The Lord Of The Rings' Fight Choreography Had To Do More Than Just Look Cool

I still remember the unreal awe I experienced as a kid watching the spectacle of "The Fellowship of the Ring" come to life in theaters. Its three-hour runtime is virtually a goosebump minefield, from Gandalf's showdown with the Balrog in Moria to the heart-wrenching splitting of the fellowship at Parth Galen. It's also no coincidence that some of the most emotional scenes in Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy occur within the chaos of battle. 

Especially in that first film, the choreography of every fight scene can be summed up as more than just flashy sword-swinging. Take the ambush in Balin's tomb: not only is there no lull in that entire scene but it also manages to invest you in the individual fights of every member of the fellowship. It's a method similarly used throughout "Game of Thrones" and most potently in the episode "The Battle of the Bastards."

So how do you ride that fine line between action and drama that gets audiences to care about a battle rather than just tune out? When it comes to the cast of "The Lord of the Rings," it all starts with the commitment of actors and stunt workers to their individual roles. 

Imagining what elves would be like

Orlando Bloom once revealed to E! that playing an elf created a responsibility of sorts to seriously consider how said fantasy creature would move or act. "I thought about him in terms of his physicality and how he would move," he explained. "And how he would stand, and how he would be poised." It also meant he had to anticipate how someone with superhuman strength, reflexes, and senses like eyesight might carry themselves. Bloom continued:

You know, I was thinking about him in terms of an animal and I thought, well, he's kind of cat-like. You know how a cat will jump up onto a table and just stop, you know? I mean, that's like Legolas. He's kind of – all of his muscles are totally in balance and he's focused, you know, he has that kind of zen sort of samurai style to him."

Like most of the cast, Bloom always appears a little unrecognizable when he's fully in character. It still looks like him — if he too had luscious yellow locks and pointy ears. But the way he moves his body, his mannerisms, the way he speaks, and gracefully dispatches enemies, all of it seems to say this is another person entirely. 

It's also what makes Legolas' moments in battle so mesmerizing. Like when he's surfing down some stairs at Helm's Deep atop a Uruk-hai shield slinging arrows or taking down a Mûmakil all by his lonesome at Pelennor Fields. When Legolas joins the fray you know he's going to be both deadly precise and exceptionally calm, an image that Bloom nurtures throughout the trilogy. But even the actors who only made it into one film were just as committed to using their fight scenes as an opportunity to really say something about their character.

Sean Bean saw Middle-earth diversity in the fellowship's fighting styles

Before Sean Bean was Ned Stark, he was Boromir of Gondor. Which makes him no stranger to adapting characters from much-beloved fantasy novels — or dying as them. But Bean's onscreen death in "The Fellowship of the Ring" is far less tragic given how he goes down: valiantly defending Merry and Pippin while also earning points for undeniable bada**ery in taking three arrows to drop. 

A big part of why that scene worked goes back to each actor's unique choreography. "We've all developed our own styles of fighting," Bean told E! "I mean, like Legolas, he's got a very distinct style, and Aragorn is very courageous, very slashing and wild, and Boromir's got his style too." He also emphasized that creating a fighting style distinct to each character would also highlight the "different backgrounds and ... cultures" of each warrior. Everything from armor, weapon choice, and range of movement had the potential for saying more about a character than dialogue ever could.

Given that the fellowship itself was made up of different races that called Middle-earth home, it made sense to lean into showing the ways in which they were dissimilar. Aragorn charging Lurtz and his Uruk-hai, taking on the entire group by himself, is pretty on-brand for a Ranger who didn't bat an eye at taking on the Ringwraiths at Weathertop. But Boromir is a formally trained soldier who uses both his sword and shield to fend off attacks. He also does his best to strategically retreat so he can fight one foe at a time — which might have worked if not for Lurtz's arrows.

John Rhys Davies didn't like to play pretend when shooting his Gimli fights

The way each of the characters fought onscreen also said a lot about the actors too, however. In the case of the stalwart and stubborn Gimli, played by John Rhys Davies, life imitated art a little more than expected. This particular anecdote comes from Dominic Monaghan who told E! that Davies was invested in his fights. 

But he wasn't a "big fan" of rehearsing those scenes and instead chose to channel the robust and sometimes fool-hardy determination of dwarves by just winging it. Monaghan continued:

"His method would be to say to the stunt guys, 'How many of you are coming towards me?' And they'd say, 'six,' and he'd say, 'Who's first?' And the guy would go, 'Um...I'm first.' He'd go, 'Ok, you come at me, and I'll hit you with my axe.' And then you come and I'll hit you. And he would just take these guys out!"

Which is exactly how I'd imagine Gimli would want to played. But as with Davies — those on the receiving end of his blows are who I think we should worry about. In the film Gimli is presented as just a little over four feet tall but Davies himself stands at six-foot-one. Even for those guys with armor — trained stunt men — the prospect of getting smacked around by Davies with an axe real or not can't exactly be ideal. 

Though it obviously made for stellar footage. So the next time you're doing a "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy marathon and you see Gimli give one of his foes a notably fierce wallop, remember there is a stuntman in there who took some serious thumps so you could relive the trilogy over and over again.