Fans of the film often speculate why the characters didn't just fly on the giant eagles into Mordor and drop the ring into Mount Doom. This is not, in fact, a plot hole. This was explained in the book but the film makers didn't think there would have been a need to because they felt it was obvious why they didn't do this. The eye of Sauron would have been a major obstacle.
Since John Rhys-Davies suffered constant rashes from wearing the Gimli make-up, the make-up department gave him the opportunity to throw his Gimli mask into the fire on his last day of pick-up photography. He didn't hesitate a moment to grab and burn it.
Billy Boyd's singing scene largely came about because Philippa Boyens went for a night out at a karaoke bar with the younger male cast members and she was very struck by the quality of his voice. Remembering that Denethor asks Pippin to sing him a song when Faramir heads off to war, she resurrected the lyrics from the novel and Boyd himself came up with the tune for it.
The opening scene - in which Smeagol discovers the Ring and starts on the slippery slope towards ultimately becoming Gollum - was actually directed by Fran Walsh. Originally it was set to appear in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), immediately after Frodo first revealed Gollum's real name.
According to a magazine article, Peter Jackson hated the Army of the Dead; he thought it was too unbelievable. He kept it in the script because he did not wish to disappoint diehard fans of the book trilogy.
The dead oliphaunt carcass used in this film is reportedly the largest prop ever built for a motion picture. According to members of the prop department, director Peter Jackson still thought it could have been bigger.
Each of the cast members was given a gift on their last day of shooting, usually a prop that was significant to their roles. Miranda Otto received one of Eowyn's dresses and her sword, Liv Tyler received Arwen's "dying dress", Orlando Bloom got one of Legolas' bows.
In every installment of the trilogy, one character says the subtitle of the film. In Fellowship during the council scene Elrond refers to the nine as the "Fellowship of the Ring"; in the Two Towers it's Saruman who says "The Two Towers" during a voiceover; and finally in this film, Gandalf tells the steward of Gondor and he can't refuse the Return of the King.
After the premiere in Wellington, the city held a party that went on till dawn, funded by the City Council to the tune of $400,000, with street performers, outdoor screenings, an introduction from Prime Minister Helen Clark and a giant mock-up of a Nazgul flying over the Embassy Theatre.
Shelob's shriek is the combination of several elements, including the sounds of a plastic alien toy, steam hisses (inspired by an incident where an alligator hissed at Peter Jackson's daughter Katie Jackson), and the shriek of a Tasmanian Devil.
The movie marks the second time in history that the third movie in a trilogy was nominated for Best Picture, by the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, after The Godfather: Part III (1990) and the only time that a third movie has won the Best Picture Oscar.
In the scene where the Hobbits return to Hobbiton, three of the hobbits had slight problems during the shoot. Elijah Wood had a hard time controlling his pony, Sean Astin was allergic to the ponies, and Dominic Monaghan was in a really bad mood because of technical aspects revolving around the scene. Billy Boyd was "in stitches" during the shoot.
Elijah Wood is noted for his ability to stare fixedly in front of him for ages without blinking, which came in very useful for the scenes where the comatose Frodo was wrapped up in Shelob's web-like cocoon.
Andy Serkis's last day of filming was only a few weeks before the theatrical release. On the carpet of the floor of Peter Jackson's house, they filmed the facial reaction of Smeagol/Gollum when he realizes Frodo intends to destroy the ring. The resulting video was e-mailed to Weta Digital so the animators could replicate the shot with the CGI character.
The final reel of the film to be completed was done only five days before the world premiere in Wellington, New Zealand. It was actually still wet from the developing process because there was no time to dry it. The premiere was the first time that Peter Jackson had seen the completed film.
(Extended Edition only) The runes on the helmet worn by the Mouth of Sauron, when transliterated, say "Lammen Gorthaur". Lammen means voice, and Gorthaur, which is mentioned in the Silmarillion, means Dread Abomination, another title by which Sauron was known. The complete phrase, "Voice of the Dread Abomination", identifies the speaker as the Mouth of Sauron.
