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Lord of The Rings Alternate Universe: Its Construction, Significance and Impact

Info: 9962 words (40 pages) Dissertation
Published: 24th Aug 2021

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Tagged: Film StudiesLiterature

Lord of The Rings Book Covers


This essay will delve into the critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings alternate universe and propose how it was constructed, its significance and the impact it had on society. The rationale for the dissertation is based on the idea of Alternate universes and how they parallel amongst ours through the notion of film and specifically Peter Jackson’s trilogy from John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s novels The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in his universe of Middle Earth. The use and ability of technology and real landscapes to create the world Tolkien did not believe himself to ever see. Furthermore, considering the way the films impacted and rebooted fantasy films as a genre making the appearances of films alike further to be portrayed on screens after book deemed not possible beforehand.


I am grateful to my supervisor tutor, Mr. Suman Ghosh who assisted me in general ideas and focussing on narrowing down the idea to a question that could be taken in many ways.

I would also like to thank my friends and family for their encouragement and help in putting this dissertation together.

Table of Contents



Introduction: The significance of The Lord of the Rings in constructing the idea of the alternate universe.

To what extent does the universe as represented in the film parallel that in the original books. Questions of ‘narrative fidelity’. Identifying the points of departure and the reasons for these departures.

Technological Construction of the alternate universe: soundtrack

The Impact of The Lord of the Rings alternative universe on film/media culture: The Hobbit etc.

Conclusion: Lord of The Rings as an epic narrative and a turning point.



Table of Figures

Figure 1 – Gandalf and Frodo Perspective Scale

Introduction: The significance of The Lord of the Rings in constructing the idea of the alternate universe

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was a standard set in the genre of Fantasy that has now become one of the greatest trilogies of all time. The Lord of the Rings as an alternate universe is the fact that it’s something that aligns to everyday viewers of the films and book. The Lord of the Rings has sparked fan fiction all over the world, with fans creating their own versions of Middle Earth in the modern day. Not only has LOTR become a key point in success for fantasy genre but, Peter Jackson’s filmmaking has solely surpassed what anyone anticipated or expected for J.R.R Tolkien’s exclaimed work.

The essay itself will discuss the preliminary idea of Alternate Universe and how it’s used in Tolkien’s book and Jackson’s viewership. Then focussing on the adaption element, itself and how it became a success, despite Saul Zaentz deeming it impossible to recreate Middle Earth in film. Saul Zaentz had owned the rights for LOTR for over 25 years and had declined a vast number of filmmakers before Jackson, due to not finding their version worthy. Jackson said back in 1998 “You shouldn’t think of these movies as being ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is, and always will be… one of the greatest (stories) ever written. Any films will only ever be an interpretation of the book.In this case, my interpretation.” (Peterson, 2012) Jackson even believed that you should just thank Tolkien’s work and that the films cannot ever be better than the book and Jackson himself would re-read each individual page whilst filming each scene to make sure he got it right. Screen Narrative was one of the reasons why LOTR became such a successful trilogy. This was because of the on location shooting and use of New Zealand as a film set, what this does for the film is the fact the scenery is epic in scale and beauty, the shoot of the films was done back to back and took over 274 days whilst added pickups took the film to take over a span of three years. Using screen narrative to successfully create Middle Earth for all its grandeur by using New Zealand as his back drop further explained in later chapter. Jackson also succeeded in the relationship that he could make with the characters Barker and Mathijs said “how fully audiences are absorbed in and “go along with” with film’s events: the stronger the bond with one or more characters, the stronger the involvement in the film.” (Barker and Mathijs, 2007) Noting the fact Jackson made the characters more relatable due to their human nature and the reason that they seemed to be doing the quest as a group and many people relate to the bond they had in the films. How the story was told from the perspective of multiple characters rather than a singular character focus point, this providing the on screen telling of their group bond and the Fellowship. Weta Digital has become a co-founder in modern visual effects and use of actors to manipulate and control effects is breath-taking. Weta was founded by Peter Jackson and others in 1993, No VFX was available in NZ at the time, Weta went on to be extremely successful for other filmmakers and has won five academy awards, including Avatar and obviously LOTR (Com and Floyer 2016).

The reason to focus primarily on the idea of the alternate universe is the fact that Tolkien’s world is relatable in so many ways, Tolkien shaped the way fantasies are based upon and set a benchmark that many other authors followed e.g. J.K. Rowling. It can be related to in many ways but characters are something that Jackson makes so enjoyable. You feel like you’ve known someone or connected to dies such as Boromir when he gets shot multiple times or the fact it’s breaking this unstoppable (well what we believed as viewers and readers) group on their quest. An example of this is the connection the viewer feels when one of the ‘heroes’ dies. Boromir’s death breaks the unstoppable/invincible perceived group of heroes on their quest this makes it relatable and brings us back to reality. The concept of a group of either high-born or an unknown and smaller race of Hobbits doesn’t matter in the film, it’s still all about the quest and how the group they form eventually breaks which makes this such a captivating story. My rationale for focussing on the alternate universe is because it seems fit that people find these films so obsessive to watch with their extended versions and ongoing fan fiction allowing fans to further delve into the world Tolkien created whilst staying within reality itself.

