Before Peter Jackson re-released his big screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 4K Ultra HD at the end of last year, he couldn’t resist tinkering with his beloved trio of blockbusters first. We’re not talking drastic, Star Wars: Special Edition-level changes here; all the original visual effects remain the same and Jackson hasn’t added any new scenes. Instead, Jackson has focused solely on remastering the colour timing and surround sound featured in The Fellowship of The Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King to make them more consistent – both with each other and with the newer Hobbit prequel trilogy.
This is good news for the legions of fans of Jackson’s Oscar-winning Middle-earth movies, who wouldn’t have accepted any changes being made to them… well, almost any changes. See, a sizeable segment of Tolkien devotees would support Jackson adopting a Godfather, Coda approach to re-editing The Two Towers if it meant changing how supporting player Faramir is characterised.
They’re dead wrong, though. Because Faramir’s portrayal in The Two Towers – while undeniably a major departure from the book – is actually a misunderstood feat of storytelling brilliance without which the movie (and the entire trilogy) wouldn’t work.
How is Faramir different in the Two Towers movie compared with the book?
So, what is all the fuss about how Faramir is depicted on screen? Is it really so different to how the young Captain of Gondor is described in Tolkien’s novels? In a word: yes.
The original prose versions of both The Two Towers and The Return of the King present Faramir as a gentle, reflective soul. He’s a reluctant (albeit capable) warrior who fights for the greater good, not for his own personal gratification or thirst for adventure. Tolkien’s Faramir is such a stand-up guy, he cheerfully rejects the One Ring. He’s so good, he even claims he wouldn’t take the Ring for himself if he found it on the side of the road (seriously!).
By contrast, Faramir as written by Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and portrayed by actor David Wenham, in the 2002 adaptation of The Two Towers is a decidedly less virtuous soul.
True, he’s still clearly a decent person – he’s able to see the error of his ways before the credits roll – and the film’s Extended Edition home release, and its sequel, The Return of the King, portray him in a more flattering light. There, Faramir’s kind-hearted, introspective nature is spotlighted more clearly, as is his strained relationship with his father Denethor, which somewhat rationalises his behaviour in The Two Towers.
But ultimately, the Faramir of the Lord of the Rings films is still someone who takes Frodo and Sam prisoner, stands back while his men dish out a savage beating to Gollum, and almost derails the entire quest to destroy the One Ring – all because of his Daddy issues and inferiority complex.
Why do fans hate the film version of Faramir so much?
Jackson’s take on Faramir in The Two Towers is obviously markedly different to Tolkien’s – but why do fans object to it so intensely?
Well, for starters, Faramir in the 2002 adaptation is a lot less likeable than his literary counterpart. Positioned as secondary protagonist, he makes life tough for Frodo and Sam, partly because of the corrupting influence of the One Ring, but partly because of his deep-rooted need to prove himself the equal of his brother, Boromir.
In fairness to Lord of the Rings readers, Faramir’s harsher temperament in the Two Towers film is genuinely jarring, especially since he’s essentially an author surrogate. Tolkien modelled Faramir’s personality on his own – instilling in Faramir his own distaste for violence and preference for literature and music over more “manly” pursuits – which makes Jackson’s adjustments seem all the more galling.
But for most Tolkien fans, the real sticking point is that Faramir in the Two Towers adaptation isn’t much better than Boromir, something that’s crucial to Faramir’s characterisation in the book.
In the novel, Boromir’s visible valour is juxtaposed with Faramir’s inner virtue – with Faramir’s quiet moral conviction revealing him to be the more worthy of the two siblings. Sure, Boromir is fearless on the battlefield, but he’s too weak to resist the temptation of the One Ring; he even tries to snatch it from Frodo! To put it bluntly: this big, tough hero faces the biggest test of his life and fails (although he does atone for it later).
Faramir, however, passes with flying colours; he’s both shrewd and humble enough to realise almost immediately that taking the One Ring for himself (even for the right reasons) would be a really bad idea. Everybody (including his own father) might underestimate him, but Faramir’s strength of character ensures he has the strength to do what very few people in Middle-earth could – including Boromir.
Things aren’t so clear cut in Jackson’s version of The Two Towers, though. Here, Faramir comes perilously close to claiming the Ring to use on Gondor’s behalf before relenting, mirroring Boromir’s own moment of weakness in The Fellowship of the Ring. This makes the differences between them less pronounced – and gets fans’ noses out of joint, as a result.
Why Lord of the Rings fans are wrong about the movie version of Faramir
So why did Jackson, Walsh and Boyens meddle with a beloved Lord of the Rings character like Faramir in The Two Towers? Because they had to. That’s no exaggeration, either: if Faramir had been depicted on screen the same way as he is in Tolkien’s book, it would’ve been a disaster.
First of all, Faramir’s torment-free reaction to the One Ring would’ve seriously undermined the dramatic tension underpinning the entire trilogy. As Jackson, Walsh and Boyens have explained in interviews, if Faramir was shown to renounce the Ring without batting an eye, it would have undone all their hard work establishing its supernaturally irresistible, corrupting nature in Fellowship of the Ring.
If Faramir encounters the Ring and just shrugs his shoulders and moves on with his life, casual moviegoers would be left thinking that it isn’t so bad after all. The knock-on effect of this would be to diminish Frodo’s own struggles with the Ring in The Two Towers and The Return of the King – and that’s obviously not ideal.
Faramir’s unfailingly pure disposition in the books also left Jackson and his writing team (not to mention Wenham) with the same problem they faced with would-be king Aragorn: he had no character arc. Faramir in the source material is so incorruptible, his honour so unwavering, that he never grows: he’s exactly the same character when we leave him as when we first meet him.
From a dramatic perspective, that simply wouldn’t fly on film. Tolkien obsessives may baulk, but it’s more emotionally satisfying to see Faramir wrestle with his inner demons – his very human urge to please his uncaring father and be seen by the people of Gondor as the equal of his popular big brother – only for his inner decency to win out once he’s confronted by the Ring’s true, destructive nature.
Addressing both of these Faramir-centric storytelling hurdles allowed Jackson, Walsh and Boyens to neatly resolve the biggest narrative roadblock facing their Two Towers adaptation: the absence of any obstacle for Frodo and Sam to contend with.
After moving the two Hobbits’ showdown with Shelob from the end of The Two Towers to the middle of Return of the King – both to reflect the in-universe chronology of Tolkien’s novels and to avoid cross-cutting with the Battle of Helm’s Deep – Jackson and co needed to fill the gap left by this super-sized spider. With their version of Faramir now susceptible to the One Ring’s seductive pull, it’s not surprising that Jackson, Walsh and Boyens quickly decided he was a good fit for this Shelob-shaped hole – and it worked.
Sure, these are all fairly drastic deviations from the Lord of the Rings canon. But combined, this recalibration of Faramir’s emotional arc and his role in story solves three potentially adaptation-sinking snags – which makes the Jackson trilogy’s most controversial change its most brilliant one, too!