It’s hard to say whether The Return of the King concludes Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy with a happy or bittersweet ending, but whatever your opinion, the final moments of the film do leave plenty of room for hope. And there were a lot of final moments. The film has a famously long ending, covering Aragorn becoming king to the hobbits reuniting after Frodo and Sam’s big showdown at Mount Doom to Frodo and Bilbo deciding to move on from the lives they’ve always known in the Shire.
So Frodo encounters great darkness on his journey, but the movies always remember to balance it out with hope, which is likely how author J.R.R. Tolkien would have wanted it. The movies and books seem to suggest that light wins out against that darkness, but as it turns out, The Return of the King almost took Frodo to a much darker place during its climax.
Apparently, Jackson and his team considered having Frodo murder Gollum during their encounter on Mount Doom — something that would have no doubt altered the main character and the audience’s perception of him drastically. This came out in the 2006 biography Peter Jackson: A Film-maker’s Journey, where Jackson explained why they eventually chose to go forward with the version of the scene we know.
When we originally shot the scene, Gollum bit off Frodo’s finger and Frodo pushed Gollum off the ledge into the fires below. It was straight-out murder, but at the time, we were okay with it because we felt everyone wanted Frodo to kill Gollum.
There was one person, however, Jackson wasn’t sure would be thrilled with this particular development: J.R.R. Tolkien. Jackson pointed out that, had they gone through with this scene the way they’d initially intended, it would have been “very un-Tolkien,” adding that Frodo killing Gollum “flew in the face of everything that he wanted his heroes to be.”
Still, Jackson wasn’t sure Tolkien’s version of this scene was dramatic enough to be included either, although they did film it. When the characters are at Mount Doom in the book, Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger and accidentally falls into the lava while celebrating his victory. Tolkien felt that this outcome took Frodo out of the equation completely, with the major conflict of all three films being resolved by “accident.”
Instead, Jackson opted for a middle ground that would “preserve what was important to Tolkien” while also giving Frodo some authority. As the scene is, Frodo and Gollum wrestle over the ring and end up falling into the crack of doom together, although of course, Frodo manages to save himself before it’s too late.
While Gollum is the main reason the ring gets destroyed in the end, Frodo’s motives for his actions during the climax are left intentionally ambiguous. Jackson also believes his pity toward Gollum plays an important role.
There’s nothing that takes away from that. If Gollum hadn’t been there, if he had been killed earlier, then Frodo would have just kept it. We still had the presence of Gollum being the catalyst that led to its destruction.
A compromise between the two extreme versions of this scene was probably the best call, but it would be interesting to see a version of this story where Frodo goes down a path most readers and viewers would never imagine for him. Perhaps Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV show will have its characters embrace some of that darkness.
But enough about darkness. As a final treat, here’s what the Lord of the Rings movies would look like if they involved lightsabers:
h/t Digital Spy