In “Entertainment and Utopia,” Richard Dyer discounts the possibility that entertainment can provide “models of utopian worlds” – a contentions that fan responses here would seem to disprove. However, Dyer’s argument that utopianism is an affective sensation produced by movies (in his example, musicals), “contained in the feelings” movies produce and in their ability to present “head-on, as it were, what utopia would feel like,” helps to define the Rings’ experience for its most ardent fans. The inner and outer worlds forged by RotK, as the apotheosis of the Rings trilogy, produce a sensation of what “utopia would feel like.” Further, this is an alternate universe, where viewers are provided with “something better’ to escape into, or something that [they] want deeply that [their] day-to-day lives don’t provide.” As Dyer continues, “Alternatives, hopes, wishes-these are the stuff of utopia, the sense that things could be better, that something other than what is can be imagined and maybe realised.” As a viewer commented, “the movie captured well the importance of friendship, perseverance, love and courage…qualities that are all too often absent in today’s modern movies. (Barker and Mathijs, 2008)

Dyer is stating how Lord of the Rings not only made it more relatable for fans but, having these themes makes it more than just a traditional modern film, its very nature appealing’s to all audiences. Creating this perfect setting that viewers can appreciate and want more of. Tolkien’s idea of writing the books was about how he would have liked our history to be Lord of the Rings. He wishes this is what had happened, the idea of the elves leaving could be something that they did as they thought men could rule the world once more etc. Tolkien himself once said “Mine is not an ‘imaginary world’, but an imaginary historical moment on ‘Middle-Earth’” – which is our habitation, thus making it clear that he believed the stories he wrote were not real but imaginary. (Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, 2014)

To what extent does the universe as represented in the film parallel that in the original books?

Questions of ‘narrative fidelity’. Identifying the points of departure and the reasons for these departures

Comparing Tolkien’s work to the films are always considered for fans alike. The film itself holds greatly in comparison to some other adaptation in Hollywood which people would be far more disappointed with their adaptation. Lord of The Rings are hugely detailed books with an extensive amount of text and backstories alike which have had to been cut etc. It’s the way Jackson went about not including parts is that makes the film a success and his extended editions which added a further look at parts missed out from the book which would just give a nod to fans of Tolkien. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is similarly shaped, not only by its attempt to remain faithful to Tolkien’s epic but also by its determination to avoid duplicating the reception of Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated adaptation. The surprising but logical attempt to translate Tolkien’s unfilmable novel into an epic cartoon had earned respectful but unenthusiastic reviews but won little loyalty from fans of the novel and enjoyed no great financial success, partly no doubt because of Bakshi’s dubious background as the auteur of the X-rated cartoon feature Fritz the Cat (1972). Jackson’s tireless insistence in interviews on the unity of his project, its status as a single three-part film rather than a trilogy would at the same time allow him to align his work more to Tolkien’s. (Leitch, 2007) Books and movies tell stories in vastly ‘diverse ways, and one of their primary differences is lengths. Novels often tend to contain more information than a two- or three-hour movie can possibly cover, and short stories are frequently used as the basis for film adaptations instead.’ (Sparknotes.com, 2004) This noting how Jackson’s authenticity to the books was essential for the trilogy’s achievement. Dedicated readers of The Lord of the Rings are the book world’s equal of Trekkies: they are archivists of unclear, trivial details, even protective of these details. If Jackson was to disappoint them, he would have lost a crucial audience and even caused a public relations mess. ‘To turn thousands of pages into roughly nine hours of film, Jackson had to simplify the original story by eliminating or changing certain characters. For example, Tom Bombadil, a significant character in the novel version of The Fellowship of the Ring, is absent from the movies. As a hard-to-classify godlike creature, he may have required more explanation than a fast-paced film could make time for.’ (Sparknotes.com, 2004) ‘Crucial scenes involving Bombadil are therefore missing, including one in which the four hobbits come across a cache of elf weapons, weapons that prove important when Merry uses an elf sword to slay the witch-king, which cannot be killed by a human, in The Return of the King. Jackson works around Bombadil, however, to get the same information across. He gives the hobbits their weapons more directly: Aragorn gives the hobbits a sack of weapons on the hill called Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring.’ (Sparknotes.com, 2004) Jackson also emits a scene from The Return of the King where the hobbits are returning home whilst they find that Saruman has come to the shire to gain revenge. ‘While die-hard fans of the books might be miffed at these omissions, the narrative of the three films collectively and singularly, work seamlessly without them. Then narrative order of events is also slightly changed from the original prose, an example being the attack of the giant spider Shelob, which takes place at the end of The Two Towers within the books but features early in The Return of the King.’ (Sparknotes.com, 2004) The narrative threads of Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mount doom are separated when we the viewer is taken back and forth between characters on their individual quests which lead to the final quest. This allowed Jackson to tell his story with the flow of the characters and not breaking down the story or dumbing it down.

