It should have been front page news, or at least worthy of a front page teaser: “Beloved author C.S. Lewis dies, details inside.” Today we might imagine that it was on the evening news, that newspapers around the world devoted a page to his life, and that fans around the world acknowledged the loss. But actually, it was barely mentioned, and most people took no notice.
It wasn’t because the media didn’t recognize his importance, or because people weren’t interested in him; it was because most people were distracted.
C.S. Lewis died, of all days, on November 22, 1963 – exactly fifty years ago today. Unfortunately, someone else died the same day. As the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy’s death was certainly more important historically. It was more shocking. It was more newsworthy. Indeed it was the news story of all news stories, and even today – especially today – people talk about where they were when they found out about it. (In fact, I just posted a video of my dad recounting what it was like to meet Kennedy and subsequently learn of his death.)
But let us not, whatever else happened fifty years ago, forget about C.S. Lewis. To me, the Inklings are the literary equivalent of the Beatles. They dismissed the stigma of their genre and encouraged each other to put together great works of art that are as imaginative, fresh, and exciting today as when they were written so many years ago. As a fan, it’s difficult to conceive of the void that would exist had they never filled it.
In a lot of ways, Lewis and Tolkien are the yin and yang of fantasy. Lewis liked to write quickly, allegorically, and did not like to edit his manuscripts. Tolkien, on the other hand, wrote slowly, methodically, and did as much editing as writing. And so it was that Lewis wrote all seven Narnia books inside of six years whereas Tolkien spent a whole decade and beyond working on The Lord of the Rings. The two sets of books are two different types of fantasy, but just as Star Trek and Star Wars can coexist, so can these great works of literature, each balancing out each other’s charm. The same can be said for Lewis and Tolkien, two great friends that were so different, yet so connected.
Today let’s remember C.S. Lewis and celebrate his life. He remains a great friend to many a reader, even fifty years after his passing, and his stories will continue to delight children for the next fifty years and beyond.
“I am sorry that I have not answered your letters sooner; but Jack Lewis’s death on the 22nd has preoccupied me. It is also involving me in some correspondence, as many people still regard me as one of his intimates. Alas! that ceased to be so some ten years ago. We were separated first by the sudden apparition of Charles Williams, and then by his marriage. Of which he never even told me; I learned of it long after the event. But we owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie with the deep affection that it begot, remains.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
If you’re like me, you love your Tolkien. You’ve read all his books, you’ve seen all the film adaptations, and you’ve got a restraining order against you saying you can’t get within 200 feet of Liv Tyler. But hey, even if you’re not exactly like me, as a fan of TheOneRing.net you’ve probably heard a lot of things about the making of The Lord of the Rings movies. You know that Gandalf hitting his head on the rafters of Bag End was really an on-set accident, and that Sean Astin cut his foot on a piece of glass. You might have even heard that The Two Towers didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Score because it was ineligible. But, much like the idea that Salem, Massachusetts once held witch burnings, or that the U.S. has a national holiday named “President’s Day”, these things just aren’t true.
1. The myth: Peter Jackson discovered The Lord of the Rings when he bought a paperback copy to read on a train ride. He became an obsessive fan and later came up with the idea to make film adaptations.
Why we think it’s true: the publicity materials for film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
But actually: According to Jackson himself in his authorized biography, he was introduced to The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi’s film adaptation. He then bought a copy of Tolkien’s book that was a tie-in to the film (with Bakshi’s art on the cover). While Jackson did enjoy the book, he hardly became an obsessive fan. After reading it once, he set it aside and never bothered to read the book again… until his wife suggested it might be a good source for a fantasy film in 1995.
2. The myth: New Line Cinema made three Lord of the Rings films because there are three books.
Why we think it’s true: Logic, the DVD bonus materials
But actually: The number of books didn’t factor into the decision.
You’ve probably heard the story: Jackson was preparing to make two The Lord of the Rings films for Miramax when he was asked to condense everything into one film to save money. Jackson went to New Line Cinema to plead with them to buy-out the project and make two films instead of one. Bob Shaye, head of New Line Cinema, replied:
“Why would I want to do two films? There are three books. Why not do three films?”
It’s a good story, but there’s one problem: Bob Shaye himself has said that it’s bunch of baloney. “I didn’t say, ‘Aren’t there three books’ or whatever,” Shaye later said in an interview for the book, Peter Jackson: A Film-Maker’s Journey. Shaye was thinking more in terms of business than in terms of Tolkien. “I was cognizant of my discussions with Michael Lynn about our need for sequels. I knew that, after conferring with Michael… we were going to make three films.”
“Bob was getting pretty excited,” New Line executive Mark Ordesky said about the meeting, “because he sees what Peter was saying artistically, but because he’s also seeing three video releases, three network television sales…”
Interestingly, turning The Lord of the Rings from two films to three films would turn out to be quite the challenge for the writers. (In retrospect, maybe four would have been better!) But regardless, New Line Cinema was having trouble making sequels to their more successful films, and when Shaye saw an opportunity, he pounced on it – regardless of how many books Tolkien used to tell the tale.
3. The myth: While shooting at the Bag End set, Ian McKellen accidentally hit his head on the rafters. Because it was a funny moment, and McKellen gamely kept going with the scene, Jackson decided to keep it.
Why we think it’s true: Jackson says so himself in the DVD commentary.
