Refactoring the “The Two Towers”

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For Christmas, I (like many geeks and non-geeks around the world) got a copy of the “The Two Towers” boxed set (the 4 disc one). Should my wife ever read this, thanks again for this present.

Anyway, after devouring the main movie (more than once) and marvelling at how well the extended scenes fitted in, I eventually watched the Appendicies with the behind-the-scenes footage. As with the first movie, I found this information amazingly interesting; Peter Jackson goes to great trouble to make these documentaries comprehensive and intriguing.

One part that really struck me was the discussion of the love-story between Arwen and Aragorn. A key problem for the movie makers was that, in the book, these two are separated for the length of the book; most of the love story is actually in an appendix, not in the main story line. This wasn’t going to do for the movie. But how to overcome this separation?

If you’ve seen the movie (hey, anyone reading this not seen the movie?) you’ll know what they did. Aragorn gets wounded and rides in a bit of a daze, and a lot of the background gets pulled in during his delirium (they never make it clear if it’s meant to be pure flashback, or flashback combined with some sort of psychic connection to Arwen). I found it reasonably effective, and it kept close to the book. However, this wasn’t what they planned originally.

For a long time, the movie’s script writers thought they needed to bring Arwen into the movie, by having her turn up at Helm’s Deep, leading the elvish archers. This lasted long enough for them to train Liv Tyler in swordsmanship, and to shoot several scenes of her fighting side by side with Viggo Mortensen. But they weren’t happy with this; it didn’t feel right and when a rumour leaked to the ‘Net, the fans were outraged. “Arwen Warrior Women” was one comment, apparently; they felt (quite rightly) that it was a corruption of the character.

Then, one day, the script writers came up with the idea of the flashback sequence. The result was the footage they’d filmed was yanked, they filmed a bunch more (both for the flashback sequence, plus footage of Helm’s Deep that needed to be done), and they reworked the plot line, including the Worg attack on the refugee column.

In other words: they refactored the whole movie, by replacing a flawed design element with a better one. Absolutely amazing.

Think of that the next time you need to do a major design overhaul. I know I will. 🙂

Author: Robert Watkins

My name is Robert Watkins. I am a software developer and have been for over 18 years now. I currently work for people, but my opinions here are in no way endorsed by them (which is cool; their opinions aren’t endorsed by me either). My main professional interests are in Java development, using Agile methods, with a historical focus on building web based applications. I’m also a Mac-fan and love my iPhone, which I’m currently learning how to code for. I live and work in Brisbane, Australia, but I grew up in the Northern Territory, and still find Brisbane too cold (after 16 years here). I’m married, with two children and one cat. My politics are socialist in tendency, my religious affiliation is atheist (aka “none of the above”), my attitude is condescending and my moral standing is lying down.

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