Frodo was changed for the films. In the novels, he comes across as the heart of the story, the leader of the Hobbits. He is mature, insightful, courageous and has the wisdom of his folk. Although appearing younger than he is due to the Ring’s influence, he is a middle-aged scholar turned adventurer turned hero and deeply damaged by the Ring’s influence over the course of the story. In the movies, Frodo is a schoolboy, terrified and tearful for practically ten hours straight, and never stands up and fights for himself or uses his willpower. In a few moments, they take away from him for no good reason: bearing the knife shard (which in the film they never really address the significance of) for seventeen days; cursing and attacking the Nazgul at Weathertop; defying them again at the Ford of the Bruinen after riding away by himself to save his friends; being the first to attack the cave troll in Moria). You don’t even notice how much the Ring damages him, because he seems so weak throughout. Aragorn & Arwen: Theirs is an epic love story of decades of fidelity and perseverance, that gets short-changed a bit in the book. Peter Jackson had the chance to bring in some of their story from Appendix A, but instead chooses to have Aragorn seem attracted to Éowen and Arwen consider leaving Aragorn and sailing for the West. They also cut out one of the most meaningful and epic moments of the book, Aragorn receiving and then using the flag Arwen made with his heraldry. What they should have done was replace Arwen’s brothers with Arwen herself and had her travel with her fiancé through the Paths of the Dead to Minas Tirith—that would have been true to the theme of the books, for it’s clear she was there in spirit. (Snerdley, 2014)

“The parallel between each of Tolkien’s three books and its corresponding film adaptation remained nominal. The Two Towers bears particular evidence of its origin as half of what Jackson calls Film one. Their concern for chronology, counterpoint, and dramatic effectiveness led Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens to move many of the events presented in the last four chapters of Tolkien’s Book Three and the last four chapters of Book Four of The Two Towers to The Return of the King. The resulting lack of drama and incident in The Two Towers – Jackson complained that no major characters die in this second film – required the introduction of new dramatic developments. Faramir, who had easily resisted the temptation to take the Ring from Frodo in Tolkien, now takes Frodo, Sam, and Gollum captive and free them only after much soul-searching. Frodo, inflamed by Gollum’s innuendoes against Sam, turns against his old friend.” (Snerdley, 2014)

Another theme that appears several times in The Lord of the Rings’ is the conflict between nature and industry.’ (Snerdley, 2014) Tolkien had been raised in the countryside and was very attached to nature, so you could understand his disappointment with his fellow humans when industry and machines began taking over. ‘Because of his childhood home, he made a noticeable connection between evil and metal by making the Shire a rural place and filling Mordor and Isengard with machines, forges, fire, wheels, and other objects associated with manufacturing and war. As Isengard is piled up with machines, Saruman levels the trees surrounding, the tower (called Orthanc) to fuel the fires that power the machines.’ (Snerdley, 2014) When Treebeard and the rest of the Ents attack Isengard, they flood the inside of Saruman’s territory and destroy the machines. Only when the machines are destroyed, Isengard’s armies are scattered at Helm’s Deep and nature returns to Isengard, does Saruman’s power begin to dwindle. (Burik, 2015)

The purpose of allowing what you can imagine of alternate world is New Zealand itself and the way in which that works with what location Tolkien would have imagined. ‘The meticulous use of location shooting helps to add an implicit sense of character to many scenes so that as characters’ journey onwards through the narrative, the audience sees more and more of Middle-Earth and the location itself becomes an integral character in the films.’ (Rogers, 2015)

‘Overall The Lord of the Rings trilogy succeeds in its attempt to adapt prose onto the screen. Jackson’s trilogy conveys the tone which made the books so outstanding, less antiquated, whimsy and more medieval grunge for the screen and while not a religious adaptation, the divergences from the source material serve to illustrate a genuine attempt to render the story in a truly cinematic fashion. ‘(Rogers, 2015) Jackson could never be accused of not being enthusiastic, especially with the release of the extended editions of the films which feature many scenes which were left on the cutting room floor and not included in the theatrical release. Despite some of the changes the essence of Tolkien’s novels remains intact. ‘Jackson’s decision to forgo the obscure, extra details that round out the author’s trilogy didn’t lessen the thematic and narrative meat of Tolkien’s work,’ (Sparknotes.com, 2004) and the conflation or elimination of characters from the novels ultimately does not change the story very much. The films and the novels are not interchangeable, but the films prove as faithful as they can be to the novels without testing the limits of viewers’ patience and attention. (Snerdley, 2014) ‘The editing process which took place for the theatrical release was appreciated by many, although the ending of The Return of the King was criticised for its length, while the extended cuts were still available to those enthusiastic enough about the material with the time to spend watching all of it.’ (Rogers, 2015)