It is true that this manner of hiding is not in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. Near the beginning of the book, the hobbits do hide from a “black rider” (twice). In their first encounter, Pippin and Sam hide in a hollow away from the road (Merry is not present) and Frodo hides next to a tree – though not under its roots:
“Just in time he threw himself down in a patch of long grass behind a tree that overshadowed the road. Then he lifted his head and peered cautiously above one of the great roots.”
The second encounter is similar (which is probably why both film adaptations condense it to one):
“They had no time to find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the trees. Sam and Pippin crouched behind a large tree-bole, while Frodo crept back a few yards towards the lane.”
So the idea of the hobbits hiding under the roots of a tree with the Black Rider peering overhead, (and the iconic framing,) is an invention of Bakshi’s film. In 1985, a young artist by the name of John Howe used the scene as a basis for a painting. On his website, he says, “This painting was inspired by the Bakshi movie, where the Hobbits cower under a tree root as the Black Rider seeks them. I thought it was the best scene in the movie, and it must have trod a path in my subconscious, as it certainly is nowhere to be found in the Fellowship of the Ring. After a long hike on the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island, I returned with exactly this photo – minus the hobbits and the Ringwraith, of course, and painted it for my own pleasure.”
The painting subsequently appeared in the 1987 J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar and caught the attention of Peter Jackson. Later, when Jackson was making his Lord of the Rings movies, he showed his people John Howe’s work: “Peter so enjoyed a beautiful painting that John Howe had done,” Richard Taylor later said, “that all of our brief and the Art Department’s brief was to try and generate the very feeling of this painting.” (In fact, Jackson even had a tree imported to the path just for the scene.)
And so in the end we actually have Jackson’s interpretation of Howe’s interpretation of Bakshi’s interpretation of Tolkien. And the best part is, the scene really works!
5. The myth: For the battle of Helm’s Deep in the animated Lord of the Rings, director Ralph Bakshi used footage from the 1938 historical drama Alexander Nevsky.
Director Ralph Bakshi did indeed use footage of Alexander Nevsky (which wasn’t a legal issue, because the film is in the public domain) but not for The Lord of the Rings. He rotoscoped the footage for his 1977 film Wizards after 20th Century Fox refused to increase the film’s budget to allow him to animate the battles in a traditional way. The film was a success, and after this positive experience with rotoscoping, Bakshi decided to use it extensively his Lord of the Rings movie; but all the live action was shot by Bakshi himself in Spain. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the money to animate all the shots, so he resorted to posterizing some of the footage (mostly in the second half of the film) instead.
6. The myth: After Bakshi’s film failed at the box office preventing a “Part 2″, Rankin/Bass decided to finish up the story with their version of “The Return of the King”.
Why we think it’s true: The internet, the media, and common sense
But actually: This is one time common sense will work against you.
Heck, we all know critics and fans hated Bakshi’s film. We all know he didn’t make a Part 2 and that Rankin/Bass stepped up to the plate with their own sequel. It’s not hard to read between the lines and guess what happened.
But the truth is stranger than fiction.
To begin with, and this is going to be the opposite of what you’ve always heard, Bakshi’s film was actually a box office success.
“The theatrical release in 1978 had a domestic total gross of nearly $90 million at the box office,” said Amit Desai, WHV Vice President of Family, Animation & Partner Brands Marketing said in a press release to announce the film’s release on Blu-ray.
Actually, Amit, it was more like $30 million. But considering the film’s budget was $6 million and that the movie made some additional money overseas, it’s safe to say the film turned a healthy profit and was a success by 1978’s standards.
Whatever the case, “Part 2″ was never made, opening the door for Rankin/Bass… except that Rankin/Bass was already in the room, so to speak. A year before Bakshi’s LOTR film was finished, and before anyone had yet seen the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit, Rankin/Bass was already hard at work on The Return of the King. From the November 27, 1977 edition of the New York Times:
“We will go on to complete our next Tolkien work, which will continue the characters we have established in ‘The Hobbit,’ and will be adapted from ‘The Hobbit’ and the last book in the Ring trilogy, ‘The Return of the King.’ At this point we are scripted, the music is composed and recorded, our backgrounds are painted, the sound track is partially completed, and new characters are designed-such as Frodo Baggins.”
It’s really bizarre when you think about: there were two different animation studios working on The Lord of the Rings at the same time, and for a period it looked like they were both going to be adapting the same material at the same time. Yet the movie that actually makes millions of dollars gets no sequel, and meanwhile the other guys do The Return of the King as a sequel to The Hobbit simply because it sounds like a good idea. If it seems like some crazy person was involved, I’ll remind you that the guy who held (and still holds) the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is the same guy who once sued John Fogerty for sounding too much like Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Whatever the case, the result is interesting: the independent choices of all parties involved coincidentally led to two animated Lord of the Rings movies by two different studios covering different ground, yet the two movies nearly dovetail and form a Part 1 and Part 2.
7. The myth: Cameron Rhodes plays Farmer Maggot in The Fellowship of the Ring movie.
It sounds like the ultimate imposter caper, something out of “Catch Me if You Can”: this guy, Cameron Rhodes, has fooled the media into believing he’s “Farmer Maggot” in the Lord of the Rings films, and now he’s able to work the convention circuit and sign autographs for $10 a pop.
Actually, this isn’t a case of someone who had nothing to do with The Lord of the Rings movies sponging off their success. (That’s my territory, darn it!) Rhodes, in fact, was bought on board the Lord of the Rings film project before Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, and most of the other actors. Early on, Jackson needed voice actors for a first pass at the script, and he had Cameron Rhodes (as well as Craig Parker and Peter Vere-Jones) record an audio version his Lord of the Rings. Rhodes was later cast as a hobbit in The Fellowship of the Ring, with a part that was derived from Farmer Maggot’s story in the book . Flanked by his dog, the character tells a Black Rider, “There’s no Bagginses around here. They’re all up in Hobbiton. That way!”