Since 2007, composer Howard Shore and conductor Ludwig Wicki have worked together to bring the movies to the concert hall, with the complete score being performed live to the movies by a complete symphony orchestra and chorus.
The final day of filming on the trilogy actually happened over a month after this movie was theatrically released, and three weeks after the 2004 Academy Awards. Peter Jackson arranged to film one final shot of skulls on the floor in the tunnel of the Paths of the Dead, which was included in the Extended Edition of ROTK. He thought it was funny to be doing filming on a movie that had already won the Best Picture Oscar.
Where Frodo is stabbed by Shelob's stinger, Elijah Wood was actually stabbed with a prop one. On the Extended DVD Commentary, he and Sean Astin comment that it was not only very, very painful, but had actually done damage to the point that Wood had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days. Astin (on the Commentary track) jokes that they used appendicitis as the excuse, but wonder if that event is what (ironically) caused Wood's actual episode of appendicitis later on (2003).
Bret McKenzie had a silent cameo as an elf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). His attractive character was noticed by female fans, who dubbed him "Figwit" (short for "Frodo is great...who is THAT?!?"). His celebrity on the Internet was such that Peter Jackson (who has informally accepted the use of the name), brought him back in this film as Arwen's escort, with two script dialogue lines.
Andy Serkis was not the film-makers' first choice to play the real Smeagol at the beginning of the film. However, once they started considering other actors, they realized that Serkis was the natural choice.
To get enough extras for the Battle at the Black Gate, a few hundred members of the New Zealand army were brought in. They apparently were so enthusiastic during the battle scenes that they kept breaking the wooden swords and spears they were given.
Then 26-year-old Stuart Townsend was set to play Aragorn, but was let go after the six weeks of training and rehearsal and one day into filming because director Peter Jackson felt the character should be played by someone older. He was replaced by forty-one year old Viggo Mortensen
Filming was progressing on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) in the location of Queenstown when suddenly the town was hit with massive floods and exterior filming had to be suspended. The only available indoor facility that could be used for a studio set was the squash court in a local hotel. Thus, the next day the next scene to be filmed was the intense moment from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) when an obsessed Frodo sides with Gollum and sends Sam on his way. Both Elijah Wood and Sean Astin baulked at having to do such a pivotal scene without preparation (Andy Serkis had not been cast at this point so someone from the crew filled in for Gollum) but filming went ahead as planned. Astin's scenes were all successfully completed. The next day, however, the sun came out and the floods abated so exterior filming could resume. The intent was always to return to the squash court (where the set remained standing) to do Elijah Wood's scenes, but, for the next five weeks there was no rain to interrupt exterior filming. At the end of that period, the crew had moved to a new location. Elijah Wood finally got to do his side of the scene one year later in the same location - the squash players of Queenstown had been without a court for that whole amount of time as the set had remained in place on the court the entire period.
Great caution was taken for the scene where Faramir is dragged back to Minas Tirith on his horse. The filmmakers were afraid that the horse might suddenly start to run, dragging David Wenham behind it so a release system was built into the saddle. Wenham held a handle in his right hand, and if the horse started to run, he could simply pull it and be released from the stirrup. Fortunately, they ended up not needing it.
Facts and numbers about the trilogy: Over 6 million feet of film shot during production; 48,000 swords, axes, shields, and makeup prosthetics; 20,602 background actors cast; 19,000 costumes made by the wardrobe department; 10,000 crowd participants at New Zealand cricket game who made orc army grunts; 2,400 behind-the-scenes crew members at height of production; 1,600 pairs or prosthetic hobbit feet created; 250 horses used in one scene; 180 computer special-effects artists employed; 114 total speaking roles; 100 real locations in New Zealand used for backdrops; 50 tailors, cobblers, designers and others in wardrobe department; 30 actors trained to speak fictional dialects and languages; 7 total years of development for all three movies.
The end-credit portraits of each of the lead actors appearing alongside their name was the suggestion of Ian McKellen. The sketches were created by production designer Alan Lee from production stills, although what is seen on the movie is actually a slight morph between the sketch and the original photograph.
