The Lord of the Rings movies are known for their massive, star-studded casts. Each is loaded with characters from various factions in Middle-earth. but due to the sheer number of individuals featured in the trilogy, several don't get their fair share of screen time in the theatrical cuts - especially those whose stories aren't central to the plot. In the extended editions, however, many of these short-changed characters finally get their due.
Peter Jackson, who directed all three Lord of the Rings films, has stated his preference for the theatrical versions, since the extended editions are mostly put together for the benefit of fans who want to see everything excised from the final cut. They also let viewers glimpse moments from the books that were ultimately determined unnecessary for the live-action version of the story. Perhaps the biggest reason why there's so much extra content in the extended editions is because each film is at least three hours long - and that's without the deleted material. Here's what was added in the Lord of the Rings extended additions.
Updated June 11, 2021 by Craig Elvy: This article was updated to include details about Peter Jackson's 4K remaster of the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring adds 30 extra minutes to the movie's runtime. A good chunk of this footage is comprised of minor scenes setting up future plot points that don't become important until the later installments, such as the moment where Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is spotted singing a love song in honor of his relationship with Arwen (Liv Tyler). Another added scene depicts Aragorn visiting his mother's gravestone, with Elrond trying to convince him to become the new King of Gondor.
Several shots tacked on at the The Fellowship of the Ring's first act shed new light on the Hobbits and help to introduce the main characters, particularly Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin). Sam's budding relationship with local barmaid Rosie Cotton, the woman he'll eventually marry, is explored to some degree too. These scenes allow the audience to learn more about Hobbits in general before the true adventure begins
A key scene included in the extended edition involves Frodo, Sam, and the Wood Elves. The pint-sized duo are camping when they spot Wood Elves leaving for the Undying Lands where they can live forever. The real significance of this scene is that it hails directly from the books. Another noteworthy addition comes when Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) hands out valuable gifts to the Fellowship of the Ring. Seeing each character receive their new items, like Legolas' bow and Gimli's...er... hair, isn't essential to the plot, but is still a neat inclusion, giving audiences chance to learn more about the main characters' magical items.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has even more additional footage in the extended edition than The Fellowship of the Ring. The super-sized cut boosts The Two Towers' theatrical runtime from 179 minutes to 223 minutes. This version adds a little more to the scenes with Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) during their encounter with Treebeard the Ent (voiced by John Rhys-Davies). Earlier in the film, when the Uruk-hai are taking the Hobbits to Isengard, Merry seems ill, so Pippin begs their captors give him water. Instead, the Uruk-hai offers some of their booze and laughs the request off.
Interestingly, much of Saruman's preparation for the attack on Helm's Deep was left on the cutting room floor, including the decision to burn the forest of Fangorn, encouraging the villagers to attack Rohan, and building a dam (the same one the Ents destroy during their destructive assault). One particular deleted scene present in the extended edition is a flashback that answers questions regarding the motives of Faramir (David Fenham), and provides an insight into his relationship with Boromir (Sean Bean) for the very first time. Boromir died prior to Faramir's first appearance, so the flashback allows them to feature in the same scene, and it's here we learn that their father, Denethor (John Noble), much prefers Boromir over his younger brother.
A new Aragorn scene reveals a few personal details that are in the book, but aren't directly addressed in the theatrical version of the trilogy. Aragorn is said to be 87, and this fact explains how he became such an experienced warrior. Knowing Aragorn's true age affords the viewer a better understanding of the character. Lastly, King Theoden's son is given a proper funeral in the extended edition; in the theatrical version, the film merely cuts to Theoden mourning Theodred after asking where he was.
With 51 minutes of extra footage, the extended edition for the third and final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy adds on almost an hour's worth of new content. This brings The Return of the King's total runtime to 4 hours and 11 minutes. The fact that the movie was already 3 hours and 20 minutes long explains why so much had to be cut, even though many edits feel like they belonged in the theatrical version. Among the changes are longer battle scenes at Helm's Deep and Isengard. The extended edition also gives Eomer (Karl Urban) one of his best scenes in the entire trilogy. A deleted scene shows Eomer's horror as he discovers his sister Eowyn (Miranda Otto) lying on the battlefield.