Here’s the problem: Rhodes’s character, which seems awfully young to be the curmudgeon, old farmer from the book, is never actually named in the film.
I can hear it now: “J.W, you’re being silly! Just because he’s not named doesn’t mean he hasn’t got a name. After all, Lurtz’s name is never spoken in the film either, but he’s still Lurtz.”
That is true, but there’s also this: later in the film, another character based on Farmer Maggot is introduced. He’s called Farmer Maggot, and he is a curmudgeon, old farmer, and he’s not played by Cameron Rhodes. He’s played by a scythe… and the voice of supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins (who sounds quite different than Rhodes). This is like the reverse of a composite character: we’ve taken a character from the book and given him two different parts! We could, perhaps, say that Hopkins is Farmer Maggot Senior and Rhodes is Farmer Maggot Junior (or just pretend they’re the same character) but there’s really nothing in the film to indicate this. Moreover, if there’s only to be one actor credited as Farmer Maggot, wouldn’t it be common sense to credit the guy who’s actually identified in the film as Farmer Maggot?
Well, there’s the catch. You see, credits don’t really exist for the sake of the audience (as this whole section illustrates: it’s unlikely anyone would say to themselves, “I wonder who plays that hobbit with the dog? Maybe he’s the son of that farmer hobbit and shares his name. Maybe I’ll just look for that other hobbit’s name, it will tell me who played his son.”) The real reason credits exist is because they are, along with monetary compensation, part of the agreement between a studio and the cast and crew. Simply put, New Line Cinema agreed to credit Rhodes as Farmer Maggot. This also allows him to credit himself as “Farmer Maggot” at appearances. And the truth is that Rhodes has a substantial enough part to deserve recognition. (Isn’t his contribution to the film fabulous?) Meanwhile, Mike Hopkins probably saw his voiceover in the film as part of his duties as Supervising Sound Editor, for which he’s given proper credit. So it all works out in the end. But that said, Mike Hopkins – who sadly died in a rafting accident in December – will always be Farmer Maggot to me.
8. The myth: While shooting a scene for the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sean Astin cut his foot on a shard of glass.
Why we think it’s true: It’s mentioned in all the bonus materials and you can read about it all over the internet.
But actually: While Astin did cut his foot, nobody was able to find the sharp object. (For those of you who live in New Zealand, what an opportunity this gives you! If you can find the object in question, you’ll have a great piece of film memorabilia. Maybe Mr. Astin will even sign it for you.) In his book, There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale, Astin talks about what happened: “When the crew prepared the lake for this scene, they ran a rake along the bottom to smooth and make sure nothing was there. Unfortunately, they might have churned something up that was buried. Also, I was putting such force into the way I was marching into the water, while wearing just my hobbit feet, that anything with a sharp tip was going to do some damage.” While we’ll probably never know what the object really was, Astin has speculated that it might have been a branch – something the crewmembers might have overlooked before and after the accident in their search for a something sharp.
9. The myth: New Line Home Entertainment ripped off the fans by releasing two different DVD sets for each LOTR film.
Why we think it’s true: After we all bought the first DVD set, New Line released a better one.
But actually: New Line released the DVDs in a very fan friendly way
People are still mad about this one. The most popular review of The Hobbit on DVD and Blu-ray at amazon? A two star rating berating Warner Brothers: “As with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Warner Bros. is trying to stick it to the consumer again by hoping people will buy both versions.”
Setting aside that Warner Brothers had nothing to do with The Lord of the Rings extended editions, let’s take a look at what actually happened:
Back in 2000 and 2001 two things happened simultaneously: DVD players began sweeping over the world, replacing video cassette recorders, and Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings film was taking shape. Jackson and New Line Cinema looked at the situation and, in an epiphany, realized that they were now going to be releasing The Lord of the Rings films into two different markets with two different sets of demands.
For the theater, pacing and running time are vital to success, because there’s no pause button and it’s important for the film to have a flow that keeps people into the story as it moves from scene to scene. It’s also important to remember that theatrical audiences are sitting in foreign chairs, sipping their sodas, waiting to eventually use the bathroom and go home. But maybe even more importantly, the shorter a film’s running time, the more opportunities it has to make money, since it can play more times each day.
For DVDs, it’s a different ballgame. Pacing is less of an issue, because people often watch them in parts, almost like reading a book, and people are watching from their comfy chair or couch, taking bathroom breaks whenever they like. With no pressures limiting the running time, the director can let his hair down and tell the story in a different way with more details and more character development: and fans love it. Just as importantly (and unlike video cassettes), DVDs offer a chance for commentaries and bonus features you could never have in theaters.
So in late 2001, New Line decided there would be two versions of The Fellowship of the Ring. Their first order of business was to manage the theatrical cut and theatrical run, so it wasn’t until 2002 that they mapped out a DVD strategy. But when they got around to it, their idea was impressive: the theatrical cut would be released on DVD along with all the bonus material they already had in the can (trailers, tv specials, and anything else that didn’t require any work) and an “extended edition” would be released with new scenes (requiring new effect shots) and new bonus material assembled specifically for the set. Because the theatrical set was basically just an assembly of ready material and the extended set was something that need to be developed nearly from scratch, the two sets were going to be ready at different times.