On the Extended DVD extras, Peter Jackson explains that the head of Gothmog, the Leader of the Orcs during the Siege of Gondor, was partly derived from the head of Joseph Merrick, also known as The Elephant Man (1980). Also of influence was the alien leader from Jackson's earlier film Bad Taste (1987).
Denethor (John Noble) carried a sword strapped to his belt. Although he never draws it, the prop department made a full sword that could be drawn from its sheath, so that Noble would feel as important as the rest of the cast which used their swords.
When Aragorn holds his speech to the troops he says "A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down!" This is a very close paraphrase to 45th stanza of the old Norse poem Völuspa which describes Ragnarök. The original stanza goes about like this: "Brother shall strike brother and both fall, Parents shall defile their kin; Evil be on earth, an age of adultery, Axe time, sword time, Of splintered shields, A wind-age, a wolf-age till the world caves in; No man will spare another." The same poem is also the source of several of the names of the dwarves in the world of Tolkien.
EASTER EGGS: On the Extended Edition DVD, Disc 1, as per the first two movies, go to the scene selection menu, to the last page. Press down until a ring icon appears next to the "new scene" phrase; Up comes a satellite "interview" of Elijah Wood, given by Dominic Monaghan using a German accent. Do the same thing on disc 2 to uncover an MTV skit featuring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn pitching LOTR sequels to Peter Jackson.
It has the highest perfect score at the Academy Awards, with 11 wins out of 11 nominations. Its wins also means that the LOTR franchise has won every category it was nominated for except one (Best Supporting Actor).
In the Extended Edition, the Mouth of Sauron is played by Australian actor Bruce Spence. Spence's real mouth was digitally enlarged to underscore his role in Sauron's service, as well as further give the character an inhuman aspect.
The London Daily Mail reported (5 December 2003) that the stars of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy were paid bonuses on top of their salaries, depending on how long cast members spent on the three films. The hobbit actors, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan received bonuses of between 430,000 and 560,000 per film. Bernard Hill and Ian McKellen earned 312,000 per film, with Liv Tyler making a little less.
WILHELM SCREAM: -When a Southron/Haradrim is knocked off an Oliphaunt/Mûmak by Legolas. -When a Mûmak-wrangler gets hit by a spear thrown by Éomer right before the collision of the two Mûmakil during the Battle of Pelennor Fields. -During the Retreat from Osgiliath, when Faramir is leading his men in a frenzied charge back to Minas Tirith, a fell beast picks one of the soldiers off his horse.
Horses owned by the production company were placed up for auction to the cast and crew after the film was shot. Viggo Mortensen purchased two horses, the one he rode for most of the film, and one for Liv Tyler's riding double.
Frodo and Sam's climb up Mt. Doom was shot on a volcano called Ruapehu. The footing was so steep on the volcano that Elijah Wood and Sean Astin were hooked up to safety wires. If one of them lost their footing, the wires prevented them from sliding halfway down the volcano. The wires were painted out digitally.
Listed on the first release of the cast list for this film was Wi Kuki Kaa, who was to have appeared as a character named Ghân-buri-Ghân. In the book this character is the chieftain of the Woses, a group of wild men that inhabited the the Druadan Forest of Gondor who offered their assistance to the Rohirrim as they passed through. Ghân-buri-Ghân does not appear in either the theatrical or extended editions the film, nor is any mention of him made.
Gollum is missing his left ear lobe. This is due to an air trap in the casting that was made for Peter Jackson's approval of the figure. When looking at the casting, the design team concluded that it should stay that way since it looked like a battle wound that might have occurred during Gollum's past adventures.
The "fall of Smeagol" scene had to be digitally touched-up in two ways. First, Thomas Robins (Deagol) accidentally blinked after being strangled. However, Peter Jackson liked that particular shot so much better than others that he decided to have the Weta Digital crew "freeze" the eyes. Second, in the shot where Smeagol falls on the rocks (just before Gollum begins to narrate), Andy Serkis' legs were considered to be too muscular and athletic, and so they were digitally thinned-down.
In the scene when Denethor attempts to burn Faramir on the pyre, the pyre could not truly be on fire because Gandalf's horse would not go near it. To solve this, the crew reflected a real fire onto a pane of glass in front of the camera so that it looks as though the pyre is burning.
