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Tolkien had historical issues with Zimmerman’s treatment of Rohan and the Rohirrim, too. He complains that “in such time” kings like Théoden did not have private bedrooms, presumably meaning in Northern Europe during the early medieval period, which is roughly the inspiration for Rohan. He also said they did not have glass windows that could be thrown open, something he felt strongly enough about to put two exclamation marks on, and added, “We might be in a hotel.”
Overall, Tolkien felt that Zimmerman had shown no signs of appreciation of what his work was about, had treated the story “carelessly” and “recklessly,” and that the most important part of the story, the journey of the Ringbearers (i.e. Sam and Frodo) “has, and it is not too strong a word, simply been murdered.” This probably refers to a change that happened in between the original production notes and the treatment Tolkien read in 1958.
The original production notes followed the ending of the story fairly closely. In Zimmerman’s treatment, however, Sam abandons Frodo to Shelob, even after realizing he is still alive, out of a sense of duty to Middle-earth, and takes the Ring to Mount Doom himself – which Tolkien noted in the margin is the “opposite of [the] book.” When he reaches the fire and is about to destroy the Ring, he is attacked by Frodo, who is in turn attacked by Gollum. This is presumably why Tolkien wrote that Part III of Zimmerman’s treatment was “totally unacceptable to me, as a whole and in detail.”
What would Tolkien have thought of the animated films from the 1970s and 1980s, or the Peter Jackson films? He would almost certainly have found the Rankin/Bass films far too “Disneyfied,” but enjoyed Ralph Bakshi’s more serious take on the story. The Ackerman project was originally going to use a combination of live action, animation, and miniatures, so Bakshi’s blending of animation and live action might have appealed on that front, too.
There are some things he disliked in the Zimmerman treatment that did eventually show up in the Jackson movies. Aragorn draws a sword in Bree rather than carrying the Sword That Was Broken, the Black Riders screech rather than approaching silently, and Jackson has also added more fight scenes, including one at Weathertop, all of which were the subjects of complaints on the Zimmerman treatment. Tolkien even pointed out to Ackerman that the battle between the Rohirrim and the Orcs in The Two Towers should be called “the defence of the Hornburg,” not “Helm’s Deep” because Helm’s Deep is actually the ravine behind the Hornburg and is not shown. Good thing he never saw all those “I Survived Helm’s Deep” t-shirts Jackson gave to his production crew after the very difficult shoot…
On the other hand, given Tolkien’s preference for abridgement over compression, it seems quite likely that he would have been less annoyed about the cutting of Tom Bombadil than many of his fans are. Zimmerman’s script actually included Bombadil and his partner Goldberry, who was introduced as a glimpse of skin through a waterfall. Tolkien remarked that “she had far better disappear than make a meaningless appearance.”