Technological Construction of the alternate universe: soundtrack

The construction of Tolkien’s world to screen wasn’t anything but genius from the Hobbit’s height to the size and scales of the battle sequences to creating whole new lands and of course Gollum using Weta Works. This all allows us to escape to the world Tolkien would have wanted through Jacksons on set location shooting in New Zealand which created The Shire, Hobbiton and more, thus making the viewer fully immersed throughout the films. Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company based in Miramar, New Zealand, producing effects for television and film. Founded in 1987 by Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jackson himself. Weta has gone on to be a tremendous success with TV collaborations with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess and after LoTR went on to be part of some hugely successful films such as, Van Helsing, Hellboy, I, Robot, King Kong (Another of Jackson’s films) etc. When making the films Andy Serkis was hired to just do Gollum’s creepy voice, but as he ‘arrived on set and started stepping in with other actors to help their responses to Gollum feel more genuine, Serkis’ presence inspired rewrites that delved deeper into the character and Serkis also started acting out solo bits in motion capture studio. At the turn of the 2000s, that meant putting on a skin-tight suit with reflective markers placed at key points on his body. The crew had to eschew all other reflective material, down to water bottles, so cameras shining bright lights could only record the markers. The data yielded a 3-D approximation of Serkis’ movements that could then drive the motion of Gollum, an animation complete with skeleton and muscle system.’ (Steinmetz, 2012) In the Fellowship, techniques used were crowd animation software, motion capture techniques, digital grading which helped balance and change colours of the final film. We meet three largest CG creatures in the Dwarrowdelf chambers: the octopus-like watcher who guards the gate, the 10-foot-tall cave troll who protects the goblins in the Mines of Moria and the fiery Balrog, a giant composed of ‘Shadow and light’ Also, in the Fellowship we get a glimpse of Gollum, a de formed hobbit-like character with a warped mind.

‘For the monster Balrog, a cloud of smoke often hid such details. In fact, the 25-foot-tall brute seems to be composed entirely of the fire billowing out from deep, black crevices in his skin and the smoke that surrounds him. To create this fiery fiend, Gray Horsfield, environment department head, used sprites, which are little 2D cards, onto which the team put 100 to 150 frame clips of painted fire and film footage of fire. These cards were texture mapped onto particles, which were used to create an animated, general fire shape. “We’ve probably got 5000 images of fire organized into clips and categorized by the way the fire behaves,” Horsfield says. “We want fire coming from various parts of the Balrog body to behave in different ways.” To get the fire on all the sprite cards to point in the correct direction while being driven by the particles, the team assigned orientations to the sprites in Maya, and then via Mel scripts, used the screen velocity of the particles and key frame animation to control the flow. The team also used similar techniques to create smoke for Balrog, replacing the fire on the cards with footage of smoke. Finally, they composited several layers of fire and smoke, sometimes as many as 33, using Nothing Real’s Shake to create final frames.’ (Robertson, 2001)

Demonstrating how technical it is just to create the Balrog without it looking overly out of place as it’s still fitting within the scene and the fear is there for the characters especially as the this signals the ‘Breaking of the Fellowship’ when the first member dies or what we are shown as Gandalf gets dragged down with the Balrog.

‘All The Lord of the Rings movies employed so-called bigatures, a term coined by a Weta Workshop model-maker to describe the 9-foot-hight miniature Bara’Dur, castle home of Sauron and perch for the villain’s baleful, all-seeing eye. Nearly every memorable environment, including Helm’s Deep, made extensive use of models, but Weta’s crowning achievement in miniatures is arguably the city of Minas Tirith in, 2003’s The Return of the King, which stands 14 feet tall at its highest tower and sprawls some 30 feet wide, with as many as 1000 houses dotting its bulk. The besieged city is often shown surrounded by a CGI landscape, forming the basis of composite shots, and portions of it were hyper-detailed enough to stand up to extreme close-ups.’ (Sofge, 2013)

The way the miniatures worked in the films was superb as it transitioned so well you wouldn’t realise that you were in a tiny scale battle, you are sucked in to the film the performance of the actors drawing you towards these characters. The whole point of using a miniature is to photograph something that you couldn’t photograph in the real world. Either it’s too big or doesn’t exist.

‘By using a miniature, you can control the lighting and the way the cameras move. You always want to shoot as big a miniature as possible to get maximum detail and keep it sharp. Unfortunately, in this series the miniatures that they shot were depicted to be so large in the real world that they went into very small scale. This creates problems because there must be extreme precision. You must shoot extremely close and the scales are made with very odd numbers. After the miniatures have been made, the art department goes in and look at what will be on camera. They tell the makers how to make extremely accurate shots by using certain types of dust, weeds, grounds. By doing this, the camera comes in close but it still looks very realistic. After this is done, the digital team comes in and starts to work with the lighting and space made in the miniature to create scenes such as the battle of the Hornburg, Minis Tirith and the tower of Isengard. Jackson tried to use as many miniatures as possible because it lets the film makers use real photography for the background and then finally incorporating the digital populate the area with orcs, warriors, ents and more of Tolkien’s creatures.’ (Shubitidze, 2013)

Obviously, films further went on to succeed with the same kind of model sets of miniatures and bigatures examples are Narnia or looking at the latest Star Wars using models again. But it’s been shown in film now that CG effects are now used more such as majority of Marvel films and even the Hobbit series but Lord of the Rings truly proved that you can’t beat practical effects combining some greatly used techniques and artists to using on set location shooting all around New Zealand. There were so many options Peter Jackson could have used to portray the Hobbits and Dwarves but forced perspective would seem the most viable of ways and it wasn’t anything new or a technique that Jackson himself invented. The basic idea is that you put objects farther away from the camera and they will appear smaller. By cropping a scene, you can make it look like two figures are next to each other with one of them being Frodo for example and the other Gandalf, they may be the same height in real life but it’s the way Jackson would carefully choose and shoot each scene thinking about how he makes sure that the scale would be portrayed. For example, in the scene where we see Gandalf arrive in the Fellowship of the Ring on his cart. In real life, the cart is split into two pieces. The side with Frodo on it is set back further than the side with Gandalf. The trick is to get the seats lined up to look seamless, quite tricky but done exceptionally well. (Allain, 2012)