All fine and good, you might say, but why didn’t New Line Home Entertainment tell people about the extended edition before people ran out and bought the theatrical cut?
They issued a press release and personally shared the information with us here at TORN. It was exciting news! If you were a huge fan, you could get the theatrical set and the extended set, and you’d get both versions of the film and all that bonus material. The two sets worked well together, because they contained no overlapping material and gave you the most bang for your buck. On other hand, if you were just interested in the extended edition set, you could skip the theatrical set and save some money. And if you weren’t a big Lord of the Rings fan, but you liked the movie in theaters and just wanted to pick up a cheap DVD with the theatrical cut, you could buy the theatrical set. It seemed like New Line had covered all the bases and found a way to please everyone.
We posted all these exciting details on TheOneRing.net for the world to see, including a list of specific features on each DVD set, but the problem was the world didn’t see it.
Back from 2001 to 2003, before social media like Facebook and twitter, there was a definitive dichotomy for the public’s appetite for LOTR movie news: a season and an off season, so to speak. If we posted a story in December or January, it was big news. Fans would talk about it on message boards, the media would pick up the story and include it in newspapers, and everyone seemed to be in the loop. On the other hand, if we posted a story in May, June, or July, it was more likely to fly under the radar. People were out and about enjoying their summers (or winters in the southern hemisphere), and they certainly weren’t checking iPhones or iPads for the latest news. So the details of the DVDs went unnoticed (and unpublished by most newspapers, which didn’t really care), and after fans rushed out to buy the theatrical DVDs when they were released in August, they were quite angry when they found out there would be a better DVD set released later. (We could say that what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.)
As a postscript, it’s worth mentioning that the home video market has changed since the time of The Lord of the Rings movies. The emphasis now is to get the movies into stores as cheaply as possible, which is why The Lord of the Rings Blu-ray sets have no new bonus features. It’s interesting to note that if The Lord of the Rings had been released five years earlier or five years later, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the magnificent extras that are now part of posterity.
10. The myth:The Two Towers music wasn’t eligible for the Academy Award for Best Score
Why we think it’s true: The media widely reported it, and most fans still believe it today.
But actually: It was declared eligible.
The music of The Lord of the Rings is timeless and one of the greatest aspects of the stunning trilogy. The Fellowship of the Ring was nominated for and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The Return of the King was nominated for and won the same award. The Two Towers? Nothing. Not even a nomination. What the heck?
“Shore’s score for The Two Towers was deemed ineligible for submission to the Academy, due to a new rule that disallowed the submission of scores which contained themes from previous work.”
More accurately, Shore’s score was submitted but subsequently called into question due to the new rule; as TORN and newspapers throughout the world shared with everyone. Unfortunately, most people missed the follow-up story where the Academy said it was indeed eligible.
“The music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences moved Friday to deflect a brewing controversy by postponing a ruling that would have disqualified for nomination a popular musical score. [Howard] Shore… was notified Friday afternoon that ‘The Two Towers’ will remain eligible after all for this year’s Oscar. Said Charles Bernstein, music-branch governor: ‘Due to the lateness of the date, and the crunch that takes place at the end of the year, the committee felt that it would be much more fair to leave this year alone and apply the rule in a more clearly articulated form next year.’”
Of course, The Two Towers was still not nominated, but that was due more to stupidity than rules.
So there you are. Ten myths cast into Mount Doom. Now I just have to find a way to start a TV show called “Middle-earth Mythbusters” where I do cool experiments to confirm or bust the things we’ve learned from The Lord of the Rings. Can you really reforge a sword? Is it really possible to toss a Dwarf 15 feet? Can you really forge a Ring that turns you invisible? Tune in next time and find out!
Marquette Libraries’ Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been home to the original manuscripts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings since the late 1950s. In exciting news, the department is hosting several public showings of selected original manuscripts on certain Friday afternoons this year and next. These showings are open to the public, and no reservation is necessary. The presentations will take place at 2:30pm (Central Time) on the following dates:
May 17, 2013
July 19, 2013
September 13, 2013
November 15, 2013
January 17, 2014
March 7, 2014
May 16, 2014
July 11, 2014
September 12, 2014
November 21, 2014
The presentations will be held in the Prucha Archives Reading Room (3rd floor, Raynor Library) and will run approximately 45 minutes. For more information on the archive and presentation, you can visit the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection’s website.
Thomas Edison once said that to truly reach your potential, you must consider all ideas before discarding the poor ones and developing the good ones. (Actually, I just made that up. But it’s an internet tradition to attribute your own beliefs to a famous person to give your thoughts validation and respect. By the way, did I mention Tolkien wants you to buy my book?)
This month on J.W. Braun’s Bookshelf, J.W. takes a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design by Daniel Falconer and Weta Workshop. Meanwhile, in his mailbag feature below, he shares another riddle and answers your questions about Peter Jackson’s cameo in The Hobbit, the first Hobbit movie’s Oscar that’s not really an Oscar, and more.
You’ve probably heard of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson. You might think they’re the reason we can all enjoy The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books and movies. Well… okay, they are. But you might not know how close you were to never being able to enjoy the adventures of Bilbo and Frodo in the way you know them, save for some other amazing factors. What am I talking about, you ask? Well hang on to your magic rings; it’s time to look at nine mind-blowing reasons we are able to enjoy Tolkien’s books and Jackson’s movies.
