scroll down below for the non-spoiler review

For your own good, do not read any more blow by blow stuff. Yeah I know about the spoilers issue – who doesn’t – but save something for yourself. Don’t squeeze the juice from this lemon before it comes out unless you get a chance to see it, the footage, with your own eyes and ON THE BIG SCREEN, because your cinematic experience – no matter how bad your addictions to any scrap of info are – is far too precious to blow on impatience. Please, please trust me on this… don’t pop your own or anyone else’s TLOTR cherries before the right night – and if you can try to abide by this, I’ll have just done you one of the biggest favours of your entire life. I don’t say this as a non-fan of either TLOTR or spoilers as you well know. But suddenly I’ve realised that no matter how insatiable our desire and anticipation feels for this film, the pay off will by magnified by 10 if we pull back now. See the footage if you can (and swear you’ll wait for the big screen) but halt there.
That also goes with the freaky hype. Why? That’s a tough one.

Words can’t describe what we’ve seen for these films so far. They really can’t – but it ain’t perfect either and by refusing to grab the reins now we could make it something it isn’t – and how much will that sting if we realise that instead of letting PJ tell the stories in film better than anyone else can today and enjoying them for that that we push ourselves into some increasingly precious corner where it can only be one thing or we’ll be disappointed. That kind of pressure is impossible to handle and certainly self-defeatist.

I’ve read alleged Roadshow/New Line reps and other fans getting lines and their context wrong, such as the infamous “I might not be able to carry it Master Frodo, but I can carry you!” (from Sam and Frodo’s final ascent of Mount Doom, the one I just wrote is more or less correct), missing little details like Sam’s “I’m getting the hang of this Mister Frodo!” line at the start of the Balin’s Tomb melee and that the first sign of trouble there is just after sting starts to glow (poorly actually, much like Bilbo’s invisibility turn) and – with only a few mentions so far – Boromir sticks his head around the door to see what’s happening and finds his head nearly pierced by a number of Orc arrows, in a piece of pure Peter Jackson. There’s the fact that Gandalf seems really quite tetchy, grumpy and REAL than I expected, and actually brought immense humanity to the role when the Balrog came along, because darn it, he didn’t look impervious to damage… he looked like he was steeling himself for something he REALLY didn’t want to have to do and seemed to be hiding a certain amount brick-shitting. It was a great touch (and believe me, he wasn’t the only one in that theatre with his heart in his mouth… the fucking thing is HUGE).

That’s why I found QuiGonJinn’s Lincoln Centre report the most honest and on-the-money so far. That and the fact that PJ’s ‘necessary’ (? we’ll have to wait to see the full trilogy to work out whether quizzical choices such as leaving Aragorn’s broken Narsil out, were indeed justified or folly – I’m a big believer in PJ, so I’m trusting him) artistic license has already started to be spilt. Now the big danger here is not mere spoiling, it’s the fact that when I saw it, it showed me that no matter how many hundreds of times I might have read the books, PJ’s sneakily ensured that we feel tension and suspense (putting us in the moment and taking us away from that perilous thrill-killer critical look) during each moment. It’s in everything from Pippin knocking down a helmet, corpse, chain and bucket in a very comic chain-of-catastrophic-accidental-events inside of a mere stone, to the broken bridge leap, to the Cave Troll itself, to they very way Frodo is skewered, to Gandalf’s appearance at Bag End. Get me? It happened often enough to throw this viewer. It happens in the Shire, in Moria, in Rivendell… please, please save these moments for the complete film. I care too much about you Tolkien fans NOT to say this.

Back to QuiGonJinn – good job my son. Thanks for having the guts to tell the truth, because it’s much better than the over-enthusiastic hyping. It’s not like I don’t understand that, because I was there, over the moon with them. But it’s on the come down that I realise the real gold from here will come in surprises. I’ll just try to tweak what I’ve read toward more accurate representation without destroying the magic.

I heard from the actual cinematographer that what we we’ve been seeing hasn’t been colour treated or enhanced and that has was fairly disappointed with showing people dulled images instead of the glorious finished stuff. Ahem… I was impressed regardless, but I could see what he meant.