Another example of a major character missing out on their most important scene in the theatrical cut is Saruman (Christopher Lee). Saruman is an antagonist in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, but overlooked for the most part in The Return of the King. The theatrical cut doesn't end Saruman's story. The extended edition, on the other hand, includes Saruman's death scene. Saruman dies after being off pushed a balcony, where he is impaled by a spiked wheel below the Tower of Orthanc. Before this, when the heroes join the Rohirrim pushing back Saruman's orc army, the enemy troops flee into the forest and are implied to have been killed by the Ents inside, judging by the screams.
One character was cut completely from the original version: the Mouth of Sauron (Bruce Spence). The Mouth of Sauron is a disfigured creature with an unsettling appearance. He lies and tells the heroes that Frodo is dead, but Aragorn isn't fooled and chops off his head. Some argue this moment was out-of-character for Aragorn but Jackson claims the scene was cut because it lacked effect. One of the best moments cut from the theatrical Return of the King was Gandalf fighting the Witch King. Gandalf is losing the fight, but the sounding of the horn distracts the Witch King, forcing him to depart without killing the white wizard.
Other scenes in the Return of the King extended edition give various characters and storylines a chance to breathe and offer further explanation for certain actions. For instance, Eowyn and Faramir's romance is provided some screen-time, it's shown how Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli take the Black Ships and what happens after convincing the oathbreakers to help them, as well as how Aragorn's mind wins over Sauron when he holds the Palantir. Every movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy received many more scenes in their extended editions, but Return of the King easily had the most to gain.
One does not simply stop re-releasing The Lord of the Rings. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Frodo's cinematic trek to glory, Peter Jackson has remastered The Lord of the Rings in full 4K and Dolby Atmos, revitalizing the trilogy with a modern sheen. To be clear, there are no new or extended scenes added alongside the 4K transition, with the emphasis placed firmly on sound and visuals, rather than material that might've been left in the editing suite. One massive change is bringing consistency to the trilogy's coloration, since The Fellowship of the Ring's color timing utilized a totally different method compared to later installments. Everything now looks the same, from the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring, to Bilbo's return home in The Battle of Five Armies. As a consequence, the blue-green tint added by previous remasters has, mercifully, been removed.
As you'd expect, every frame looks nice and crisp compared to 20 years ago, with Jackson scanning the original The Lord of the Rings 35mm negatives to create a higher resolution than ever before. There's a pleasing balance between the natural warmth of film, and the crystal sharpness of modern technology, which is especially evident in close-ups. Some digital effects have been adjusted accordingly, since preexisting CGI can look nastier than a Balrog's backside in 4K. Peter Jackson has, however, been at pains to explain that the original effects aren't being replaced exactly, just brushed-up to get with the times.
Yes. The Lord of the Rings extended editions are a definitive improvement on the theatrical cut, which was already amazing to begin with. Very rarely are fandoms almost unanimously happy, but Peter Jackson managed to please Tolkien fans twice with Lord of the Rings - first with the original movies, and then again with the extended editions. For the overwhelming majority of Lord of the Rings fans, once you've seen the extended edition there's no going back. Moments like the death of Saruman, for example, become glaring, impossible-to-ignore absences. Sauron feels less intimidating without the Mouth of Sauron, and Aragorn's begrudging acceptance of his birthright loses poignancy without the flashbacks to his conversations with Elrond. The deleted scenes in The Lord of the Rings extended editions aren't just trivial fanservice moments -- they add an entirely new layer of depth, one that The Lord of the Rings theatrical cut feels almost naked without.
The only drawback for some is the length. It takes almost 12 hours to marathon every extended Lord of the Rings movie. The theatrical cuts weren't exactly short, but the extended editions had to be split across two discs in most physical formats. However, this has led to many advocates arguing that this makes life easier, as those constrained for time can view The Lord of the Rings extended edition in six under two-hour sittings. All three movies have a satisfactory midway cut-off point, and care was taken to ensure having to get up and change the disc disrupted immersion as little as possible. When each movie is just shy of four hours a break in the middle isn't the worst thing for many though, even hardcore Tolkien fans. Despite the fact they'd take half a day to watch back to back, there's an almost universal consensus that the extended editions are the best, and to some fans only, way to experience Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam's journey from the Shire to Mount Doom is one of the most epic adventures ever told, and the extended cuts are the closest cinema has come to truly capturing the scope and majesty of Tolkien's original text.