The deformed Orc leader Gothmog is only mentioned once in the original novel of "The Lord of the Rings" - identified only by name and as the Lieutenant of Morgul. His race is not given; it was the filmmakers' choice to make him an Orc. The name Gothmog is shared with the leader of the Balrogs in Morgoth's army in "The Silmarillion", J.R.R. Tolkien's history of Middle-Earth centuries before the events in "The Lord of the Rings".
The scene where Aragorn's army assembles in front of the Black Gate of Mordor was shot in a desert that was used by the army as a training field. Because it was still littered with mines and bombs that hadn't gone off, the army had to sweep the field with metal detectors to make the danger for the actors and extras acceptable at least.
The amount of money that New Line reclaimed in tax breaks on the 3 "Lord of the Rings" films was ten times more than the entire annual budget of the New Zealand Film Commission, which funds local film-making.
Won the Science Fiction Achievement Award (Hugo Award) for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form in 2004. This makes it the first work to take the top film honors in both the Oscars and the Hugos. The "profane acceptance speech" Gollum made for the MTV Movie Awards won the Hugo for Best Dramatic presentation, Short Form.
When Frodo is stuck in Shelob's web, as Gollum taunts him, Elijah Wood was actually suspended on a harness with bungee cords fastened around his wrists and ankles. On the commentary, he jokes that he was "not hanging up by sheer strength of the web".
The Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed on a large field heavily populated with rabbits. The place had to be carefully inspected for rabbit holes, which were all filled in due to the danger they would pose if a horse were to step into one, which could cause a major pile-up, with injuries to both horses and riders.
The sounds of the Orcs were in part recordings of elephant seal pups at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, a marine mammal hospital that rescues, rehabilitates and releases sick and injured seals, sea lions, whales, and dolphins.
The battle scenes, which reportedly contain over 200,000 digital participants, are so huge that an extra room had to be built onto Weta Digital's effects facility to house all the computer equipment needed to render the scenes.
In the scene where Faramir is leaving Minas Tirith, he and his soldiers are riding their horses downhill. Because the streets were paved with smooth bricks, the usual steel horseshoes proved to be too "slick" and the horses were all re-shod with rubber horseshoes.
The original design for the Witch-King featured a helmet that resembled a bucket with a crown of spikes on top. However, after watching test footage, the producers thought it looked confusingly similar to Sauron's helmet from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). The redesign was made to pay homage to the Ringwraith designs. In addition, they also redesigned the Witch-King's mace. Peter Jackson said the original mace was OK but he wanted it bigger. Weta workshop enlarged it, but Jackson wanted it bigger, so they made it bigger. In the end, it was so large and heavy, it had lost practical use for the fight scenes, in which it was replaced by a digital version.
Minas Tirith and the surrounding area are actually a combination of several locations. The seventh tier was a back lot set at Three Foot Six Studios. The other streets were a maze-like set built at the same rock quarry where the Hornburg (Helm's Deep) was shot. Pelennor Fields was a large open field in Twizel. Osgiliath was another back lot set. The full cities of Osgiliath and Minas Tirith were built as models. The surrounding mountain ranges were a digital composite of photographs taken of several mountain ranges in New Zealand.
The last words exchanged by Elrond and Aragorn are "I give hope to Men," "I keep none for myself," are taken from Appendix A, in which the Elvish translation of those lines (Onen i-Estel Edain, u-chebin estel anim) are the final words of Aragorn's mother, Gilraen. Estel, meaning hope, was also the name given to Aragorn before his true heritage is revealed to him.
The scene on the extended DVD version of the "Corsairs of Umbar" being attacked by the army of the dead includes several cameos. Peter Jackson is the one hit by Legolas' arrow. (In the commentary, he states that he performed 6 or 7 takes of the hit - without any padding.) Co-producer Rick Porras is seen with a "look of horror" as the ghostly hoard attacks at the very end of the scene. Also in the scene are WETA supervisor Richard Taylor, prosthetics supervisor Gino Acevedo, and director of photography Andrew Lesnie.
