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In the interest of getting lynched, I put about 30 minutes' thought into restructuring Jackson's Lord of the Rings into a four-film series. If you give a shit, I am spoiling this. (If you give a shit and I can still spoil it for you, I don't know what to say, really.)

First, I'm not thinking about Fellowship. That's not to say it's fine; it's to say I didn't think about it. My changes start at the end of Fellowship.

The key change is that we don't pay attention to both plot lines at once. The journey of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, from the Breaking to the escape from Cirith Ungol is a single film. The purpose of this film is to seriously explore the nature of the Ring, of Tolkienesque concepts of power and corruption and suffering, and to really bring home why it matters so much that the entire Forces of Good care about this mission. It might show the withering of Lothlorien under a Ring-wearing Galadriel's influence, for instance, or give us some Numenorean backstory when Faramir shows up. But the point of this film is to justify the metastory. When Aragorn takes a gambit, we understand that it's more than just his kingship at stake. It's the world. This is Film 3.

Films 2 and 4 are the game of thrones. Aragorn errant, Theoden impotent, Gandalf empowered, Saruman corrupt, Treebeard fading, Denethor insane. This is all told from Merry and Pippin's perspective to a fault -- as Tolkien intended, for that's why he put them there. Film 2 contrasts Eomer with Aragorn, and ends with Gandalf taking Pippin and riding post-haste to Gondor. Film 2 is about despair and about hope that is hope but yet not enough. Theoden's tragic figure, more profound than Denethor's later on, is a capable demonstration of the hope that is not enough. Grima's slyness, foreshadowing Saruman's silver tongue in his tower later, is calculated to drain away the hope that Gandalf fights to kindle. Film 2 lays out the ground for recognizing that, for all the warmth Sam brings Frodo, and for all the conviction Frodo has in Gollum, they never heal. They do not return to the sunlight. They do not have peace.

Film 4 is the counterweight. This is the maze of Faramir and Denethor, of the faltering of Denethor's stewardship. The bulk of the movie is taken up by Denethor's strange orders, his madness from gazing into the Palantir too much. At the halfway point, Theoden dies. Then we drop the hobbit's perspective by moving through Eowyn's memories to the point where Aragorn declined her company. And here we reach Film 4's low point, when the three are alone against the dead. The rest of the film makes the case for Aragorn King, and climaxes on the Battle of Pelennor Fields, complete with Legolas being Legolas. We are finally reminded of Frodo and Sam, departing Cirith Ungol and the vast army between them and their goal. "Here's what we do," Aragorn says as he sets up the war council. "We draw them out."

Film 5, the ending, is about the Scouring of the Shire. We spend the first 40 minutes finishing the threads of the story. At the outset, it is finally a foregone conclusion that Good Will Win because Aragorn is a Boss and Frodo thinks he might possibly feel a smidgen of hope at seeing the army trot off. (Get rid of the Mouth of Sauron. That whole scene fucks with my thematic rejiggering.) Instead, Gandalf does his eagle thing and Aragorn gets crowned and we're happy. Except we're only an hour in. Saruman and Wormtongue show up on the way back while they're talking about home. The next hour is spent on the Scouring, where Frodo refuses to draw his weapon, and ends with the Grey Havens scene.

That is how you bring the Scouring into the movies. By adding two more three-hour despair-laden productions. It would not have sold as well.
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