It’s now been 16 years since the first Lord of the Rings movie came out. Though it’s been a long time since the movies released, and it feels like it’s been even longer, the movies are still wonderful celebrations of fantasy and literature that are beloved to almost all moviegoers of the modern age. Basically, if someone says that they don’t like Lord of the Rings, they are either lying or are not human beings. Everybody loves Lord of the Rings!
Yet so few of the fans who fell in love with the movies dug deeper into the series once the trilogy (and then the succeeding Hobbit trilogy) had ended. But there was so much more to learn! Not only can fans go back and read the entire series that J.R.R. Tolkien spent decades writing (which are very different from the movies, in their own special way), but they can watch the extended director’s cuts which include so much more information and wonderful writing! They can see how each movie was made and how simple scenes were actually incredibly laborious in their creation! They can watch all the bloopers (actually, don’t do that- we don’t want you to get the idea that these people ever goofed around while making this masterpiece).
To inspire you to go out and seek more from the Lord of the Rings series, we’ve compiled a list of behind the scenes facts you’re missing out on. Want more? Go check out the books and extended editions and interviews.
15. “We Shouldn’t Even Be Here”
Remember back to the end of The Two Towers, when Faramir has captured Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, and he takes them back with him to Osgiliath as it is under siege. Right before Faramir releases them, Sam delivers a great monologue, one that is absolutely iconic to the series as a whole. “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered…” but wait a second- why shouldn’t they be there? Audiences assume Sam’s line is referring to the fact that the hobbits should be lounging about in Hobbiton, sipping ales and without a care in the world. The line was actually added in by writers who were nodding to the original Tolkien books, where the hobbits never actually were taken to Osgiliath! They shouldn’t be there because Tolkien never had them taken there!
14. When Merry and Pippin Got High On Set
At the end of The Two Towers, we see Merry and Pippin after their triumphant battle with Treebeard. They convinced the ents to participate in the battle and they’ve defeated the wicked Saruman, hooray! While scavenging the battlegrounds of Isengard, they come across a pantry filled with delightful snacks and wonderful foods and, best of all, a barrel of Longbottom Leaf. Writers never spoke more about what exactly this smoking substance was, but we all know that Merry and Pippin have a propensity to break rules and love other mind-altering substances like mushrooms (it’s also the stuff Gandalf smokes that Saruman suggests is slowing his mind). But these hobbits may have taken it a step further. In interviews with Billy Boyd (Pippin), he suggests the two actors may have done a bit of prep-work before shooting- you know, because they’re good actors who value authenticity. That’s the only reason why.
13. Ian and Elijah Never Filmed Together
Ian McKellan, who played the wizard Gandalf (both the gray and the white), and Elijah Wood, who played the protagonist Frodo Baggins, never actually filmed any scenes together. If you’ve ever seen any of the movies, you’re probably asking, “What? How is that possible?! They have so many scenes together!” And you’re right! The CHARACTERS do share a lot of screen time- unfortunately, they didn’t get the opportunity to spend much time together as the actors behind the characters. Why? Because Elijah had to be scaled down to a smaller size to play a hobbit and Ian had to be scaled up to a larger size to play a wizard, the two always had stand-ins subbing in for them when the camera wasn’t on them. That means that Frodo was always talking to a fake Gandalf, and Gandalf was always talking to a fake Frodo! Also, what a bummer for Elijah Wood that he didn’t get to directly work with one of the greatest actors of all time…
12. Hobbiton was Made and Groomed for a Year Before Production Began
Hobbiton, which was the name of the specific town in The Shire where all of the hobbits lived, was a wondrous and beautiful place. Audiences loved the look and style of the hobbit houses so much that now, you can buy a cheap easy-to-build hobbit house online and it’ll be shipped to your door with easy step-by-step assembling instructions. It’s easy to your build your own hobbit house than it was for producers to make all of Hobbiton before filming. Before production technically began, the team was getting to work making Hobbiton, planting all the greenery, and making it look perfect. They even mowed the lawn by ushering goats around the grounds! So why did The Shire look so luscious and perfect? Um, because the design team worked really hard to actually make it luscious and perfect. Getting your own hobbit home to be as gorgeous as Bilbo’s would take a lot of extra work.
