Side-effects of Changes

In addition to making the films different from the book, some of PJ’s changes can influence the quality of the films even when considered purely as cinema. The book can be compared to a finely tuned machine in which each part plays a role and is dependent on other parts. When it starts to be changed the repercussions can be large. Below are some instances of those effects.

Idiot plot

An idiot plot occurs when the plot of a story requires the characters to act like idiots in order for the plot to advance. This occurs a few times in PJ’s trilogy because of some his changes disrupted the fine-tuned nature of the story. For example: in Khazad-dum Gandalf dangled from the Bridge and let go of his own accord after starting to clamber up and in Minas Tirith the Witch-king does not finish off Gandalf when confronting him. In the book these are both explained: in Khazad-dum Gandalf falls into the chasm and yells at the Fellowship to flee, and in Minas Tirith the Witch-king has not all but defeated Gandalf when the horns of Rohan are heard.

In the films however, the actions of both Gandalf and the Witch-king are inexplicable save for “they had to do it because the characters were necessary later on, as per the book”. The filmmakers wanted to follow the book to the extent that Gandalf did not escape Moria nor die at the hand of the Witch-king, but because they made changes to the circumstances the result was that Gandalf and the Witch-king both look like fools.

Similarily, while the filmmakers had no problem with Faramir taking the hobbits to Osgiliath, they had to have Frodo and Sam go to Mordor for the Ring to be destroyed. The “turning point” in which Faramir lets the hobbits go is quite odd though, as any reasonable person would have concluded upon seeing Frodo attempt to surrender the Ring to the Nazgul that he was far too weak to carry the Ring and thus sent him to Minas Tirith even faster.

Inconsistent geography

In The Two Towers we, along with Faramir, are shown a map of Middle-earth and in The Return of the King a similar map is used to show the hobbits’ journey home. Both maps are similar to the ones in the book, so it would seem that PJ left Tolkien’s geography intact. It is not so, however, as PJ made numerous changes to the geography of Middle-earth. Some of these changes cause other parts of the films to make very little sense.

  1. In the book the Glittering Caves behind Helm’s Deep are accessed from the ravine behind the Deeping Wall, whereas in the film they are accessed from the “Great Hall” inside the main keep of the Hornburg. Given this, the Deeping Wall has no defensive value and is a waste of manpower to defend.
  2. The southern terminus of the Paths of the Dead is within sight of Pelargir, eliminating probably hundreds of square miles of Gondor’s core area (and population). This area is shown on Faramir’s map though.
  3. Early in The Two Towers Legolas states that “the Uruks have turned northeast … they’re taking the hobbits to Isengard!” This contradicts the maps found in both the book and elsewhere in the films in which Isengard is clearly west of where the Uruks were at that point.
  4. The Elves of Lorien are able to reach Helm’s Deep ridiculously fast in The Two Towers – far, far faster than Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli had.

These changes cause the geography to become nonsensical and damage the internal consistency of the trilogy.


There were two major instances of anachronisms – something placed into a time period in which it could not have existed or does not make any sense – in The Two Towers. The first is when a Rohir orders archers to “fire!” on the attacking Uruk-hai at Helm’s Deep. The order “fire” would mean nothing to a pre-gunpowder army and should have caused the Rohirrim to start looking around for the source of the blaze. The second is when, in the aftermath of the battle, Gimli asserts that his axe is embedded in an Uruk’s nervous system – a cringe-worthy use of a modern term in a pre-scientific era.

Back to Changes index.

Back to main Tolkien Purism page.


7 Responses to Side-effects of Changes

  1. Enoden says:

    I have to say, I love your writing style – this in particular was excellent:

    “The order “fire” would mean nothing to a pre-gunpowder army and should have caused the Rohirrim to start looking around for the source of the blaze.”

    Love it!

  2. Eldorion says:

    I’m glad you like it. 😀

  3. Alan says:

    The thing you have to keep in mind my friend, is that these kind of inconsistencies basically occur in every film, and the main reason for it is budget and limits of film itself. I’m sure the three writers would have loved to have the budget to piece everything together without holes.

    Writers and Previs usually always have very little time to prepare and have to make do with many holes and inconsistences due to lack of time to prepare, due to lack of funding. People blame the director and writers, Peter Jackson is the face to be blamed by purists.

    The other thing is, you mention things like the omission of the Scouring of the Shire. The fact is, Jackson and Co have to satisfy a studio that wants to make money which means they have to produce something that appeals to a largely simple mass audience that has never read the book and wouldn’t have the attention span with their demand for instant gratification to do so. The film cannot be made anywhere near as high-brow and faithful as the book just for Tolkien fans, as it wouldn’t make near enough money.

