For the record, I am a mildly fanatical "Lord of the Rings" fan, both movies and books.
So unsurprisingly I was overjoyed to find out about "The Lord of the Films: The Unofficial Guide to Tolkien's Middle-Earth on the Big Screen." It wasn't quite what I expected, since it's not so much a guide as a collection of Tolkienian trivia and behind-the-scenes information about the moviemaking process -- but it's still a thoroughly enjoyable, highly informative read.
J.W. Braun gives some lavish backstory to the making of the movie trilogy and the stuff that came before it, such as Bakshi's disastrous half-finished cartoon version. He also inserts some nice interviews with people involved in production: artist Paul Lasaine, makeup artist Vance Hartwell, "Zac the Orc," and design artist Daniel Falconer.
Each of the three movies is subdivided into important scenes and stretches of the narrative, and each of these chapters is filled with fascinating facts. Every chapter starts off on a light note with "What the Big Folk Were Saying" -- in other words, the weird and funny stuff that people in the theatres said ("Someone tell that thing his comb-over isn't working"), and there are fun little side-chapters that list various stuff about the movie (the worst merchandising toys! Easter eggs! The animated versions!).
The meatiest part is "What the Wizards Know," which is basically every piece of movie trivia Braun could dig up -- connections to the books, omitted scenes, changes from the original books, cut footage (Eowyn delivering a baby), significant cameos, clever tricks (Isildur's voice is actually Hugo Weaving's), production changes, casting that wasn't (Vin Diesel auditioned for Aragorn, and Russell Crowe declined the role), production tidbits (Shelob's webs were quite, erm, flammable), and so on.
There's also "What the Elvish Eyes and Ears Have Noticed," which are key changes (Merry and Pippin almost getting eaten by a tree in "Two Towers"), translation notes (Arwen calls Elrond "Daddy" at one point), and notable details in the film (Elrond doing paperwork). And finally there's "The Foolishness of a Took," which is basically nitpicking -- some are logistical errors, and some are basic production snafus (vanishing barrels!).
And just to round out the book, Braun tacks some extras onto the ending -- recurring themes, a list of important birthdays, an FAQ, and an enormous trivia game a more dedicated fan MIGHT be able to crack. I tried, and failed miserably.
J.W. Braun obviously adores both J.R.R. Tolkien's books and Peter Jackson's movie adaptations, because anyone who didn't couldn't have generated this detailed a book. He basically crams the entire book with details about both the production and the result of the moviemaking, and even though some have been revealed ad nauseam (Elijah Wood's audition tape) it's a treat to read some of the trivia that AREN'T as well known.
Braun also has a nice breezy style that lends itself well to the book. While most little info-nuggets are revealed in a straightforward, factual manner, he does offer opinions on some of the stuff ("Okay, so I just happen to be a Gríma/Éowyn shipper. Is that wrong? Don't answer that").
There are a lot of books on "Lord of the Rings" (both books and films), and "The Lord of the Films: The Unofficial Guide to Tolkien's Middle-Earth on the Big Screen" is a great addition -- as addictive as a Ring and as fun as a hobbit.