it was because of “director-actor creative chemistry”, which suggests something a little spicier. And if Jackson wanted someone else, why did he cast the actor in the first place? In that same 12-year-old interview, Townsend also said, “I had been having a rough time with them, so I was almost relieved to be leaving until they told me I wouldn’t be paid. I have no good feelings for those people in charge, I really don’t.” Yikes.
Brad Dourif had to shave his eyebrows five times to play Wormtongue
Character actor Dourif excels as slimy Grima Wormtongue in the latter two instalments of the franchise (to see him in the third, you need to watch the extended edition). Peter Jackson – ever the perfectionist – suggested that he shave his eyebrows to play the role and Dourif was happy to oblige. But thanks to the idiosyncrasies of filming back-to-back and various reshoots, the poor guy did indeed have to walk around looking like a groom after a particularly mean stag party trick five times.
The films are an allegory
Commentators have endlessly debated the allegorical qualities of ‘Lord of the Rings’, whether it’s as a Christian parable (Gandalf as Jesus anyone? Or Frodo as Jesus, or, well, you get the drift), or as a reflection on humankind’s war-mongering nature (the orcs as the Middle East, etc.) Luckily, we have a definite answer to this myth from the creator of Middle Earth. Said JRR Tolkien, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” So there.
The Uruk-hai are played by Kiwi cricket fans
This one is true – in audio form only. Although there will be some England fans in there too, if they were at the New Zealand versus England game at Wellington when Peter Jackson asked the 20,000-strong crowd for some help. Led by the director and with the words spelled out on the big screens around the ground (“Derbgoo!”), the supporters chanted the battle cries of the grizzly orcish baddies for their attack on Helm’s Deep during ‘The Two Towers’.
Who the hell is Stephen Sinclair?
Fans of the films know that they were written by Jackson, along with his wife Fran Walsh and their Tolkien-fanatic collaborator Philippa Boyens. Which is why it’s so strange that the name Stephen Sinclair shows up in the screenplay credits of ‘The Two Towers’. Before they were finally made as a trilogy, ‘LOTR’ was in development for a long time with scripts being bandied back and forth and thoughts of two movies rather than three. It was during that time that Jackson and co. turned to Sinclair, a previous colleague who had co-written two of Jackson’s early films, ‘Dead Alive’ and ‘Meet the Feebles’. Thanks to his work on ‘Two Towers’ material during that early period, he wound up with a credit on the finished product.
Photos: Rex/New Line/ stephensinclair.co.nz/ Moviestore/ Giphy/ Everett/ Shutterstock/Getty/Helder-Flickr