The Lord of the Rings - The John Boorman Adaptation
In 1969 JRR Tolkien finally sold the film and merchandising rights of The Lord of the Rings to United Artists for approximately £104,000. A year later the studio asked director John Boorman if he could make the books into a viable film. Boorman, an established director with a track record of being experimental, set about developing a screenplay with his long term collaborator, Rospo Pallenberg. What emerged was a one hundred and fifty minute script and possibly the most radical adaptation of Tolkien's work. Some of the ideas and concepts it contained were extremely innovative but others where simply too radical a divergence from the source text. I’ve collated a few of these for your consideration. If you are familiar with Boorman's 1973 film Zardoz, then you will note both similarities and re-occurring themes.
1.) After the destruction of the Ringwraiths at the Fords of Bruinen, Frodo is carried into the sparkling palace of Rivendell, where in a vast amphitheatre full of chanting Elves he is laid naked on a crystal table and covered with green leaves. A thirteen-year-old Arwen surgically removes the Morgul-blade fragment from his shoulder with a red-hot knife under the threatening axe of Gimli, while Gandalf dares Boromir to try to take the Ring.
2.) The narrative of "The Council of Elrond" was to be visually interpreted as a fantastic medieval masque representing the history of the Rings. It was to combine elements of Kabuki theatre, rock opera, and circus performance.
3.) At the gates of Moria, the fellowship bury Gimli in a hole, throw a cape on him and beat him to a state of utter exhaustion to retrieve his unconscious ancestral memory. This ancient knowledge allows Gimli to recollect the word for entering Moria and gain insights about the ancient dwarf kingdom.
4.) Also in the Moria sequence, the orcs are slumbering or in some kind suspended animation. The fellowship runs over them and the rhythm of their footsteps start up their hearts.
5.) There was a proposed wizard’s duel between Gandalf and Saruman. This was inspired by an African idea of how magicians duel with words. The script reads:
Gandalf: Saruman, I am the snake about to strike!
Saruman: I am the staff that crushes the snake!
Gandalf: I am the fire that burns the staff to ashes!
Saruman: I am the cloudburst that quenches the fire!
Gandalf: I am the well that traps the waters!
6.) Perhaps the most provocative changes occur by introducing a sexual element. Not necessarily in a exploitative way but more of a metaphor exploring the nature of power. For example, before gazing into Galadriel's mirror, Frodo must have sex with her. Aragon's battlefield healing of Eowyn becomes a sexual analogy of the healing power of the king.
Needless to say, executives at United Artist failed to understand Boorman's script. The project was shelved indefinitely. When Ralph Bakshi approached the studio in 1976 with a proposal of adapting Tolkien's work in to an animated film, the script had to be purchased to acquire full artistic control. Boorman allegedly received $3,000,000 for his script. When Boorman later made his big screen adaptation of the Arthurian legend Excalibur in 1981, many parallels where drawn with The Lord of the Rings. It has often been suggested that many ideas from his the unused Tolkien screenplay made it in to that movie.