#1: A 10-Year-Old’s Book Report
Today there are many different options for writers searching for a way to share their work with readers. You can self-publish, write an e-book, post something on a website, etc. (You could even be a dinosaur like me and actually go through a publisher.) Back in the 1930s, however, Tolkien had only one real avenue to share The Hobbit with a wide audience: George Allen & Unwin, a publishing firm. One of Tolkien’s students had recommended the story to a friend who worked there, and the firm took a look at the manuscript. When I say they “took a look”, you’re probably thinking that some English literature expert carefully examined the work before reporting to a committee for a discussion and a decision. But actually what I mean is, “One of the guys gave the manuscript to his 10-year-old son and told him to write a book report on it.”
That’s right. The Hobbit – and by extension The Lord of the Rings, all the movies, TheOneRing.net, and the distribution of billions dollars – ultimately had their fate decided by a 10-year-old (Rayner Unwin) and his pencil. Now, I don’t know if you have children, but my wife’s a schoolteacher, and according to some of her students’ book reports, The Hobbit is about “Bible the hobo who chases dragonflies.” Thankfully, Rayner did a better job, although the heck of it is he wasn’t overly impressed with Tolkien’s work. The 10-year-old gave The Hobbit a backhanded compliment, saying it “should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 to 9.” His praise, however, was enough for his father, and the book was published.
Rayner’s importance doesn’t end there. In 1951, he began working for Allen & Unwin as an adult, and one of his first tasks was deciding what to do with Tolkien’s next manuscript, The Lord of the Rings. Upon reading that one, he had two thoughts: first, it was a work of genius, and second, it was going to cost more to publish than the firm would ever make on its sales. He published anyway. (Aren’t you glad he did?)
#2: Fritz the Cat (1972)
Based on the comic strip of the same name, Fritz the Cat was an X rated animated film directed by Ralph Bakshi, When the film ran into financial trouble, Bakshi convinced a record producer named Saul Zaentz to invest in the project in exchange for the rights to distribute the soundtrack. The movie (released well before anime overexposed the idea of naughty cartoons) went on to become a box office sensation and made Zaentz a fortune.
Flash forward a few years: Bakshi is working on a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for MGM when there’s a change in executives, and the new guy wants to kill the project. Who does Bakshi ask to help bail him out? Saul Zaentz, who had begun to dabble in films. At the invitation of Bakshi, Zaentz acquired most of the rights for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and produced Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings.
I can hear it now. “Okay, Bakshi and Zaentz made a crappy Lord of the Rings film. Big deal! Maybe it would have better had there been no Fritz the Cat then.”
Calm down, Chief. There’s more.
To begin with, the animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is significant for introducing a certain 17 year old Kiwi to the wonders of Middle-earth. Sitting in his seat at the Wellington Plaza, Peter Jackson was so fascinated by what he saw he ran out and bought the book with the movie’s tie-in cover art. You can argue that even had he not seen the film, he might have read the books and become a fan anyway, but consider this: Jackson isn’t one of those Tolkien-obsessed fans who grew up reading the books over and over. He saw the Bakshi film, read the books once, and that was it… until he became interested in making his own film adaptations.
But there’s also this: Zaentz never sold the rights and still holds them today – having recently celebrated his 157th birthday. This is an important point, because you have to understand that most people in the industry do not act like Zaentz (who is slightly looney and once sued John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself.) For Zaentz, making movies has been more of a hobby than a business. Since 1972 he’s produced ten of them – with three winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Had the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings been in other hands, it’s likely we would have seen a far different “Tolkien movie” history. Would we still have Hobbit and LOTR films? Sure. We’d probably have more of them, with some studio doing a reboot of the franchise every few years like The Incredible Hulk or Star Trek. We might even have some lousy TV movies mixed in there as well. (Maybe even a Saturday morning cartoon show called “LOTR Kids” about the nine fellowship members sharing adventures together as children and overcoming the bullying of kiddy Sauron.)
I for one am happy that instead of countless crappy adaptations, we got nothing for twenty years and then were given three blockbuster Lord of the Rings feature films. So let’s give Fritz some thanks, even if he gives us the finger in return.
#3: The English Patient (1996)
You’re probably familiar with the movie The English Patient. It’s that 90s film starring Lord Voldemort that won a bunch of Oscars. What you might not know is that without the movie we probably wouldn’t have The Lord of the Rings movies (which did not star Lord Voldemort but did win a bunch of Oscars.)
The English Patient was produced by a guy named Saul Zaentz and was supposed to be made for Twentieth Century Fox, the studio footing the bill. Fox, however, backed out at the last minute, and Zaentz was left with a cast and crew in Italy and no money to shoot the movie. Almost immediately, however, Harvey Weinstein stepped in and acquired the project for his studio, Miramax (named after his parents, Mira and Max) and saved the day. Zaentz was grateful and promised to return the favor if ever an opportunity presented itself.
Meanwhile, a pair of filmmakers named Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were working on post production for The Frighteners (1996). Jackson suggested the two might want to do a fantasy film next, and Walsh asked if it were possible to do The Lord of the Rings. Jackson assumed the rights were unavailable or tied up, but he figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask – so he went to the studio he was working with and said, “Hey, do you think Fran and I could make The Lord of the Rings?” That studio was Miramax, and the guy he was talking to was Harvey Weinstein, who loved the idea. Weinstein contacted Zaentz and called in his favor to get an option to make the movies, and Jackson was on his way to making Middle-earth magic.