Figure 1 – Gandalf and Frodo Perspective Scale

Comparing Jackson’s, The Hobbit trilogy to The Lord of the Rings is comparing old to the new but whereas normally new is more up to date, it doesn’t always mean it tells the narrative and makes use of the effects as well. In The Lord of the Rings to keep it more real and to make the fear of orcs and Urak-hai they had real people play them rather than CGI which wasn’t as scary as if you compare to The Hobbit. One of the problems with creating so many Orcs, Trolls and other fiendish characters is that there must be variance in their appearance. Just like how no two humans look alike, there must be the same type of variance with every other character. One way this was resolved was by using real actors and putting makeup on them along with skins so that they would resemble the original actor. However, when it came to creating armies of Orcs and warriors the creators had to look at what to do with digital effects. A lot of work went into creating approved designs of certain components of each character and in the end over 200 different components of each aspect of the orcs was made. The computer then used a random number generator to morph components together to create unique orc. The Hobbit took advantage of further technology advancements that Jackson did not have available to him when doing Lord of the Rings 12 years before. CGI wasn’t scary in the Hobbit it didn’t create a sense of fear such as the character Lurtz in Fellowship of the Ring, the actor portrayed this character and then split apart the Fellowship but also was fierce in his looks and makeup. CGI also ages badly, in a few years time even the best CGI will look painfully obvious. Another example of practical effects and how its aged far better would be the opening of the original Star Wars with the chase of the Tantive IV, this is because practical effects are physical objects you’re looking at. The subtle details of a real physical object are captured on film. Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings looked thousands of years old and looked like how I would imagine Tolkien depicted it rather The Hobbit looks so clean and fresh as its this beautifully pictured CGI film. The Hobbit had a huge budget in comparison per film to the Lord of the Rings and thus I think was a problem as this then went on to allow Jackson to just enjoy the modern technologies available. Including further advancements in CGI and motion capture which is greatly utilised but the use of CGI dumbed down his film making it not as real. Where when doing LOTR he didn’t have no way as near the budget or the technology. Peter Jackson on talking on the technology in the Hobbit.

“The technology that advanced the most, in the last 10 or 12 years, is really the fact that we did a lot of miniature shooting on The Lord of the Rings.  All the big architectural structures of Middle Earth were really miniatures, some of them quite large.  But, you’re limited to what you can do with a miniature because you literally have to have a big camera that has to sweep past it, so you can’t get too close to it and the detail doesn’t hold up too well if you do.

This time around, there are no miniatures.  It’s all done with CGI.  Everything that we need to build, from a miniature point of view, we build as a CG miniature.  I can now swoop in, over rooftops and through doorways.  I can do things that I never could have dreamt of doing with the miniatures.  For me, that’s actually one of the most profound differences.  Gollum has more muscles in his face than he did 12 years ago.  We deliberately made Gollum look very similar to how he did because we wanted consistency through the films. WETA Digital, who do the work, have subsequently been working on Avatar and built a very sophisticated motion-capture facial system, and Gollum inherited some of the technological advances of that.” (Osegueda, 2012)

Noting how the technology has changed and that Jackson used this to his advantage but it didn’t do well with fans who were expecting the same quality of films that The Lord of the Rings brought. Howard Shore composed Lord of The Rings and the Hobbit and has gone on to claim accolades from all films but also his soundtrack has been rated the top among all soundtracks. This is because it’s not just a theme which you recognise with films such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc. John Williams’ composures not that they are to be compared in a sense as they are dynamically different in all senses. However, it’s the fact if you say Star Wars theme you would think of Imperial March rather than Lord of the Rings which has so many different components in each piece. The original opening that Shore wrote, the filmmakers originally shot Fellowship’s prologue as a shorter sequence for which Shore wrote a self-contained four-minute composition. During the film’s editing, it was decided that a lengthier sequence would set up the film’s story with a more detailed and visceral punch. The film’s Prologue was expanded, and so Shore went back and composed a new work to match the edit. The first composition (featuring the text, “The Battle of Dagorlad”) was presented on The Fellowship of the Ring’s original soundtrack album in 2001, but never appeared in the final film. While the two Prologue scores are similar, the definitive version (now presented on disc for the first time) considerably expands the original concept and captures the opening action with a raw collection of orchestral outbursts, hinting at the level of conflict that The Two Towers and The Return of the King will present. (Adams, 2005) The themes created in The Lord of the Rings allows us to align which each part of Middle-Earth we are within or just make us a part of their universe. The theme of Elves is called Galadriel by some writers, and could probably just as easily be called Lothlorien, or perhaps The Power of the Elves. Any of those names would work in the context of the story. So, what does the theme “mean”? These themes don’t mean things in the same way that, ‘say papillon means butterfly.’ (Rawlins, 2006) They suggest: they resonate. Galadriel is an elf-queen, she wields great power, and that power is centred in Lothlorien. They are all a piece, and the theme calls them all up at once and allows them to rattle against each other. The Big three themes are The Shire, The Fellowship and the Rohan theme as they are the most recognisable. The Shire theme represents the Shire and home, of course and occurs many a time whenever the Shire is mentioned as they reminisce about going home and often is rendered in a folksy, slightly out-of-tune pennywhistle flute version, it is warm-hearted, comforting and inviting to the viewer. The Fellowship theme is repeated the most out of all themes counted over thirty-five times through the films, it is a signature theme to the first movie as that is the title and it has heroic, jagged and assertive feel to it. Whereas the Rohan theme is about the culture and the place as this is a talent Shore has. Rohan theme, especially in its realisation on the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. It manages to convey in a few notes the essentials of Rohan culture: simplicity, military prowess, sense of honour. It is the signature theme for the second movie, heard over the title. In the DVD documentary, this theme was long in the making, as Jackson insisted that Shore come up with something catchy and hummable. Shore at last suggested the theme we hear, and Jackson agreed to it when he found himself humming it in his car.

