Director Peter Jackson and the legendary Christopher Lee had a long and fruitful working relationship, thanks to Jackson’s lavish adaptations of Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and 'The Hobbit’, in which Lee played the diabolical Saruman The White.
But for a time, their friendship was jeopardised when Jackson cut him from the final movie in the 'Lord of the Rings’ series, 'The Return of the King’.
Lee was so angered by the move, that he boycotted the premiere. Jackson said at the time that it was for reasons of narrative that he left Lee’s part on the cutting room floor.
“The problem is that the sequence was originally shot for The Two Towers, as it is in the book. Since The Two Towers couldn’t sustain a seven-minute 'wrap’ after Helm’s Deep, we thought it would be a good idea to save it for the beginning of the Return of the King,” he told Ain’t It Cool News back in 2003.
“The trouble is, when we viewed various ROTK cuts over the last few weeks, it feels like the first scenes are wrapping last year’s movie, instead of starting the new one. We felt it got Return Of The King off to an uncertain beginning, since Saruman plays no role in the events of ROTK (we don’t have the Scouring later, as the book does), yet we dwell in Isengard for quite a long time before our new story kicks off.
“We reluctantly made the decision to save this sequence for the DVD. The choice was made on the basis that most people will assume that Saruman was vanquished by the Helm’s Deep events, and Ent attack. We can now crack straight into setting up the narrative tension of ROTK, which features Sauron as the villain.”
In the additional footage, Saruman is stabbed by Grima Wormtongue and falling from the tower, is impaled on a wooden stake projecting from a mill wheel, a conscious homage to Lee’s many theatrical turns as Dracula.
But speaking at a Q&A with students at University College Dublin in 2011, Lee said that he was taken aback when he realised he wasn’t in the movie.
“We were all shown the films in private, and when the third film came on, I couldn’t believe what I saw, because I wasn’t in it,” he said.
“The scene is one of the most important scenes in the whole trilogy, because it’s Saruman, the great mortal enemy, the most evil of them all, against the Fellowship.
“And I’m on top of the tower at Isengard, looking down at the Fellowship, and saying very nasty things to them, to Aragorn, 'this man from the woods will never be king’, and so on. It was a long sequence, the final confrontation between the Fellowship and their greatest enemy. And it wasn’t in the film.
“No one could understand it. There were millions of hits on the internet, not just from Tolkien fans and film fans, but from everybody who had seen the first two. They said 'what happened to Saruman?’ Buy the extended DVD.”
Jackson admitted that Lee had been 'very upset’ at the time. But time, it also appeared, was a healer, as Jackson ushered him back into the fold for his 'Hobbit’ movies, despite Saruman not actually featuring in Tolkien’s novel.
Asking him to the premiere of 'An Unexpected Journey’ in 2012, Jackson told Bang! Showbiz: “I did talk to Christopher the other day about coming to the premiere and he did say, 'Am I still in the movie?!’ And this time around I could say yes!”
Christopher Lee sadly died this week, aged 93.