#4: Ken Kamins’s Ingenuity
It’s 1998. (It’s not, but pretend it is.) Peter Jackson is summoned to a meeting with Miramax in New York. The studio has a great new idea: it’s going to make The Lord of the Rings as one film. They have a whole new approach to the story: The Mines of Moria? Skip them. Saruman? Gone. The Battle at Helm’s Deep? Gone. Gondor and Rohan? Merge them and make Boromir and Éowyn brother and sister. Maybe kill off some redundant hobbits.
I do have to mention here that Miramax wasn’t intentionally trying to be stupid. The problem was the budget. They had $75 million to spend on The Lord of the Rings and that was it. Given the choice between two low budget films or one with a modest budget, they chose the latter under the premise that it was most likely to make money. (After all, there’s a reason the film industry is called an industry and not “charitable contributions to the arts.”)
Jackson, of course, was horrified and said he couldn’t write and direct what they were proposing. Miramax, however, held firm and said, “Take it or leave it.” Jackson and Walsh talked about the ultimatum privately and then decided to say no and move on to other things. They asked their agent to tell Miramax they were out, and they figured that was that.
Jackson’s agent was Ken Kamins, and he did make the call, but with a wrinkle: he reminded them that this whole project began with Jackson and Walsh and asked if the two writers could find another studio to buyout the project and do it the right way. And that’s exactly what happened. In fact, that leads us to…
That all changed in 1994 when he was transformed into a bankable Hollywood star thanks to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask. The latter two were brought to us by New Line Cinema. This maverick studio was great at finding new stars and making and distributing hits; they just had trouble with sequels. Remember how funny Carrey was in “Dumb and Dumber 2” and “Revenge of the Mask”? Of course you don’t! Because he wouldn’t do them. Instead he went on to make big money for other studios. So we got new actors in Dumb and Dumberer and Son of the Mask – which, quite frankly, were terrible. Back in 1998, New Line executives were concerned about this problem, and one of the execs joked that they should just start shooting sequels to their blockbusters before they were finished shooting the blockbusters.
At just about this time, New Line was contacted by a guy named Peter Jackson. He said he had this Lord of the Rings project he was working on and was wondering if New Line would be interested in acquiring it from Miramax. “They’re only willing to make one film out of it,” he explained, “but we feel the only way to do it right is to do two films at once.”
New Line: “Two? Just two? Why not three?”
Jackson: “As I was saying, three films. We feel the only way to do it is three films.”
Christian Rivers: “Isn’t it a little late in the process to…”
Jackson: “To find myself a new Beacon keeper? No.”
What New Line Cinema didn’t know was had they turned Jackson down, Miramax was ready to fire Peter Jackson, replace him with John Madden, and make the one film version described above.
Thank you, Jim Carrey. Thank you.
#6: Sean Connery’s Confusion
Think about all the scenes in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies with Gandalf. Now think of all of them without Ian McKellen and with Sean Connery in his place.
“Shauron is coming for the Ring, my boy. Keep it shecret, keep it shafe.”
(That’s my Sean Connery impression. Thank you, I’m here all week! Try the veal.)
Connery turned down the part because he didn’t understand the script. Years later, he reflected upon the story after reading the books and seeing the films: “”I read the book. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it.”
He did add something that we can all agree upon: “Ian McKellen, I believe, is marvelous in it.”
#7: Harry Knowles
It’s easy to sit at home on the couch and fantasy-cast movies. “Dude, they should make a movie out of that “Smoking Cactus” book and cast Sam Elliott as the Texas Fryfish.” Heck, I’ve fantasized about the girls from Happy Hobbit playing damsels in distress, whereupon I rescue them and they begin fighting over me. But perhaps that’s taking the “fantasy” in fantasy-casting too literally. The point is, it’s fun to match up actors and characters. But how many times have you approached the actor and told him about the character… and then approached the director and told him about the actor?
In 1998, supergeek Harry Knowles had a cameo in the movie “The Faculty”. Here’s what happened in Harry’s own words:
“I remember, I was sitting on the steps of THE FACULTY’s set where Elijah [Wood] is going to be running from Robert Patrick. There was a break in shooting, because as Robert was running with the steadi-cam, he slipped and fell and they were checking all the equipment out. Elijah joined me on the steps and asked how things were going. It was mid-afternoon and I told him that I had spoken on the phone with Peter Jackson that day. That Peter was going to try and make THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Elijah had never read that book, but he had read the Hobbit, and loved that. That’s when I looked at him and told him he would be perfect to play Frodo.”
Wood, of course, then went on to make his own audition tape in his own makeshift Hobbit costume.
Meanwhile, Harry went on to have more discussions with Peter Jackson, including Q&A’s which he shared on his website. Jackson told Harry about his plans: he was going to cast an unknown British actor as Frodo. Harry had an idea of his own and said so: cast Elijah Wood!
Maybe Wood would have been cast as Frodo without Harry’s heads up or help. Either way, Harry’s championing of Wood as Frodo – going all the way back to 1998 – gives him plenty of Geek-Cred in my eyes. (I actually had a shirt once that said, “I have Geek-Cred.” Unfortunately, my wife accidentally spilled something on it. The gasoline probably would have come out in the wash, but my wife also accidentally set it on fire. But I digress.)
Then again, perhaps the real hero of the story is Robert Patrick’s clumsiness. Who knows? Had he kept his footing, the butterfly effect might have led to Dustin Diamond playing Frodo. And that’s even scarier than being chased by a Terminator.
