Aragorn's Sword Reforged
In the film, Narsil is forged into Andúril on the eve of Battle and is given to Aragorn by Elrond. In the book, Andúril is forged right before Aragorn and the Fellowship leave Rivendell. As discussed in the Fellowship of the Ring Book vs. Movie post, Arwen’s role in the films have been greatly expanded, and Peter Jackson originally suggested that Arwen would be the one to give Aragorn Andúril. Fortunately, the scene was changed to Arwen convincing Elrond to reforge the sword for Aragorn. Also, Elrond suggests that Aragorn travel into the Path of the Dead in the movie, not Elrond's son like in the book. If the Aragorn is not going to have Andúril reforged before leaving with the Fellowship, Elrond giving him the sword at this point in his journey is the most effective and powerful way to accomplish it.
Gandalf's Broken Staff
In the Extended Edition, Gandalf briefly confronts the Witch King and the Witch King breaks Gandalf’s staff. It is stated in the book that Gandalf is one of the most powerful beings in Middle Earth and that only Sauron could defeat him. Therefore, the Witch King easily destroying his staff does not make sense in that respect, which is why it never happened in the book. Also, without this scene in the Theatrical cut, there is no explanation as to why Gandalf does not have his staff in the final battle in the film, although I did not notice that until after watching the Extended Edition. Honestly, the decision to alter the source material is somewhat baffling. Aside from adding another layer of danger for the character, the alteration is mostly pointless.
In the Extended Cut of The Return of the King, Saruman's death happened at the Tower of Orthanc, at the hands of Wormtongue. Conversely, in the book, Saruman was killed by Wormtongue in Bag End after the Scorching of the Shire. Since the entire "Scouring of the Shire" chapter was excluded from the film, Saruman's death needed to be moved to another location in the film to tie up loose ends. For some ridiculous reason, this scene was cut from the theatrical version, thus Saruman's fate is left unknown in the theatrical release. Essentially, the change is absolutely necessary if the Scouring of the Shire is left out.
Scouring of the Shire
Out of all the differences between the book and the movie, the Scouring of the Shire might just be the largest, and oddly enough, it was one of my favorite chapters of the book because it was something entirely new and different. Unlike many of the other differences, the Scouring of the Shire is more of an omission than an alteration to the source material. In the book there is an entire chapter about the four Hobbits' return to the Shire and what has happened in their absence. The chapter demonstrates how Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo have grown as characters and warriors since their journey. Merry and Pippin in particular have basically become great warriors, and their military skill led the Hobbits to victory. While this might be a big omission, it is entirely forgivable since it would have only served to make an already long ending even longer. Although it would have been possible to throw this part into the movie, it would have at least taken another 20-30 minutes of extra footage. The Scouring of the Shire is almost another movie in itself! In fact, the movie actually corrects one aspect of the book that annoyed me a bit. In the book, Gandalf and the Fellowship allowed Saruman to escape the Tower of Orthanc, and when meeting Saruman later in the book, Gandalf makes no attempt to stop him. Essentially, Gandalf and the other are indirectly responsible for the Scouring of the Shire. In the end, the change was mostly necessary. Sure it would have been great to have this sequence in the film, but The Return of the King already had so many “False Endings,” another entire story line would have been disastrous to the pacing. On a side note, during the Galadriel scene where the Hobbits look into a possible future, what is shown is essentially what would lead to the Scouring of the Shire.
(Hamlette's note: Thanks for one last guest post for this read-along, James! I've really enjoyed reading your well-thought-out reasoning about why certain changes were made for Peter Jackson's movie versions. Everyone, don't forget to enter the celebratory giveaways here! Thanks to everyone who made my first read-along such a resounding success.)