11. Orcs: Black Blood, Black Mouths
The concept designers for the orcs had a lot to think about. Tolkien expressed in his Letters that orcs were “squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes.” Extrapolating interpretations from Tolkien’s books of what the orcs looked like, designers had much to consider: what did their ears look like? What color was their skin? What would their teeth look like? And how could they get human actors to resemble these traits? One thing that designers could discern was that, if orc blood was black, their mouths would be a shade of black as well (think about it- we bleed red and our mouths and other organs are a shade of pink). So how could designers make the insides of orc mouths black? Unfortunately for all of the actors playing orcs, they had to gargle a black licorice flavored mouthwash before each and every take to get that icky mouth.
10. Almost Everyone Got Hurt While Filming
Lord of the Rings was a very physical series. Almost every character ever introduced in the series had to fight at some point or another. Even with the use of stunt doubles and highly trained stunt coordinators, almost everyone still wound up getting hurt at some point while on set. Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) chipped a tooth one day during the Helm’s Deep shoot (he actually asked Peter Jackson to glue the tooth back in place so they could finish the scene, though Jackson wouldn’t let it pass). Almost everyone that filmed a fight scene at the battle for Helm’s Deep suffered a sprained ankle or strained back. Andy Serkis (Smeagol) had a backache that lasted from the first scene of Gollum’s he ever shot to the very last (but it was his idea to make Smeagol crawl everywhere!). Orlando Bloom (Legolas) suffered a few broken ribs after a horse threw him while shooting The Two Towers.
9. Barad-dur and the World Trade Center
The crushing of Sauron is one of the most iconic scenes in all of today’s modern cinema. The tower shatters and collapses and everyone cheers because “Yeah, Frodo did it!” Well, it wasn’t that easy to direct. Peter Jackson had a very real fear that the collapsing of the tower of Barad-dur would resemble the collapse of the World Trade Centers, and he did not want to allow such a horror to pass. Thus, the tower cracked and crumbled from the base and the sounds produced by the shattering rock were actually effects made by the shattering of glass. It was very important to Jackson that Sauron’s demise did not at all resemble the tragic day in America’s history. Consider the implications and parallels that would have been drawn if the two had a bearing on one another. That would have ruined the movie and the legacy that the series created!
8. When Aragorn Broke his Toe
Revisiting the many injuries that were incurred in The Lord of the Rings, only a few of actually dangerous and painful moments made it to the final cut. For example, Gandalf on one occasion bumps his head inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole- but Ian McKellen played it off so well that they kept it in the movie! Another such occasion was when, in The Two Towers, Aragorn and company chase down the pack of Uruk-hai that took Merry and Pippin, only to discover that they were too late. Aragorn angrily kicks a steel helmet away from the pyre and screams, crumbling to the ground in anguish. Peter Jackson calls cut and praises Viggo for his dedicated performance… only to learn that Viggo can’t stand up. His infuriated scream was not for the lost hobbits, but for his poor broken toe after kicking the helmet! A long break was taken from filming to clean and brace the horrible wound.
7. One of the Hobbits Was Nearly Killed
Bob Weinstein had such evil will towards the hobbits, he could have been hanging out with the Ringwraiths. The Miramax producer was working with Peter Jackson before the movies later moved to New Line Cinema, and he had a strong opinion that he insisted Jackson heed: that one of the hobbits be killed off. Despite Peter Jackson informing the dummy that in Tolkien’s books, none of the hobbits die, the executive would not budge on the issue. “Well, we can’t [allow all of the hobbits to survive]. We’ve got to kill a hobbit! I don’t care which one, you can pick. I’m not telling you who it should be. You pick out who you want to kill, but we’ve really got to kill one of those hobbits!” What is your problem, you looney executive?! Doesn’t he understand that half the reason the story is inspirational is because these small people carry such lofty burdens and are big enough to heartily make a difference and survive to tell the tale?! IT’S A METAPHOR, STOP TRYING TO RUIN IT!
6. The Army of the Dead Almost Didn’t Make the Movie
The Army of the Dead is kind of iconic to the series. However, it is one of the points in the series that viewers who aren’t so much fans of fantasy roll their eyes and start shrugging off in disbelief. Peter Jackson feared that and, because he knew The Army of the Dead would be hard to buy into, he wanted to cut the Army out of the story altogether. He decided to leave the Army in because it was such a staple of the story in the third book, The Return of the King. He does still believe, even in the final theatrical version as well as the extended director’s cut, that the Army of the Dead is one of the weakest points in the film. That’s why we didn’t see a whole lot from them, even when they did agree to fight at Aragorn’s side. There’s a reason they were only really involved in one battle!