#8: Jar Jar Binks
Yousa probably wondering if mesa gone coo coo here. (Happened long ago.) Sure, on the list of “Reasons Star Wars Rocks,” Jar Jar ranks at roughly 4,285,433 – just ahead of Princess Leia’s Life Day song.
But here’s the thing: while the people working on The Lord of the Rings were having all kinds of trouble with Gollum, George Lucas was busy making dozens of breakthroughs in CGI to bring Jar Jar to the screen. Jackson decided from the beginning that Gollum would be CGI, but by 1999 it was beginning to look like the impossible dream. Thankfully, Lucas was happy to help out Weta, and thanks to Jar Jar breaking new ground, Gollum did not end up as a man in a suit.
#9: Gray Horsfield
Quick question: who defeated Sauron? Was it Frodo? Aragorn? Gandalf? No, it was Gray Horsfield, a real name that’s so awesome, no fiction writer would have the cojones to use it.
Back in the early part of the last decade when Weta was working on the final Lord of the Rings film, they were in a jam: they needed to show the destruction of Sauron’s tower (Barad-dûr) but it wasn’t physically possible to blow up the model, and it probably wouldn’t give them the look they were hoping for anyway. At this point most films would have gotten together a team of digital artists and given them a month to work on doing it CGI. Weta didn’t need a team, however, because one guy did it himself. In two weeks. While everyone was on vacation. Gray Horsfield basically worked 20 hours a day everyday while everyone was on break blowing up Barad-dûr and blowing away everyone from Weta Digital when they returned to work. Frodo may have failed, but Gray sure didn’t.
So there you go. From a ten year old’s book report to Gray Horsfield’s dedication, that’s nine pieces of the puzzle that fell into place to give us some great books and movies. Doesn’t it make you feel like you won the lottery and didn’t even know it?
(I can’t believe you actually read this whole thing.)
This month on J.W. Braun’s Bookshelf, J.W. takes a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion by Jude Fisher and also gives away a couple of prizes. Meanwhile, in his mailbag feature below, he shares a riddle and answers your questions about Tolkien rewriting The Hobbit and the scriptwriters messing up a quote in The Lord of the Rings movies.
J.W. Braun here. Readers of my book, The Lord of the Films, sometimes comment that I must have a musical background and that it’s obvious I’m a big fan of Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings. Well, both are true! I play the violin, viola, and piano, and I think The Lord of the Rings score is the greatest score of all time.
Today, the soundtrack for the first Hobbit film has become available in a two disc set. While it will probably take me months to truly appreciate it, here are my track by track thoughts today.
“This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers.” – Gollum
“The times they are a-changin.” – Bob Dylan
Whether you’re male, female or a mountain, time stands still for no one, and we are only here for a brief moment enjoying our small fraction of eternity. December 14, 2012 will be a special day, and I can’t help but feel blessed to be here for it. As I wait here, ticket in hand for a midnight showing of The Hobbit, I can’t help but think back to December 19, 2001; it seems like yesterday! That was a Wednesday, and the day The Fellowship of the Ring movie finally came out. I’ll never forget the experience.
When you think about it, of course, much has changed since then. If you’d have said twitter or Barack Obama to me in 2001, I’d have thought you were talking about a bird and someone from the Middle East. And that’s just going back 11 years! There are some fans out there, such as my friend and TORN colleague Quickbeam, who will never forget November 27, 1977. That was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and it was the day the animated adaptation of The Hobbit first aired on NBC. Just imagine trying to explain to someone from that time how much the world would change in the next 30 years! (They probably would have been blown away by the idea of an ipod.)
And what about September 21, 1937? That was a Tuesday, and there are faithful readers here at TORN who were around back then – the day The Hobbit was published. Talk about a different time – there were still people around then who remembered when the American Civil War was happening and when Abraham Lincoln was alive.
Today I thought it would be fun to take a nostalgic look back, and see how the world has a’changed – even in the last eleven years. So hop in the DeLorean with me and let’s take a look together at what the world was like way back when – and what’s it like now, which as I’m writing this is December 6, 2012.
These are, of course, estimates. And it was especially ridiculous to talk about the “sixth billionth” or “seventh billionth” baby, since the number of people in the world, due to deaths and births, is a fluid number always bouncing around. But it is said that somewhere in the world, a woman is giving birth every second. (Personally, I think we should find this woman and stop her.)
1937: 129 million
1977: 220 million
2001: 285 million
Today: 312 million
As Ben Franklin wrote, “tis the Duty of the first and great Command of Nature, and of Nature’s God, Increase and multiply.”
1937: Pius XI
1977: Paul VI
2001: John Paul II
Today: Benedict XVI
Interestingly, John Paul II became the pope in 1978 just before the animated Lord of the Rings movie was released and died in 2005 just after the extended edition of The Return of the King came out. So he’s our LOTR movie pope, I guess. (It’s also curious that Hobbit movies were made just before and just after his time as pope. Maybe there’s some spiritual significance to it all.)
Ages of Christopher Tolkien, Christopher Lee, and Dina Manfredini:
September 21, 1937: 12, 15, and 40 years old
November 27, 1977: 53, 55, and 80 years old
December 19, 2001: 77, 79, and 104 years old
Today: 88, 90, and 115 years old
Christopher Tolkien, as you probably know, is the youngest son of author J.R.R. Tolkien. Christopher Lee, of course, plays “Saruman”. Dina Manfredini is just an Italian woman from Iowa. The interesting thing about Dina is that she was born in the same decade as Professor Tolkien. To put it in perspective, she was 66 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and was 66 when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show – older than both Kennedy and Sullivan. Dina, who was old enough to be a grandmother when The Hobbit was originally published, is still with us, which makes me think she is very determined to see a live action Hobbit movie. Here’s hoping she gets to see all three.
