The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring's Ending Was Physically Painful To Film

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When putting together a master list of the riskiest and most gargantuan productions of all-time, "The Lord of the Rings" has more than earned its place at or near the very top. As if shooting all three films at the same time wasn't enough of a logistical challenge, director Peter Jackson and his core team of collaborators had to fend off unforeseen complications at the last minute, meddlesome studio executives, and the expected aches and pains involved in carrying out a large-scale film shoot on-location in remote areas. Combine all that with the sprawling ensemble cast brought together to bring to life author J.R.R. Tolkien's wonderfully rich and textured world, and it's an unqualified miracle that this trilogy even exists in the first place, let alone managed to explode in popularity as much as they did.

While many of the franchise's behind-the-scenes stories are the stuff of legend now (everyone, on cue: Viggo Mortensen broke his toe kicking that helmet in "The Two Towers," didn't you know!), some are a little more cloudy than others. While none are perhaps on the same level as the mystery of who poisoned that infamous lunch during filming of "Titanic," one such incident resulted in a significant injury to one of the trilogy's major cast members, creating yet another setback and delay in a production rife with them, not to mention a lingering question as to what exactly was the culprit.

Here's why filming the ending of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" proved to be, quite literally, so painful.

Watch your step!

Of all the most memorable moments generously spread throughout "The Lord of the Rings," no fan could possibly forget the bittersweet sequence that takes place towards the end of the first film in the trilogy. With the Fellowship scattered by and large in the aftermath of an ambush by the villainous hordes of Uruk-hai, the Ringbearer Frodo (Elijah Wood) takes a moment away from the carnage to himself. Knowing that he must complete the rest of his quest to destroy the One Ring alone, rather than condemn his friends to the same hopeless fate as his own, he sets out on their boat to continue his journey to Mordor across the river ... until his loyal friend Samwise (Sean Astin) swims out and insists on joining him.

As heartwarming (and heartbreaking!) as this was to watch, the actual filming of this moment couldn't have been more different. In a retrospective with Esquire last year, Elijah Wood recalled the harsh conditions of that locale, especially when the original version of that scene called for Frodo and Sam's roles to be reversed. According to Wood, "The water was freezing. It was essentially a mountain runoff lake. And so I was in the water for about 45 minutes. Apparently I turned a shade of blue. And it took about an hour and a half to get warm again."

But disaster struck when it came time for Astin to wade into the water for the alternate take on the scene. Wood describes how suddenly a stray tree branch went right through his prosthetic hobbit feet and "...punctured the bottom of his foot and left a massive gash," requiring Astin to be airlifted from the remote area and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Hobbit feet and detective hats

A behind-the-scenes featurette included on the home release of "The Fellowship of the Ring" paints a more harrowing picture of these events, showing the moment soon after Sean Astin cuts hit foot and limps his way back to the shoreline. Of course, the production team hired divers to sweep the area of any potential dangers in the filming area, though clearly they missed one unfortunate hazard right where the actor ran into the water. But there's only one nagging mystery from this entire affair: nobody could ever find exactly what Astin impaled himself on. In Elijah Wood's recollection above, he references a branch. However, in the featurette (which you can see a clip of here, though be warned, there is blood), director Peter Jackson speaks fairly confidently of a "shard of glass." Will the real culprit, please come forward?

Luckily, adds some crucial context. Referencing Astin's book "There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale," the article includes an excerpt where Astin speculates how the production team could've overlooked such an injurious object.

"When the crew prepared the lake for this scene, they ran a rake along the bottom to smooth and make sure nothing was there. Unfortunately, they might have churned something up that was buried. Also, I was putting such force into the way I was marching into the water, while wearing just my hobbit feet, that anything with a sharp tip was going to do some damage."

Noting that they never found any sharp object, Astin instead muses that a harmless-looking branch may have caused all this mayhem. We may never know for sure, but the legend of this story will surely live on. Now, may I interest you in the tale of how one Orc was modeled after Harvey Weinstein?