Previously, I took issue with the changes made to the characters in the film versions of The Lord of the Rings. However, I acknowledge that film is a different medium than print, and that changes must be made to suit the new format. In this post, I put forth some of my own ideas about how the characters could have been interpreted in a film context.
Legolas and Gimli
The desire to do something off-the-wall with Legolas and Gimli arises, I think, from the fact that they’re vastly the most dispensable of the main cast. Even in-story, they’re only chosen as representatives of their races; in Unfinished Tales – The Istari, Tolkien says “Legolas probably achieved least of the Nine Walkers.” Of course this just makes casting Legolas as an action hero even stranger: No matter how effectively he fights, he never manages to kill anyone important or turn the tide of any event.
I think the key would be to focus on Legolas and Gimli’s unlikely friendship. Perhaps they could start the journey a little bit distrustful of each other (a natural consequence if it’s absolutely necessary for there to be a childish argument at the Council of Elrond). Then they gradually warm up to each other, have a friendly rivalry, and are inseparable by the end. This would also allow them to be grouped, reducing the number of independent characters the films need to depict*.
Merry and Pippin
At 29 years old, Pippin is by far the youngest member of the Fellowship (remember, hobbits don’t come of age until 33). In the books, Elrond is loath to allow him to go, because of his age. So an alternate handling of Pippin would be to treat him as the team kid. He can still goof around and cause trouble, as he does in Jackson’s films, but with the justification of youth and inexperience. Swearing fealty to Denethor would be his coming-of-age moment.
Merry, then, could have something of a big-brother relationship with Pippin (they are cousins, after all). That leaves the question of what to do with Merry once Pippin leaves, but by that point Merry is a dynamic enough character, riding about with the Rohirrim and stabbing the Witch-King of Angmar, that there is little need to think of additional ways to make use of him.
Oh, Faramir. Was anyone else just about throwing popcorn at the screen during his scenes in The Two Towers? One of the noblest characters from the books becomes a flatter version of Boromir. I’m not going to dwell on Faramir’s film depiction because it’s already been discussed many, many times; instead, I’ll note that the changes to Faramir’s character are largely a plot convenience. Since Shelob has been moved to the next film, a new conflict has to be introduced so that Frodo isn’t completely left out of the third act, and Faramir is the only available option.
Still, the sequence could be played more subtly and closer to Faramir’s original personality, and it would be a better scene as a result. Faramir’s decision in the movie to take the Ring to Minas Tirith is made quickly enough that it doesn’t build up much suspense, and the scene with the Nazgûl at Osgiliath, aside from opening a dozen plot holes, is just silly; nobody actually thinks that a Nazgûl is going to steal the ring. On the other hand, since we’ve just met Faramir and don’t yet know anything about him, his taking the ring for himself is a real possibility. A longer scene in the cave culminating in Faramir deciding not to take the ring would make more sense from a characterization perspective and, played correctly, it could actually be more suspenseful.
A better actor wouldn’t hurt, either.
There are many other characters I could get into–Denethor (a Lear-like tragic figure difficult to depict with so little screen time), Treebeard (in essentially the same situation as Faramir), Elrond (miscast to the extreme), and so on–but I hope I’ve given an idea of the possible alternate ways Lord of the Rings characters could be better adapted for the screen.
*Yes, I railed against lumping characters together in the previous post, but there’s a difference between grouping two people and treating them as one entity that even the mirror of Galadriel can’t distinguish.