I voted twice for one of these people. (No, it wasn’t Hitler.)
Those whacky Europeans
1937: The Nazis rule Germany out of Berlin, and the Russians have renamed Saint Petersburg “Leningrad” to avoid a lawsuit with Florida.
1977: The Nazis no longer rule Germany. Berlin is now two cities in two separate countries, thanks to the Russians and Leningrad.
2001: Berlin is back to being one city in one country, and Leningrad is back to being Saint Petersburg. (Am I the only one with “Istanbul Not Constantinople” in my head?)
Today: Thankfully everything is the same as 2001, which hopefully means we’re not going in circles.
The average cost of a movie ticket in the United States:
September 21, 1937: 23 cents
November 27, 1977: $2.23
December 19, 2001: $5.65
We won’t even talk about the popcorn.
The cost of a U.S. postage stamp:
September 21, 1937: 3 cents
November 27, 1977: 13 cents
December 19, 2001: 34 cents
Today: 45 cents
It’s going to be 46 cents by February. But it won’t be long anyway before teenagers ask their parents, “What’s a stamp?”
Dow Jones Industrial Average:
September 21, 1937: 157
November 27, 1977: 844
December 19, 2001: 10,070
The Dow Jones is a stock market index. Created in 1896, it spent its first eight decades creeping up to 1000 before things got a bit crazy in the 1980s and 1990s (when it went from about 1000 to 11,000.) In 2008 it crashed, and while we’ve since repaired most of the damage, we’re now stuck in a holding pattern.
Average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S:
September 21, 1937: 20 cents
November 27, 1977: 62 cents
December 19, 2001: $1.15
It’s not enough that it costs more for a movie ticket, it also costs more just to get to the theater! I just wish my salary had tripled in the last eleven years as well.
U.S. National Debt:
September 21, 1937: $37 billion
November 27, 1977: $718 billion
December 19, 2001: $5.7 trillion
Today: $16.3 trillion
It’s amazing what tax cuts, increased spending, and job losses will do. Interestingly, I hear that Minas Tirith had a surplus under King Elessar’s rule. But then that was a monarchy and he didn’t have to deal with Congress.
Films that just opened:
September 21, 1937: One Hundred Men and a Girl
November 27, 1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
December 19, 2001: Vanilla Sky
Today: Silent Night
One Hundred Men and a Girl was a musical comedy starring Deanna Durbin, who is still around actually. And Close Encounters is one of my favorite films.
Popular formats for buying music:
1937: 78 rpm records
1977: 33 and 45 rpm records
2001: Compact discs
Today: Digital downloads
I bought all the Lord of the Rings soundtracks on compact disc, but I’ve since transferred them to my ipod and I’ll just download the Hobbit soundtracks.
September 21, 1937: “One O’Clock Jump” (Count Basie)
November 27, 1977 “You Light Up My Life” (Debbie Boone)
December 19, 2001: “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (Alan Jackson)
Today: “Diamonds” (Rihanna)
The thing about music is, the people who spend the most money on it are the young. So that’s who the industry targets. As such, the older you get, the worse you think the music is getting. (Unless you’re weird, you weirdo.)
TV Show Debuts:
Fall 1937: “The Disorderly Room” (UK)
Fall 1977: “The Love Boat”
Fall 2001: “24”
Fall 2012: “Guys With Kids”
The American television industry had not yet taken off in the 1930s, but when The Hobbit was published, Professor Tolkien could have watched several English shows, including “The Disorderly Room” (if he had had a television.) I’m not too sure he would have enjoyed “Guys With Kids” though.
September, 1937: The Chinese Revolutionary Army defeats the Japanese in the The Battle of Pingxingguan
November, 1977: British Airways begins London to New York service aboard the supersonic Concorde
December, 2001: China is granted normal trade status with the United States
December 2012: The UN General Assembly approves a motion granting Palestine non-member observer state status
Popular Baby Names:
1937: William, Donald, Mary, Betty
1977: Steven, Jeffrey, Amanda, Jennifer
2001: Tyler, Jacob, Madison, Hannah
Today: Liam, Mason, Olivia, Ava
I’ve always found the change in the popularity of names to be an interesting area of study. If I were to say the names “Elmer” and “Mildred”, you’d think of a couple of grandparents; yet there was a time when these were new and hip baby names. It’s fascinating to look at how names come in and out of style, and what names become dated while others become timeless.
October 17, 1937: J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of Titanic and survivor of the sinking
December 18, 1977: Cyril Richard, voice of Elrond in the animated adaptation of The Hobbit
December 29, 2001: Brian Bansgrove, chief lighting technician for The Lord of the Rings films
Today: Alice Harden, Mississippi Senator
And with that, it’s time to return to the present and prepare to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It won’t be too long before we look back at 2012 and marvel at how much has changed. Enjoy the moment, and enjoy the film!
This month, J.W. looks at The Hobbit Storybook and gives away a Tolkien Encyclopedia in a contest. Meanwhile in his mailbag section below, he shares a riddle, talks about multi-headed trolls, and explains why The Return of the King DVDs were released both early and late.
This month, J.W. looks at the new Hobbit Tribute magazine and holds a contest with a free issue as the prize. Meanwhile, in his mailbag section he answers questions about Tolkien and the movies Tolkien inspired.
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