Well, QuiGonJinn’s blown it… the Balrog isn’t merely bullish. It IS Howe’s Balrog (but not the most famous one, it’s more like The Silmarrilion verson). And since he brought it up the inside of Moria as we first see it is straight out of the Alan Lee pic. The Shire from the outside is Alan Lee’s from The Hobbit and inside is almost exactly Howe’s version. Here I really couldn’t believe that I was actually seeing Bag End, not some silly representation, but the real deal, just as it’s described. Wait until you see Ian Holm – he’s the first Hobbit you meet and I’m telling you, you will think you’re truly seeing Bilbo. He’s amazing. In fact, he was so good that until we actually got to the Moria sequence I was still in a daze of disbelief – not that the film wasn’t up for it, but just disbeleif that someone COULD do it. And just quickly, the re-sizing is almost perfect… I think I was only aware of any effect during one backshot when the Hobbit was obviously a child, instead of the re-sized actor. So that’s one instance I remember from the 25 whole minutes.

The bit with Cave Troll and Legolas running along the chain to jump on its back were – as Ant said – obviously CGI-d. That was a disappointment during the otherwise complete suspension of disbelief. Hopefully they will work on that a little more. It is, however, functional. Moria did look a touch Escher-ish (nice), I’m hoping they did cut out the Watcher’s closing of the doors and Gollum‘s appearance coz they were nowhere to be seen. The dwarf corpses of Balin’s tomb did look and move less life-likely than I’d hoped (they seemed more like stiff models than actual skeletons – you get over it very quickly and I’m not surprised no one’s mentioned it). I say this to ground the hype. If we say it’s the greatest film trilogy of all time before people have had a chance to put it into perspective or context for themselves they WILL be disappointed. If we don’t, they’ll say it, unprompted, for themselves.

You’re going to love the drums of the deep – and every Orc looked different and unique (there were _thousands_). The Ridley Scott action Anthony talks about is quite a fair comparison – but it goes further than that. The intent in the room seems to have been to place you into the heart of the peril, so it’s like Gladiator only sped up and much more breath-taking. Everything comes at you so fast you DO feel ovrerwhelmed… and I think you, Xo, will know exactly what I mean when I say that’s the intended effect. The fighting was really dynamic and kinda Raging Bull-ish. He used long shots, close-ups, blurrily fast sequences, slow-mo, POV from the head of one of Legolas’ arrows, you name it. All seamlessly.
This seems to be indcative of his entire approach… I sensed Shakespearean-styled drama (ironic when you remember Tolkien HATED Shakespeare and crafted the Ents march to fix what he thought was a wasted opportunity in MacBeth), romantic elements, fantasy, comedy, action, – all coming in the general mix, and constantly. Why? This is the definition of EPIC film making. Middle Earth itself is a character, and you will be in awe of every landscape, every colour and set. You really feel the impossible push of destiny resting on the shoulders of these few characters in this entire WORLD. Majestic, panoramic, magical, vast, genuinely EPIC… these are all words which touch on what I’m talking about.

You were also right ages ago when you ran the review of the two film proposal script when you said you felt Gimli might be the comic relief. It’ll be he, Sam and Pippin (from which short bit I saw) but nowhere near as obvious as the examples we saw. Example? Just after the “no one tosses a dwarf” laugh-line, Gimli doesn’t quite make it and lands on the balls on his feet, so as he falls backwards, Legolas grabs him by the beard and pulls him up. You laugh, out of relief in the middle of this super-tense situation, then before you know you’re in the middle of serious peril again. Of course, PJ’s modus operandi here is simple but very effective. He’s put dynamic into the tension so you can really allow yourself to feel it, blow off the strain (everyone in the room jumped at certain moments that will remain a secret – but I will tell you that bit where the Black Rider snuffles around for the four hidden Hobbits was MUCH scarier than I’d expected. Harrowing is the word) and put drama and uncertainty into events you may have already guessed the outcome to.

