Our initial report on the German magazine “Stern” appeared just last week. They had a delicious article with some prominent images reproduced from earlier New Line promotional material (stuff we’ve already seen, kids). We are lucky to have a very clean translation from the German. Here it is in full:

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by Karsten Lemm

One Ring to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie

Three lines, almost 50 years old, still magical in power. Whoever knows them, whoever reads them, disappears momentarily out of this world. Submerges in the memory of a distant, strange land, long before our time, in which little people with furry feet called Hobbits move out to conquer evil. Black riders, wizards, dwarfs, strange creatures, half-human half-tree—Middle-earth in all its intricacy, so authentic as if it were more than a fantasy world immortalized in one of the most successful books of the 20th century: The Lord of The Rings by the British linguistics professor J.R.R. Tolkien.

Every year since the 3-volume fantasy epic appeared in 1954-55, this world has existed exclusively in the minds of its readers. 50 million people had 50 million different conceptions of how Gandalf, Frodo, Gollum and all the other figures looked. Hollywood undertook a halfhearted attempt to film Lord of the Rings in 1978 but fans despised the result and with that, things calmed down.

Now, however, someone is again making an attempt to do the impossible. In an unprecedented undertaking the New Zealand director Peter Jackson (hereafter PJ) is filming the entire work of over 1200 pages, all three parts of the novel, at the same time. One after another they are to arrive in theaters at intervals of 12 months, respectively.

The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, is due on 19 December in the USA and one day later in Germany. For the Tolkien family the only thing to do is to go into hiding. “I expect bother without end when the film comes out” groans John Tolkien, an 83 year-old retired, Catholic priest—and he is probably right.

Months before the premiere there is as much commotion about The Lord of The Rings as there was in the late 60’s when hippies discovered the ecologically inspired epic and pasted Gandalf for President stickers on their rusted VW’s (Gandalf, for the uninitiated, is a wise wizard protecting Middle-earth from the long arm of Evil).

No one has a greater interest in pushing the monumental fantasy into the stage lights than the film’s producer New Line Cinema, who until now financed films with predictable budgets but now is letting itself take a gigantic gamble. The original estimate of $180 million for all three films has, according to insiders, expanded to $270 million—a good 550 DM. However thoughtful the decision may be to film all 3 parts parallel, it is also very risky. “Whoever produces 3 films should rather watch out that the first one is good,” warns veteran producer William Goldman (The Untouchables). “If it is not good then nobody will care about the 2nd and 3rd parts any more.”

With such thoughts the producers have been struggling since day one. Even the choice of director was considerably risky. PJ is not a director for popcorn cinema. His biggest public success to date was the puberty drama Heavenly Creatures with Kate Winslet—by Hollywood standards intimate theater.

The Tolkien fans are eyeing the project with much more suspicion than the film world. For most, The Lord of The Rings is not simply a book but a passion. They are organized by the thousands in clubs, readings, and roundtable discussions on questions from the Tolkien universe. “Naturally we do not want the book secularized or made trivial,” says Mike Foster, American representative of the Oxford based Tolkien Society.

The bands of fans were especially watchful during the 15-month filming which ended 24 December 2000. At more than 100 film locations PJ’s crew, which consisted of 1700 workers, transformed the landscape of New Zealand into Tolkien’s Middle-earth, used 1000’s of gallons of paint, used 1000’s of cubic meters of wood and plastic, had fashioned by smiths 40 golden rings and 900 suits of armor and all the while Tolkien disciples looked over their shoulders, nervously prepared to announce to the world via internet, the slightest deviation from the original.

Among the few fans who were permitted on set was the German Stefan Servos. He runs Herr-der-ringe-film.de, the online news center for German Tolkien fans. Servos, a 25 year-old journalism student, received the opportunity from German Kino World Library to walk through the sets of Tolkien’s city of Minas Tirith, to shake hands with the 4 Hobbit actors and to talk shop with PJ, the director.

“PJ was genial,” beams Servos. “He was quite relaxed. There was no stress although it was just before the end of the filming.” When Servos’ report appears online Kino World will decide. The film company was fishing for fans as advisers when his web site became a hit (on an average of 300,000 hits a day!). “Nothing that I learned from Kino World is allowed on my web page,” says Servos. Nonetheless he could answer a few of the hotly discussed questions from his friends: Does the Balrog have wings? What does Gollum look like? Servos has also seen a 22 minute-long preview for cinema owners and marketing partners. But he will betray nothing. Only so much as to keep fans calm: “PJ has done it! He has captured the magic of Middle-earth.”

“It made the Kino World partner in Hollywood a little nervous at first that the Germany Company had a fan there,” says Servos. But it fits in with the marketing strategy that the producers have OK’d for their risky project. Instead of leaving fans to their spying New Line works closely together with them. “It is clear to them that everything we do raises attention to the film,” says Cliff Broadway, who writes for the fansite TheOneRing.net under the name Quickbeam.

First place for news is still the official web site: Lordoftherings.net. It is difficult for the fans to get any information now that the filming is done and the filmmakers are back inside the studio working on over 1200 special effects. A tasty tidbit which the studio put on the net last April—a preview mix of scenes not even 2 minutes long, was sucked up by hungry fans right on the first day: 1.7 million downloads, and at the end of the first week the number stood at 6.6 million. Star Wars father George Lucas could turn Yoda-green with envy.

The trailer to Episode I of the Star Wars saga—clearly inspired by Tolkien—brought 1.1 million downloads on its first day. But does that mean The Fellowship will win at the box office in December? “You know,” grumbled a jealous studio boss to the New York Times, “The 1.7 million people who downloaded the trailer on the first day, I think that is the entire public for the film.” But the fans see it otherwise. “These films will out perform Star Wars by far,” says Cliff Broadway. “We have waited so long for this! Three or four generations of readers adore this book.”

Just the book. Whatever Hollywood does with The Lord of the Rings, it can only make the subject more popular.

“I have the greatest hopes that the film will be a success and bestow on Tolkien a new generation of readers,” says Clay Harper, Tolkien project leader for US publisher Houghton Mifflin. “And as strange as it may sound, I envy these people. I would give anything if I could possibly read the book again for the first time.” Harper, 42 and a life-long Tolkien fan, admits that he was among the first who on 12 January slipped into the Cinema at noon to view with astonishment the new film Trailer [in front of Thirteen Days – Ed.] but he is also afraid that the images on the screen could supress his own. Then Gandalf would forever be Sir Ian McKellen and the Elven queen Arwen would look like Liv Tyler. Personal mental images would be replaced by the filmmaker’s.

“I feel like a person running around with two heads,” says Harper. “One head belongs to the 13 year-old in me who wants to be sitting in the cinema on the 19th of December and the other head belongs to the 42 year-old who would like to protect his fantasies.”