The Impact of The Lord of the Rings alternative universe on film/media culture: The Hobbit etc.

Lord of the Rings has impacted an array of films prior to Jackson’s trilogy to after the trilogy with film adaptations of CS Lewis’s novels Narnia. Jackson could pave the way for the return of big-screen fantasy films after the success of LOTR with other directors moving towards fantasy films. ‘Prior to 2001, professing a public desire to paint tiny Orcs and engage in dice-based role-playing games would have probably seen you wedgied and hung on the nearest coat hook. However, Peter Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy brought epic fantasy back into cinemas and the mainstream in a major way.’ (Gray, 2012) Motion capture was still clearly in its infancy at the turn of the millennium. The moment Gollum came to our screens in The Two Towers audiences realised mocap was going to revolutionise modern digital effects. In the last decade, motion capture evolved to become performance capture, graduating from a few ping pong balls stuck on a black leotard to a bona fide method of capturing an actor’s entire performance.

The Lord of the Rings due to its resounding success caused many directors to feel as if they were being compared and in its shadow. Duncan Jones directed Warcraft: The Beginning in 2016. Duncan stated ‘Warcraft itself put its own twist on Tolkien by allowing players to play as the hero as any kind of creature in the game…when Peter Jackson did The Lord of the Rings trilogy he brought everyone in to fantasy and set a level which everyone has been striving to achieve since. In those movies, the good guys tend to be the humans and hobbits and the cute characters and anything that was ugly was a bad guy. That came from the time when those stories were written.’ (Fennell, 2016) Obviously, it always goes back to Tolkien’s source material, which even in the literary would already rule over its counterparts. For example, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was a long-running series and huge seller, but to a degree was held back from Tolkien-level cultural impact because of their number of instalments. Casual readers could be overwhelmed by the sheer number in a series whereas with Tolkien the storytelling meat is all contained within The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Of course, there’s plenty more such as the appendices, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, but that’s optional for the hardcore fans to explore at their will. When you look at the comparison of Harry Potter franchise you can see it was a bigger contemporary, phenomenon perhaps having the constant ‘ongoing book series helped, but Lord of the Rings inspired more critical love during their time of release compared to Chris Columbus’ weighty franchise openers. It also explains why The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe can draw large box office numbers but audiences simply weren’t that interested in films of Narnia’s more obscure instalments.’ (Adcock, 2016) The Film itself had similar concepts in terms of a vast range of characters we were trying to follow but they didn’t have the build-up like The Lord of the Rings has when you get attached to characters that’s the reason Lord of the Rings did well because it had the length to show character build up. ‘Tolkien having his towering status over fantasy,’ (Adcock, 2016) has undouble influenced fantasy worlds that came afterwards. ‘Although there is obviously literal difference between Lord of the Rings and those books, what Tolkien did with elves and dwarves has remained a signpost for fantasy ever since. Elves are the wisest and most magically inclined, while Dwarves are the more materially minded race, proud of weapons and treasure, with corruptible human races coming somewhere in between.’ (Adcock, 2016)

‘It is not enough however, to consider only the text and its audience, whilst neglecting the forces present in the production of the text. Gary K. Wolfe notes that “the marketing and acquisitions practices of publishing houses have tended to emphasize certain conventions” within the genre, so that extratextual devices like maps, glossaries, genealogies, and multivolume novels (“the fat fantasy trilogy”) have become standard signifiers of the genre. “Commercial marketing category” is therefore another way of defining genre. The maps, genealogies and glossaries in most fantasy books are not only marketing devices following Tolkien’s prototype, but also act as aids to readers, allowing a fuller immersion in the imaginary worlds and geographies of fantasy. This lends them an air of “truth” or credibility by co-opting the symbolic devices and narrative techniques of factual historical discourse. Tolkien’s impact in this regard is undeniable: in the verisimilitude of Middle-earth lies its strong appeal. Tolkien’s meticulously created world, complete with maps, languages, and phases of the moon, aspired to be as real and convincing as possible. Tolkien said later, “I wanted people simply to get inside this story and take it (in a sense) as actual history.’ (Selling, 2003)