I suppose a few reports have talked about performances but, even with only a few lines of dialogue to go off, I’ve really got to say this, the accents were excellent. And the performances? Sheesh! Viggo was tremendous (there’s no doubting it, he’s a real star), Elijah played his Frodo as a wide-eyed, cipher who’ll embody most of the audiences concerns and fears (and when they pan a room, his eyes stand out from the rest of the assembly like dog’s bollocks), Sean Astin was fantastic as Sam (and I had grave doubts there), John Rhys Davies was better as Giml than I expected (you only see JRD’s eyes, the rest is make up and was the most dodgy and unlife-like, but still not as plasticised as your average bad facelift), Orlando Bloom was remarkable, Sean Bean and David Wenham look just like real brothers, Liv Tyler was decidely not very Liv Tyler-ish as Arwen (thank the Lord – she really does seem not of this earth). Christopher Lee’s very brief appearance as Saruman was right-on-the-money (evil and twisted prick that Saruman is. Lee has THE voice for this, and if you know about Saruman’s most infamous power, you’ll know how pivotal this attribute will prove) and I’ve already mentioned McKellen and Holm. I didn’t see enough of the other Hobbits to comment more than I have.

I doubt anyone won’t be blown away. I still find myself closing my eyes and trying to replay the lot – for no one but myself. I LOVED it. Thanks for your time dude… just looking out for you all.


PS: Most people have been right about the music, it was hard to remember it amid the action and after glow, but I did concentrate ad found it quite rousing – but I felt the nagging suspicion that it was scratch music. It was ornate, non-intrusive and a great complement but not a star in its own right like, say, the scenery.

PPS: Have you heard Enya is releasing a soundtrack for
TLOTR on Warner by the end of the year?

PPPS: By the way, I am still on the look out for any gems to send your way.

Below I’ve attached a non-spoiler report as run in Rip It Up, just in case any of your readers want to know what happened without having the surprises ruined. If they do indeed exist, they’re a lot wiser than you or I my friend.

Here ’tis:


Well we promised you a deeper insight into what we witnessed at the 25 minute preview ­ as seen at CANNES FILM FESTIVAL earlier this year, drawing more reviews than any other film there, with not one negative word among them – from director PETER JACKSON’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy fantasy-film extravaganza (adapted of course from JRR TOLKIEN’s world-famous books) screened for a few select Australian journalists in VILLAGE ROADSHOW’s Sydney theaterette last week, so here it is.

What follows will hopefully be ­ for the most part – free of information that might spoil the experience for those who like to know as little as possible before they actually see a film. Those people might be better served by skipping this week’s Ears Are Burning column altogether. I’m not interested in giving you things to spoil – just tantalise. My main aim is to relate how well PETER JACKSON seems to have captured the spirit of TOLKIEN’s book.

To begin with, what we saw was NOT finished footage, rather 85% completed footage, using a temporary soundtrack (score and vocal overdubs), mostly finished CGI effects and using a film print that had yet to be colour enhanced and cleaned up to entirely pristine quality. Because of that, some visuals seemed muted and darker than expected… but the end result was the same: victorious!

The scene was set with a humorous explanatory introduction from the director, before that much-anticipated footage started to roll. Essentially split into three parts (a fast-moving, seven minute introduction to the story and key characters; a ‘completed’ scene from the MINES OF MORIA; and lastly, a five minute glimpse at some scenes from the remaining two movies).

You could hear the assembled audience take a collective breath as we first sighted the SHIRE. This is what TOLKIEN’s most enduring creations, the three foot high HOBBITS (including BILBO and FRODO) call home ­ and it’s almost exactly as I imagined it; lush, rural and very ‘ye olde England’. As with the other scenes we saw, the epic status of the films are established with excellence: sweeping panoramas, hills and vales, and all looking like scenes painted by fan-fave TOLKIEN artists, ALAN LEE and JOHN HOWE, come to life.

One of the first things to beg belief was the virtually seamless blending of re-sized actors and un-FX-ed actors. If our first glimpse of BILBO BAGGINS (SIR IAN HOLM) meeting his old wizard friend GANDALF (SIR IAN MCKELLEN) at BAG END was anything to judge by, we’re in for a real treat. Even though I know which techniques the filmmakers have used, I still couldn’t pick them. And as for faithfulness (and this is coming from someone who still reads the book annually), I was in shock. For the first time, I actually felt as though I was seeing the characters as they would have lived and breathed. Amazing! This strange feeling continued as we were introduced to each of the remaining main characters, with each seeming so close to TOLKIEN’s descriptions and intent that I had to pinch myself at what I was seeing. Remembering that what I saw was just an extended snippet, I can tell you they’ve stayed true to the accents and characters as immortalised by TOLKIEN himself with remarkable attention to detail. Indeed JACKSON seems to have leaned more in the direction of the Shakespeare epic than, say, he matinee movie serials Star Wars so readily recalls, without losing any appeal or vibrant accessibility. The vast majority of audiences will be thrilled by this, from the novice to the TOLKIEN veteran.

