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French “Studio” Magazine Article Translated

June 2, 2003 at 5:15 am by Tehanu  - 

By Sophie Benamon, translated by Eledhwen.

THE LORD’S NEW CHALLENGES

One year! We had to wait one year to see the second part of LOTR, the adventures of which Peter Jackson began to tell us last winter, leaving us – something almost unique in cinema history – in the thick of the action. It only made the wait more feverish. But this time, the excitement is different. Last year, it was mixed with fear – fear of seeing a cult book massacred by its journey to the big screen. This year, it’s all impatience. Because Peter Jackson won his bet. And how! To start with, the film did not disappoint Tolkien’s fans, who easily understood and forgave what they feared the most: the cuts in the story. The filmmaker knew how to make this expository novel, whose slowness could have been a problem, into an epic saga, an inspired vision, visually astounding and served by perfect casting. At the same time, the director achieved the marvel of helping another audience group, who knew nothing about this universe – who were even resistant to it – set out on this adventure.

The result: a colossal worldwide success, which brought in 860 million dollars and thirteen Oscar nominations, the third highest number in the history of these trophies. And masses of rewards all over the world. The craze crescendoed in August this year with the release of the DVD. In England, 1.3 million copies were sold on the first day, a record! And it’s a safe bet that many viewers will watch the extended version of FOTR (on sale since 13 November) before the release of TTT.

If, before, “only” the millions of Tolkien fans looked forward to the opening of LOTR, now a community of cinema fans a thousand times larger await Peter Jackson. Even more so, because the director has had to face new challenges relating to the story of TTT.

Firstly, the narration. “In the first film, the Fellowship of the Ring travels together,” says Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo, the Ringbearer. “But in the rest of the story, the characters are separated and each starts his own journey.” The filmmaker must therefore follow the protagonists in different places. Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) follow their road towards Mount Doom where the Ring must be destroyed; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli (Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies) have taken the road to Rohan; and Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd) are prisoners of the Orcs. Many different plots are never an easy thing in cinema – in comparison with literature, where a new chapter helps the transition. Though shooting has been officially finished for two years – because PJ filmed the three parts of LOTR simultaneously – the post-productions has needed almost as much time. The film has been in the editing stage for over a year. A perfectionist, Jackson never stops changing the order of sequences, in order to make the story more fluid. In June, he even brought his actors back to New Zealand to shoot additional sequences – which of course were anticipated, but people have said that the shoot was much longer than first announced. Amongst these scenes was a scene between Arwen (Liv Tyler) and her father, charged with dramatic intensity, because it highlights the dark future of the immortal Elf if she continues to love Aragorn. “It’s a privilege to be able to return to a story to refine the details,” explains Liv Tyler.

One of the bets of the film rests therefore on the alternation of intimate scenes and battle scenes. For the intrigue of the second film is much more dynamic than the first: the dark Sauron having allied with the fallen wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) – the title TTT refers most of all to the alliance of these two baddies – the forces of Evil are winning land and are menacing the people of Middle-earth. The War for the Ring is about to really start. Despite this, PJ must not sacrifice the dramatic intensity of the piece – which is one of the assets of the first film – on the altar of the spectacular.

84 nights for a mythical battle

One of the key scenes of the film will surely be the battle of Helm’s Deep, where the people of Rohan, helped by several members of the Fellowship, are confronted by thousands of Uruk-Hai, the monsters created by Saruman to kill. For this scene alone, the shoot took fourteen weeks. Or rather, 84 nights! “I was exhausted,” remembers Bernard Hill, who plays the king Théoden, one of the characters who appears in this episode. “In addition, I had armour which must have weighed at least 25kg, because it was soaked! We were shooting in the rain …” At the same time, a team of crew equipped with small cameras occupied themselves with taking shots of the miniature sets, whilst the special effects team refined the workings of revolutionary software – named Massive – conceived to multiply the number of soldiers, and to give each one of them independence in battle, thanks to artificial intelligence. “You press a button,” explains PJ, who had the idea for this software five years ago, “and the fighters decide by themselves how they want to fight.”

Not yet satisfied with the result, the filmmaker had an original idea to make the scene more realistic. In February, he went to the stadium in Wellington, where there was a cricket match between New Zealand and England, to record some sound effects. At half-time, he made the 250,000 spectators tap their feet in time to simulate a marching army, then made them sing an Orcish war-chant whose words were shown on a giant screen! This is characteristic of the person who, as a loyal fan of the “D system” mixes “tricks” of the poor filmmaker with the most sophisticated technological tools.

The greatest bet of the film: the creation of Gollum

“The most important thing for PJ is that everything looks as real as possible,” emphasises Richard Taylor, the head of the special effects department, which won two Oscars for its work on FOTR. “That’s the brief he gave us. It’s what saves us, because so many directors, starting with Lucas on ‘Star Wars’ has been influenced by Tolkien’s world, that we had to start from scratch. The special effects just allow us to catch the imagination of Tolkien and so do justice to the book.”

The creation of Gollum figures amongst what it is possible to do thanks to digital technology. The revelation of the appearance of one of the most emblematic characters of the saga has to be one of the defining moments of the film. From the start, well before he found a producer to finance his vision of LOTR, PJ knew that this ambiguous and fascinating creature would be the true gamble of the adaptation. How do you show a hobbit possessed by the Ring, and who, aged by this unique obsession which drove him into the bowels of the Earth, is transformed into a hybrid being with a slimy body and protruding eyes? “When he came to us, after the failure of his negotiations with Miramax,” remembers Mark Ordesky, the producer, “he already had a video cassette with an outline of Gollum under his arm.”

But it needed more than four years of work to arrive at a conclusive result. “We did hundreds of drawings and sculptures before finding the Gollum which everyone expected,” Richard Taylor says. “Then we moved on to 3D work. We had to catch the schizophrenic character of this creature. At the same time, you have to love and hate him.”

Jackson, as is his habit, kept it real: “Gollum is entirely digital, but I knew from the start that I wanted an actor to create the character.” He called upon Andy Serkis, who can be seen as an eccentric choreographer in ‘Topsy-Turvy’. The actor played Gollum’s scenes dressed in a costume covered in small discs which served as reference points for the animators. “I really treated Gollum as a classical role,” explains Andy Serkis, whose voice will be all we recognise on screen. “I tried to make him as human as possible. I played him as if he was a junky whose drug was the Ring.” The result promises to be surprising. And it might even be worth another Oscar for the head of special effects, Richard Taylor. “It’s true that the creation of this character is one of the hardest things anyone has given me to do during my career. But we have achieved total fusion between the actor’s performance and the know-how of the special effects artists, like never before.”

Another mythical creature makes his appearance in TTT: Treebeard, the tree who walks and talks. Something rather kitsch springs to mind … But there again, there is no question of Jackson going mad. A tree – even if it is alive – must look like a tree. So the special effects team transformed themselves into botanists before constructing an animatronic model nearly 5m high for the scenes with the actors, and to model a digital version for the close-ups. “One of the difficulties was putting the two together,” explains Joe Letteri, the visual effects supervisor, “so that you can’t tell them apart on screen.” The feature uniting the two would be the voice of the tree, given to John Rhys-Davies, who already plays the Dwarf Gimli. With the creation of these two characters in digital images, the number of special effects shots went from 560 to 800. In contrast to this, TTT promises to be even more inspired than FOTR, and to make a bigger star of Viggo Mortensen, the magnificent actor who will enter into legend. We’re eagerly awaiting ‘The Return of the King’ (Viggo is the king in question!), on 17 December 2003. Exactly one year.

Posted in Old Special Reports on June 2, 2003 by

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