The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was originally supposed to end with a climactic battle between Aragorn and Sauron. However, after filming the scene, director Peter Jackson decided to cut the scene, and here’s why he was right to do so.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released over two decades ago and still remains one of the biggest and best movie trilogies in cinematic history. The third and final film of the trilogy, The Return of the King (ROTK), sees Hobbits Frodo and Sam reach Mordor in their quest to destroy the One Ring as Gandalf and Aragorn lead the World of Men against the Dark Lord Sauron’s army. The theatrical version of the film clocks in with a runtime of 201 minutes, or 3 hours 21 minutes. However, the director’s cut comes in at a whopping 251 minutes, or 4 hours and 11 minutes long.

Sam yells at Frodo in Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King
Image screenshot from Warner Bros. Entertainment official YouTube channel

An Aragorn vs Sauron scene was cut from The Return of the King

Needless to say, a number of scenes were left out of the director’s cut of the film to make the runtime more palatable for a theatrical audience. Behind-the-scenes outtakes from the film features director Peter Jackson and Aragorn actor Viggo Mortensen discussing a fight between Aragorn and Sauron.

The battle depicts Sauron first appearing in his angelic form, Annatar, the form he uses in the Second Age to deceive the Elven Smiths into making the One Ring. After blinding the heroes with a blast of bright, white light, Sauron assumes the same physical form seen in Galadriel’s prologue in The Fellowship of the Ring. During the Battle of Dagorlad, Sauron emerges only to be defeated by Isildur who takes the One Ring from him.

After showing himself to Aragorn in the unreleased footage from ROTK, Sauron and Isildur’s heir draw their weapons before facing off in a one-to-one battle. Aragorn is ultimately overpowered by Sauron, who is about to slay the rightful King of Gondor on the battlefield. However, Frodo is able to destroy The Ring, and in turn, Sauron, just before the Dark Lord is able to deal the lethal blow.

Peter Jackson on the unreleased scene from ROTK

In behind-the-scenes footage from ROTK, Peter Jackson discusses the Aragorn vs Sauron scene and how initially he felt they “really needed to do something more with Sauron than just have him staying in his tower as a flaming eye.”

He also said that he felt Aragorn had come so far on his journey, and with Sauron being his enemy, it was only right for them to have a personal duel. “However, it’s not in the book,” the director adds, “but we felt like it had to be in the movie.”

Jackson also added that they made Sauron much bigger than he ever was before.

However, after three days of filming fight sequences with Viggo Mortensen, Jackson realized: “It was not what Tolkien imagined. We realized it was totally demeaning to what Aragorn was doing.”

“[The story] was all about Sam and Frodo. Aragorn realizes that if they’re still alive, then he has to do what he can to help Frodo and Sam. And so Aragorn’s heroism is not a one-on-one duel with a big villain. His heroism is his attempt to put his own life and the life of his troops on the line in the vague hope and dream that it somehow may give Frodo and Sam that little opportunity to help them complete their mission.”

In the end, though, Jackson realized he needed Aragorn to be involved in some kind of heroic fight. So, he simply replaced Sauron’s fight scenes with a big, armored CGI troll which is what everyone saw in the theatrical cut of the movie.

Image of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King
Image screenshot from Warner Bros. Entertainment official YouTube channel

Why it was the correct decision

While the deleted scene of Aragorn vs Sauron would have undoubtedly made for an exciting climax for more casual viewers, removing it was clearly the correct decision.

Frodo’s mission to destroy The Ring was the central plot of the entire trilogy, and to take away from that would have done both the films and the books a disservice, particularly as Sauron never actually fights Aragorn in Tolkien’s The Return of the King. Additionally, the inclusion of Sauron’s angelic form would only confuse and distract movie audiences who had no prior knowledge of Annatar.

Sauron’s presence as an omnipotent, omnipresent, all-seeing eye raises the tension throughout the film and heightens his looming threat. To have him emerge as the ‘big, bad guy’ in a somewhat silly costume at the end of the third movie would have felt like an underwhelming and unnecessary conclusion to the trilogy.

It also wouldn’t make sense for Sauron to risk it all in battle when he had countless loyal creatures, led by the Nine, to do his bidding for him. Sauron had a history of avoiding direct confrontations, evidenced when he possibly hid during Morgoth’s wrath during the First Age, so the notion of him being on the front line is hard to believe.

The Black Gate Battle is both poignant and beautiful because the Fellowship and the armies of Men and Elves know it is a suicide mission in order to help Frodo. It is not an opportunity for Aragorn to go out in a blaze of glory at the eleventh hour to make it all about his sacrifice.

Peter Jackson realized all of this, and what the core of the movies was actually about, which is why he decided to leave the scene on the cutting room floor.

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