It’s hard to single any one actor out since all were astonishing, but perhaps the most remarkable were BILBO (a spirited, note-for-note performance by HOLM), GANDALF (grumpy, complex, dry-humoured and stoic ­ take a bow Sir!), ARAGORN (it looks like an Academy Award performance from VIGGO MORTENSEN ­ and the girls will love him to bits), the evil wizard SARUMAN (veteran actor CHRISTOPHER LEE utilising that tremendous voice for well-aimed shot at embodying another classic screen villain) and the HOBBITS (each well essayed… SEAN ASTIN’s SAM GAMGEE being the most pleasant surprise). The ELVES (I was sceptical but unknown ORLANDO BLOOM IS LEGOLAS) and DWARVES (JOHN RHYS DAVIES’ feisty GIMLI was the only character whose make-up seemed a touch ‘plasticised’. It still looked much more realistic than Burt Reynolds’ latest facelift) are gorgeously depicted and the world of MIDDLE EARTH itself seems to have been treated as a central character (from ornate RIVENDELL to a harrowing MOUNT DOOM, from astonishing LOTH LORIEN to the fields of ROHAN). Oh did I forget to mention how blood-curdling the evil RINGWRAITH NAZGUL seemed?

The MORIA sequence revealed much about how JACKSON is dealing with the story (they told us this was pretty much the final cut ­ but I beg to differ. MORIA is the place the FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING realise the twisted RING-addict, GOLLUM, is on their trail ­ and there was neither hide nor hair of his luminescent eyes peering through the darkness OR that tell-tale ‘gollum’ gulp we’ve learned to love so much… very sly). The whole thing is MASSIVE, beyond what we could have hoped. TOLKIEN’s story moves briskly without seeming rushed and has been imbued with much danger and life-or-death sincerity. His fight sequences were trademark JACKSON, visually thrilling, ambitious and almost overwhelming in their bid to make you feel as though you’re being set upon yourself, and take what we saw in Gladiator to the next step and beyond. The fearsome ORCS ­ in both design, depiction and sheer numbers (we’re talking thousands of the blood-thirsty little buggers) – will blow many a mind… but they’re just the pawns. Wait until you see the CAVE TROLL (the entire room jumped at one moment) ­ or even worse, the huge part-dragon BALROG (no I won’t spoil it… let’s just say you might want to take in a spare pair of undies).
Without wanting to alarm TOLKIEN purists (I ain’t so far away from one of them myself), JACKSON seems to have taken a few liberties in telling the story to ensure everyone is surprised. While the motive and outcome remain the same, he’s tweaked a little bit here and there so you feel you’re getting the story for the first time. No ‘tweak’ rankled, and that in itself was a major feat. There was humour, romance, drama, adventure, horror and even intrigue on show in abundance. The actors play everything not as fantasy but as life… and I’ll be buggered if I know how they managed it, but after the initial shock of actually seeing TOLKIEN’s world come to life and his characters become flesh, I stopped observing and became totally absorbed. All of this within 25 minutes…

I wasn’t the only one left gob-smacked either. As the footage came to an end, there was an explosion of applause followed by an unnerving silence (presumably as the collected press picked up their respective jaws from the floor) as we filtered out, stunned. Once outside, all we could do was grasp clumsily for something to describe this much-anticipated moment; yet it was apparent to all that we’d seen cinema history in the making. We’ll all be able to see whether I’m right or not when THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the first film of the trilogy opens in cinemas worldwide on Dec 26, 2001 (Boxing Day); with other two arriving on the following Boxing Days 2002-3 respectively.

My advice from here? Don’t hype these film. It doesn’t need it and this kind of over-enthusiasm could hurt the experience more than help it (and I should know, being a fairly enthusiastic sort). Also, don’t expect what can never be achieved. For long term TOLKIEN fans, no film will ever replace their own vision ­ but this will the closest anyone could have hoped to get. Trust PETER JACKSON. Let him tell you the story his way (you’ll always have your own version). For newcomers, prepare for something the likes of which your imagination is rarely treated to. Some people make films. PETER JACKSON has aimed much higher. This is champagne cinema.