Jackson stated from the beginning he didn’t want to make a traditional fantasy film, he wanted to make something that felt much more than that. ‘Tolkien writes in a way that makes everything come alive and more real for the audience and we wanted to set that realistic feeling of an ancient world-come-to-life right away with the first film, then continue to build it as the story unravels.’ (Jackson, 2002) Constantly referring to the book Jackson would get as close to the best book to film adaption. The likes of Ian McKellen has stated the films being. Game of Thrones is a new and upcoming show that has been going on for a few years but some may relate this to the success of Tolkien’s writing which George R.R Martin has admitted to being a huge influence whilst the battle sequences and storytelling can be similarly related to Jackson’s trilogy and would question whether if Lord of the Rings trilogy would have not been filmed would we have Game of Thrones? Martin’s series is ‘darker, grittier fantasy claims the medieval turf of blood, and gore, infanticide and incest. The great dynastic houses are weakened, and petty fights for the throne undermine the need for a united defence against the looming enemy beyond the Wall. But the basics in The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire are the same. Like Tolkien’s Sauron, willing to slaughter however many it takes to gain power of the ring, Martin’s fantasy series is fuelled by primitive motivation: killing something to get something.’ (Ciabattari, 2014) Another book that then went on to be adapted was The Golden Compass, ‘the trilogy’s success also demonstrated that fantasy was no longer for a niche audience, unleashing floodgates for films such as Stardust, Snow White and the Huntsman, Clash of the Titans, John Carter etc.’ (Ciabattari, 2014) Even the manner of their production was imitated by high-profile blockbusters such as The Matrix Reloaded/Matrix Revolutions and Pirates of the Caribbean:  Dead Man’s Chest/At World’s End, instalments which were filmed simultaneously. While this wasn’t new to the film industry, the risk that New Line Cinemas took on developing an entire untested concept was staggering. (Liptak, 2016)

‘The influence of the epic saga Lord of the Rings started immediately in the 1960’s when the imitation story The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks was released. The book was also the stepping stone for 1970’s popular fantasy-fiction game Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game that allows individuals to become fantasy-like creatures, many derived from Lord of the Rings characters such as hobbits, elves, dwarves, and orcs. The book continues to impact the fantasy video-gaming industry and has influenced popular games including Dragon Warrior, The Elder Scrolls Series, EverQuest, and Warcraft; and that’s only to name a few. Other role-playing video games are set in Middle Earth, a major area in the storyline of The Lord of the Rings.’ (Faming, 2013)

Alternate ways that Lord of the Rings trilogy influenced other forms of media, such as Fantasy genre, Music. Listening to the complete score by Howard Shore you hear every type of orchestral music throughout the films. Shore has a hugely diverse range but it’s the constant use of an initial theme but adapting it to each problem or scene that makes his score so iconic and the best score of all time.

The popular three-part book has also had a major impact on the music industry, beginning in the year 1965 when songwriter Donald Swann decided to take six poems from the book and put them to music. ‘Approved by J.R.R. Tolkien himself, the songs were published in 1967. Later in 1988, composer Johan de Meij would create Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”, a gorgeous composition connected directly to the book with titles including “Gandalf”, “Gollum”, and “Lothlorien”. From the beginning of 1970’s to present day, rock and heavy metal bands have been heavily inspired by The Lord of the Rings. The popular 70’s band Led Zeppelin developed an array of songs including “The Battle of Evermore” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” with explicit references to the book, while Black Sabbath’s song “The Wizard” pays direct homage to the notable character Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings. Several bands created their names based on the book, including heavy metal band Cirith Ungol, which created their name from one of the mountain passes found in Middle Earth.’ (Faming, 2013)

Conclusion: Lord of The Rings as an epic narrative and a turning point

Lord of the Rings may be defined as the best adaptation of all time with the extended editions further following up Tolkien’s epic story more so than any other film has achieved on an adaptation. Considering LOTR was never up for adaptation many attempts had been made through variety of media, including radio, stage plays, and unproduced screenplays, Tolkien himself believed his own book would never hit the big screen. The commercial and critical success of Jackson’s films brought the fantasy genre to new heights of recognition. The Return of the King is the only fantasy film to ever have won the Oscar for Best Picture, and is tied with Ben-Hur and Titanic at eleven for the record of most Oscars won by a single film. Fantasy had been a genre on screen, usually in the form of Sci-Fi with Star Wars or Back to the Future. Only 20 fantasy films were produced in the 1990s in comparison over 50 between 2000-2010, this shows the impact Lord of the Rings had made. One of the reasons this was a huge turning point is that people never thought some of these big scale fantasy novels or scripts could never be portrayed on screen e.g. not having the adequate technology at hand but Lord of the Rings changed this with making use of what they had and using old techniques and long shooting. (Dresdow, 2016) The effect of Lord of the Rings inspired films like Percy Jackson, Eragon, Harry Potter, Narnia, Spiderwick, Divergent and The Hunger Games, yet not all have succeeded in the way Lord of The Rings did but, there has always been notions of influence throughout. Lord of the Rings already had a huge audience with fans always awaiting a film but many still unsure that it would live up to what they imagined whilst reading the novels themselves. Post the films there has been an infinite amount of media based around the book and the world of Middle Earth through forums where fans would create their own characters or just discuss the origin of some certain characters.