5. “You Shall Not Pass” Ye Ball
There might not be a moment as iconic and legendary in the Lord of the Rings series as the moment when Gandalf raises his staff and sword in the air, bellows out “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” and slams them down in a final and adamant crash of authority. It is a truly badass moment. You know what can ruin that badass-ery? Learning just how the confrontation was filmed.
Obviously, there was no monster with a satanic whip standing opposite Ian McKellen to shoot the scene. It was Ian on a bridge, waiting for the director to call action, standing opposite a ping pong ball hanging down from the ceiling. The ball was there to be a marker for the effects team to add in the monster at a later time. But that means that Ian McKellen was bellowing out with all his might and vigor to stop a teeny tiny ball from crossing the bridge.
4. When Christopher Lee Was Hardcore (stabbed in the back)
The actor who played Saruman, Christopher Lee, died two years ago and the world wept to see such a star and acting hero die. But in his time alive, Christopher Lee was an utter bad ass and he was possibly one of the greatest assets to the Lord of the Rings creative team. He was one of the few people involved on the project who had actually met J.R.R. Tolkien (they’d accidentally met at a British bar long ago). He was also one of the author’s biggest fans: he devoutly reread the entire series every year after they were published decades ago. He read them all EVERY YEAR. His most badass moment had to be when he was shooting his death scene in The Return of the King. Peter Jackson was trying to give him advice on what sound to make when he is stabbed in the back. Lee, a veteran of a world war, smiled smugly back at him and in the most hardcore way ever responded, “I know what a dying man sounds like when he is stabbed in the back.”
3. Sean Bean and His Fear of Flying
Sean Bean has died so many ways as so many characters in so many films. He’s hilariously become affiliated with characters whose fates are doomed, whether that character is Ned Stark, Agent 006, or Boromir. Of all the things he should fear that could possibly kill him (like guns or the Bubonic plague or Uruk-hai costumes), he chooses to brave everything- except flying. Sean Bean HATES flying, which was kind of a problem since the actors were choppered to their sets most days. He tried giving it a shot, but Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan pulled a prank on him and had the pilot demonstrate elaborate maneuvers. After that, Sean was done. He would get up hours before everyone else, have his costume put on and hair and makeup done, then would ride a ski-lift up most of the mountain, then trudge up the rest in costume before shooting began- and he’d do the same in reverse at the end of every day! Needless to say, Sean didn’t gain any weight over the course of filming!
2. Aragorn Was Supposed to Fight Sauron Himself
An epic battle was planned at the end of Return of the King, wherein Sauron would make a last ditch effort to staunch the rebellion against him by entering into his physical form once again and battling toe to toe with the man claiming to be Gondor’s king, Aragorn. The battle planned was going to be very intense and dramatic, a wonderful parallel back to the fight in the beginning of the series between Sauron and Aragorn’s ancestor Isildur. So what happened? Well, the fight distracted a lot from the true climax of Frodo disposing of the ring, but also no amount of fight with Sauron would have been dramatic enough to be believable! So they ditched the fight but kept some of the footage and edited it. Remember when Aragorn fights a cave troll in armor with a sword at the end of the movie? That cave troll was simply edited over Sauron.
1. Boromir’s Famous Speech Wasn’t Even Memorized
We’ve talked about a lot of iconic and legendary moments in The Lord of the Rings, from the Army of the Dead to Gandalf’s famous halting lines. But none of those moments really have memes made after them, do they? Not like Sean Bean‘s speech wherein he outlines to the Council of Elrond that “one does not simply walk into Mordor.” Well, we’ve got a fun fact for you that just may tarnish that iconic moment just a bit: Sean Bean was reading from his script when delivering the famous speech, he wasn’t even entirely off book! It’s not his fault- the writers were constantly giving the actors rewrites and half of Boromir’s lines had been changed shortly before the scene was shot (and the extended version of the scene is soooo much longer). But, if you watch closely, you can see Sean Bean glancing down at his knee (to which he taped his script pages) to get his next lines before proceeding through the monologue! It’s also why the camera shifts to look at other characters so much during the monologue.