The Steps of Cirith Ungol were crafted out of polystyrene, and proved a difficult set for Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, and Andy Serkis to film on. The steps were so steep and fragile that they sometimes broke, and because the steps were sprayed down with water, Astin and Wood sometimes got their Hobbit feet stuck to the steps and had to be pulled off.
At 35 letters "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" has the longest title of any Best Picture Oscar winner in history. It surpasses the record previously held by Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) which has 26. It also set the record for the number of words in a Best Picture title, with 10.
The "oil" that Denethor pours over himself and Faramir was a combination of water and glycerin, to achieve an appropriate glistening effect. Because this soaked the wigs and costumes, this scene had to be filmed in a single take.
While much of the score to these films was a departure from Howard Shore's usual style, Peter Jackson told him that, to score the Shelob's Lair scene, he should "Go off and pretend you're making another movie for David Cronenberg. This should sound like The Fly (1986)!"
Aragorn speaks to Eowyn before departing on the Paths of the Dead. In the book, this is actually the first time these two characters speaks to each other, and is a much longer scene. It begins with her bringing him a goblet of mead, and their discussion includes her saying that she does not fear death, but rather "a cage," and that his other followers go with him not because he commands it but because they love him. Since these characters met earlier in the films, those story elements were used in earlier exchanges between the characters in both this and the previous film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002).
The scene of the Rohirrim charging the Pelennor had to be filmed 52 times before the crew were satisfied with the take. During this process, about 60 of the 280 horses participating had to drop out for various reasons.
The character of Irolas was originally written to be Beregond, a character who appears in the book. Irolas does not appear in the book, but he is identified as being Beregond's brother (spelled Iorlas in the book - the name "Iorlas" means "Old Leaf", whereas "Irolas" has no meaning in Sindarin Elvish).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
While filming Saruman's death scene (now on the extended DVD), Peter Jackson tried to tell Christopher Lee how to react and breathe after he was stabbed in the back. Lee, a WWII veteran with British special forces, assured the director that he knew what a man sounded like when stabbed in the back.
The last shot of principal photography was when the newly-crowned Aragorn bows to the four Hobbits. Although Viggo Mortensen did not need to be on set for that day, he nevertheless insisted on attending. He didn't have a crown (it wasn't necessary - he wasn't being filmed) so he fashioned one out of paper. With each successive take, the crown was becoming more ornate and sillier as crew members kept decorating it, so the four actors playing the Hobbits often had difficulty suppressing their giggles.
Viggo Mortensen and Billy Boyd were standing off-camera during Sam's wedding scene, pretending to be wedding guests in order to help Sean Astin's performance. After Sarah McLeod threw her bridal bouquet to Boyd, Mortensen gave Boyd a passionate kiss. The filming of the scene (and the kiss) appear on the extended version extras.
Even though Saruman's demise appears in the Special Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Christopher Lee was (and still is) "not amused" that his character was cut from the theatrical release. In an interview done after the release of the Extended Edition, he acknowledged that the makers gave him several arguments for trimming the scene (pacing and time constraints), but in his opinion, none of them justified omitting such an important narrative element. As a result, Lee and Peter Jackson had a brief falling out. Lee eventually agreed to appear in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and asked Jackson if his scenes had been cut when he was invited to the premiere.
In the book, Eowyn rides into battle with the Rohirrim, taking Merry with her, but without revealing her identity to them or the audience. Instead, she is disguised as a character who calls himself "Dernhelm," and only reveals herself in the battle when she takes off her helmet to show the Witch-King that she is a woman. In the film, Merry and the audience are always aware that it is Eowyn. The filmmakers made this change because they felt that, in a visual medium, it would be difficult to conceal her identity, and because not recognizing her would make Merry look like "the stupidest Hobbit on Earth."
Special care was taken to make sure that the destruction of Sauron's tower of Barad-dûr did not resemble the destruction of the World Trade Center. For this reason, it disintegrates from the ground up, and the sound was made from breaking glass, so that it would not sound or look as if it were exploding.
The Oscar-winning end-title song, "Into The West", while being directly about Frodo's departure, was inspired by Cameron Duncan's struggle with cancer. The first time the song was ever played publicly was at his funeral.