‘History of fantasy film is linked to what is for most of us by now a familiar critical debate about ‘spectacle versus narrative’ in cinema. This is because, once again, along with other spectacle-based film genres like horror or science fiction, the use of effects sequences in fantasy films has been said to disrupt the progression of narrative… Whereas narrative is classically said to give drive, coherence and meaning to a film, spectacle has traditionally been regarded in terms of self-contained moments of visual excess. Seen in these terms, spectacle in effect short-circuits narrative, almost putting the film on hold while we’re pulled into some other dimension where action and effects take over from natural storytelling properties and dramatic revelations.’ (Furby and Hines, 2012)

CGI has dominated fantasy-films but it’s the way it’s used in The Lord of the Rings which allows it to still create a spectacle and storytelling in contemporary cinema. ‘According to Tolkien, one of the main attractions that the story world of fantasy holds for the audience is an imaginative escape from the primary or known world and real life. However, it is important to remember that this does not mean that fantasy story worlds are unable or unwilling to engage with the primary real worlds in which they are produced and consumed.’ (Furby and Hines, 2012) Rather, as we have argued, fantasy is about much more than escapism and, typical of cinema, there is often a direct correlation between the making of fantasy films and major social, cultural and ideological shifts. (Furby and Hines, 2012) Lord of the Rings is a universe which is parallel to ours in many a way as Tolkien wanted it to be our history. It’s all possible in the way it’s portrayed-on screen. This could have happened in a way but it’s the way the narrative is built with all aspects of technology and Jackson choosing what was the best to keep in flow of the films. The way Lord of the Rings shaped fantasy films for the next decade onwards was a turning point that will always have been a film that future fantasy directors will admire. As well as the success of the films it also generated a huge amount of media surrounding the franchise, with games and even just musical events of live scores being performed for years after which has allowed fans to either play or be a part of the world of Tolkien. Texts set in the future or in alternate universes are open to fan activation: the fantasy included in the original text legitimises the flights of fancy engaged in by the fans as they revise, continue and rework plot lines. Producerly texts invite fans to incorporate their own ideals and practices into the original narratives. (Mathijs, 2006) Jackson made Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as close as many of us readers would have liked it I mean there was always going to be parts missed out but it’s what he kept in and the way it all flows that makes Jackson’s telling of the novels the best. Jackson allows us to follow his vision and be a part of what we all wanted to see in its best format. I believe Lord of the Rings to be the best book adaptations out there. Whilst it’s not perfect it’s as close as anyone has got so far and think will. Jackson created this universe that aligns to us the viewer and makes us want to be a part of it and delve deeper.


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Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), Directed by Peter Jackson, NZ, New Line Cinema

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Directed by Peter Jackson, NZ, New Line Cinema

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Directed by Peter Jackson, NZ, New Line Cinema

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), Directed by Peter Jackson, NZ, New Line Cinema

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), Directed by Peter Jackson, NZ, New Line Cinema

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), Directed by Peter Jackson, NZ, New Line Cinema

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Directed by Andrew Adamson, USA, Walt Disney Pictures

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Directed by Chris Columbus, UK, Warner Bros

Fritz the Cat (1972), Directed by Ralph Bakshi, USA, Aurica Finance Company

Star Trek (1966-1969), Created by Gene Roddenberry, USA, Desilu Productions

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-1999), Created by Christian Williams, USA, MCA Television

Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Created by Sam Raimi, USA, MCA Television

Van Helsing (2004), Directed by Stephen Sommers, USA, Universal Pictures

Hellboy (2004), Directed by Guillermo del Toro, USA, Revolution Studios

I, Robot (2004), Directed by Alex Proya, USA, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

King Kong (2004), Directed by Peter Jackson, NZ, Universal Pictures

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), Directed by George Lucas, USA, Lucasfilm

Avatar (2009), Directed by James Cameron, USA, Twentieth Century Fox

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Directed by Steven Spielberg, USA, Lucasfilm / Paramount

Game of Thrones (2011- ), Created by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, USA, Home Box Office (HBO)

The Golden Compass (2007), Directed by Chris Weitz, UK, New Line Cinema

The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Directed by Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski, USA, Warner Bros

The Matrix Revolutions (2003), Directed by Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski, USA, Warner Bros

Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest (2006), Directed by Gore Verbinski, USA, Walt Disney Pictures

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), Directed by Gore Verbinski, USA, Walt Disney Pictures

Ben Hur (1959), Directed by William Wyler, USA, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Titanic (1997), Directed by James Cameron, USA, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Percy Jackson & the Lighting Thief (2010), Directed by Chris Columbus, USA, Fox 2000 Pictures

Eragon (2006), Directed by Stefen Fangmeier, USA, Fox 2000 Pictures

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), Directed by Mark Waters, USA, Paramount Pictures

Divergent (2014), Directed by Neil Burger, USA, Summit Entertainment

The Hunger Games (2012), Directed by Gary Ross, USA, Lionsgate

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