For all the uncertainty that swirled around Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s beloved texts, audiences unquestionably ate it up. “Fellowship of the Ring” took in $880 million worldwide, with “The Two Towers” pulling in an even more impressive $936 million. There was no longer any question regarding audience interest. The question was whether or not the trilogy would end on a high note, commercially speaking.
“The Return of the King” focuses on the final confrontation in the fight for the future of Middle-earth, with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) desperately trying to reach Mordor to destroy the ring while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leads what forces he can gather against Sauron’s army. Though principal photography had been finished years prior, as Jackson filmed all three movies at once, reshoots were needed during the post-production process. Back in 2003, Gandalf actor Ian McKellen recalled in his online journal “The White Book” how that process went for him:
“My work revolves around a few new lines that will be cut within scenes otherwise completed over two years ago, some of which I have no recollection of having read, let alone learnt and filmed! It’s little wonder that the director has had the same problem, solved by replaying shot footage on a palm-sized video recorder.”
Reshoots ran through June, which meant Jackson would be editing right up to the release date. But even with a hulking runtime exceeding three hours, some sacrifices had to be made. To that end, Christopher Lee’s Saruman was cut out of the theatrical version entirely. “When the third film came along and I wasn’t in it, I didn’t understand,” Lee said to Herald on Sunday in 2006. “I still don’t. However, you can have a difference of opinion in any walk of life but you can’t have ongoing arguments. I like Peter very much. He’s a brilliant director. I just don’t know why he did what he did.”