Like Billy Boyd earlier in the film, Viggo Mortensen also composed the tune and sung the part to the song Aragorn sings at his coronation. The translation of the Elvish words runs "Out of the Great Sea to Middle Earth I am come. In this place I will abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world." This is, according to the book, the same verse Elendil sung when he first arrived in Middle Earth from Númenor.
For the Special Extended Edition, the scene in which Pippin is looking for Merry after the battle on Pelennor Fields was digitally altered so that it appears to be night instead of day. According to Peter Jackson on the commentary track, this was done to make it appear that Pippin has been looking for hours instead of minutes, underlining the friendship between the two Hobbits. In the original edit, because it appears that Pippin has only been looking for a few minutes his reaction to finding Merry seems like he's overreacting.
When filming the scene "The Sacrifice of Faramir" David Wenham's horse became excited and ran away with him. A professional rider had to chase the horse and stop it. David was not a rider and had not been taught what to do in such a situation, to pull the rein and force the horse to turn too sharply. Horses cannot run in a tight circle and this would have stopped the horse. Thankfully, David was not harmed. (The extras in the Extended Edition DVD has the full story.)
The Grey Havens scene had to be shot three times, much to the dismay of the actors, who had to be crying for most of the scene. On the first try, it was discovered in viewing the dailies that Sean Astin was wearing the wrong shirt under his cloak. After shooting the scene a second time, the negatives were inadvertently exposed to light during processing, causing a white haze over the entire day's footage. It was finally captured successfully on the third try.
Lawrence Makoare plays both the Witch-King and the orc Gothmog. At one point the two characters exchange dialogue, and later Eowyn fights both (she injures Gothmog, who is then killed trying to attack her, and she kills the Witch-King).
For the moment where Eowyn comforts the dying king Theoden, Miranda Otto had to play most of the scene without her co-star as Bernard Hill had already completed filming all his scenes and had been given a farewell party. Fortunately, when the film-makers realized they wanted to do a little more with the scene, they were able to call on Hill - who was holidaying on New Zealand's South Island - to come back for one more day of filming.
The film was originally going to end with a voice-over epilogue by Cate Blanchett's character, Galadriel, detailing the fate of the fellowship of the ring after the events of the movie. Scenes showing Gimli and Legolas for this purpose had been shot, but were not used in any version of the finished movie.
Peter Jackson purposely avoided filming Frodo's left hand after the Mordor scenes to avoid conflicts as to the positioning of the wound on the index finger. It is only seen twice: when the Fellowship is re-united (the hand is bandaged) and when Frodo is writing his final pages in the Red Book (before he turns back to add the title).
Originally, Aragorn was to have fought the physical embodiment of Sauron during the climactic battle at the Black Gate, but the footage shot was not used in the final film. Aragorn's fight with a troll at the Black Gate uses footage from the Aragorn/Sauron battle.
In the crowd shot of the scene of Aragorn's ascension you can see the blue banner with the silver swan of Dol Amroth being waved. The prince of Dol Amroth, Imrahil, isn't a major character in the story but is the one who discovers that Eowyn is still alive after her slaying of the Witch King.
The original storyboards for the destruction of Barad-dûr had a volcanic fissure appearing between Mt. Doom and the tower, with lava erupting into the tower and melting it from the inside. When the post-production schedule became too hectic, the sequence was simplified into the version that now appears.
The last scene shot during principal photography was a scene where Aragorn was dressed by Gondorian Soldiers in his armor before his coronation. The soldiers were played by people from the wardrobe department but the scene was eventually cut. Some behind-the-scenes footage of its filming can be seen in the Extended DVD extras.
Scenes were shot that involved Aragorn tackling Sauron one-on-one while outside the Black Gate. In the scene, Sauron would have appeared taller than the Sauron we see at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring. Once footage was reviewed, however, it was decided that to include this scene would pervert Tolkien's ideas, and also distracted too much from the climax of Frodo and Sam's storyline. Footage from the fight remains: Aragorn's charge outside the Black Gate was to take him into the fight. Temp work on this scene can be seen on the third disc of the Return of the King Extended Edition DVD.