    Many of the elements you point out were left out to keep it vastly more simple, as the studio wouldn’t get many people through the door if it were quite faithful to the book. They really had to create quite a different creature from the book in many significant ways, and I find it amazing that people really expect any different from a film. Most of the changes were to designed to gratify a low-brow non-Tolkien audience as well as to fit within the limits of film, however I believe the writers did their best to compromise and give equal attention as possible to both camps.

    • Hi Alan, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      I acknowledge that inconsistencies and plot holes are pretty much inevitable and that there are many great films that don’t necessarily hold up to close scrutiny in all areas of plot but that are nonetheless remarkable artistic achievements. Actually, that’s the category I’d put the LOTR films in. Certainly the structural differences between books and film necessitated many changes (the acceleration of action in Book I of FOTR is perhaps the strongest example of this). I have more or less made my peace with the omission of the Scouring of the Shire over the years (hard to believe I was 15 when I wrote the purist section of this site; I sometimes cringe a little looking back at it :/).

      That said, I would like to respond to some of your specific points. Jackson and co. had roughly three years of scripting and pre-viz time before filming began, which is a lifetime in film terms. Granted, they had to rewrite the scripts partway through that period when New Line said they wanted three films rather than two, but making major changes to the script while filming appears to be simply part of how Jackson works (he remains heavily involved with putting his films together in editing, likely as a result of this). There is truth in the “necessities of popular appeal” argument, but I don’t always agree with the lengths to which it is taken. I talked about that a bit on the Purist Manifesto elsewhere on this site.

      The examples of inconsistencies given on this page are admittedly nitpicky (especially in hindsight), but I think they’re indicative of some of the differences in approach between Tolkien and Jackson. Although, as noted at the start of the article, Tolkien’s Middle-earth was so intricately constructed that nearly any change was bound to have an impact down the line.

      • Alan says:

        Yeah I know they had three years in writing which is a long time in film terms, however the LOTR is a real biggy. You not only have the book but the rest of the cannon to research and consider. As well, the timeline in the book has to be totally sorted out for chronology of the film as well as pacing issues.

        I’ve seen all the behind the scenes of the Extended Editions, and even with three years it seemed as though they were very rushed. Not sure if that three years was budgeted to full-time or not. But I’m sure if they had 5 years they couldn’t have plugged up all the holes.

        The choice of Director in Peter Jackson I believe is a bit of an issue in some ways. His tastes or sensibilities can be pretty horrendous at times. He wants to bring personal tastes like from King Kong or Hammer Horror films into it which can work well at times but lead us off track at other times. However he has other qualities that served us well.

        He does have a very large streak of not giving a shit for things like continuity, consistency or issues of faithfulness. In a way he’s a bit of a shark or loose cannon. Not only not giving a shit, but often an active resentment for those things! That’s not something I think is good, I value those things in film and it does have to actually make sense.

        I really saw how this was so with the Hobbit films, which I thought were awfully done on the whole. It seemed as though he lost most of his prior ethics, for example the overuse of CGI. He said that if he were to do the LOTR films again, he’d replace heaps of the miniatures and prosthetic characters with CGI, thus turning it from looking like real history to a video game like The Hobbit. It was also as if all the criticisms he received for LOTRs, he decided to not only ignore but actually greatly build upon hahaha!

        However, there’s also a lot of good work done in LOTR to boast about too. I think it’s the best films ever made, however that’s not the same as being the most faithful adaptation which it is not. Although most of the reason for it being great film is Tolkien’s source material, it is something quite special to work with, a great opportunity to produce something amazing on film!

      • Say what you like about Jackson (and believe me, I have xP) but the LOTR films wouldn’t have been made without him. No one else was trying to do LOTR until Jackson came along. He was the one to approach Saul Zaentz about the rights and work to get a studio on board. His “splatstick” background definitely didn’t foreshadow his career in Middle-earth, though he did have Heavenly Creatures to his name which proved that he could do drama as well.

        Anyway, I agree with you that the LOTR films are great. Watching the Extended Edition documentaries was largely what sparked my interest in film as a whole. While I’ve become more aware of the flaws in the films as films (as opposed to their shortcomings as adaptations) as I’ve become more familiar with the art form, The Fellowship of the Ring is still my favorite movie (*maybe* tied with Pulp Fiction). I talked about this a bit in the “Doublethink?” essay on this site, though the extent to which the changes from the book bother me has decreased over the years.

        I’m afraid I don’t have much that’s nice to say about King Kong or The Hobbit trilogy. *shrug*

  4. Alan says:

    Create lots of blogs waxing long and hard with criticism’s of Peter Jackson (as I have to exponentially lesser degree), however there’s much good to say about his work with LOTR trilogy.

    Nevertheless, I do agree Pulp Fiction is quite the bomb!

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