I’m writing to report that 29, 30 & October 1st, New Line is holding a series of screenings of the 26 minutes of LOTR footage previously viewed at the Cannes Film Festival and other locations. I’m assuming that the invitations were sent out to media outlets and press (I can ONLY assume, as I was out sick from work on Friday when the publication I work for [the A&F Quarterly] received its invitation, so I haven’t actually SEEN the thing; I only heard about it because a thoughtful co-worker (bless ‘im) called me at home while I was convalescing).
My co-worker gave me the number of an automated screening-reservation line provided by the P.R. firm that’s handling the firm. A quick call to a human-being-operated line listed on the recording enabled me to find out the location of the screening and all the available times (21 in all). I made my reservation for sunday’s 6:30pm showing. At five o’clock, I caught a Long Island Rail Road train from my (so sick she couldn’t come with me, much to our mutual chagrin) girlfriend’s apartment into The City. I tried to use the time wisely–instead of staring into the windy, rainy night through the windows, I finished off Clive Barker’s wonderful work of dark fantasy, Weaveworld. Thank goodness Barker’s so good, or I might have been completely incapacitated by the mix of anticipation and trepidation I felt about the footage. Of course, I’d seen all the reviews, for which the word “rave” seemed woefully inadequate, but my hopes for this movie are higher than those for any other film I can remember. (This coming from a man who has a tattoo of the Rebel Alliance insignia on his right arm–in other words, there have been other movies in recent years that i’ve looked forward to for some time.) I met up with my good friend and fantasy afficinado Ken in Penn Station, and away we went, by subway and foot, to our destination.
As we entered the lobby we could hear the sounds from the 6pm screening bleeding through the doors. Not wanting anything spoiled, I threw on my headphones and blasted the latest Tool record, successfully drowning out even the Balrog (Tool can do that). The doors opened promptly at 6:30, spilling out about 20 thoroughly impressed industry types. (Even New Line studio flacks seemed legitimately pleased by what they’d seen.) Ken and I took our place in the screening room’s lush seats, and almost within seconds, the lights went down, and the film began.
At this point, words fail me.
Others have summarized the contents of the Cannes footage, and I won’t rehash their work. I will simpy add my voice to the growing chorus of people who have boldly proclaimed that nothing–and I mean NOTHING–can prepare you for how absolutely INCREDIBLE this film is. The teasers, the trailers, the interviews, the spy reports–impressive as they are–are incapable of conveying the truth of the matter: What P.J. and company have done here is not just good, not just great, but PERFECT.
I literally had not a single complaint. I was transfixed from beginning to end. I was totally convinced by everything–the sets, the scenery, the costumes, the effects, the creatures, (most crucially) the performances. There is quite simply not a single off note. I came away with certain impressions that stand out in retrospect–how perfectly Ian Holm has captured Bilbo’s charm…how utterly convincing the Cave Troll is (of course it doesn’t look “real”–nothing that ISN’T real “looks real”–but it’s only that semantic distinction that keeps you from believing it’ll leap out of the screen and come after YOU next)…how Hugo Weaving, in his portrayal of Elrond, somehow managed to convey centuries of hardship and sorrow in a mere look upon seeing the One Ring for the first time since his comrade Isildur defied his advice an Age ago…how a second-long glimpse of Miranda Otto as Eowyn left me wondering whether Aaragorn’s heart could stand the strain of being near her…how John Noble as Denethor’s one-line appearance made me ache for the loss of Boromir as though he were my own son…how Moria is every bit as awesome as the greatest city the dwarves ever constructed should be (as my friend Ken put it, “The problem with fantasy films up until this point is that no one was willing to spend the money it takes to convey the scope of how these things appear in your mind…but that WAS the scope of how those things appeared in my mind!”)…how Sam–I mean Sean Astin–NO, I mean SAM–is indeed the best friend a hobbit could have…I could, and probably will, go on for hours. It truly is that good, my friends, even for a person who’s invested so much mental and emotional energy in Tolkien’s world over the years that anything short of perfection would be treason. It bears repeating: it’s perfect. Absolutely perfect.
A final thought: As I waited for the subway to take me back to Penn Station, I looked at a sign that read “Subway Service As Of September 19.” The seemingly banal announcement that changes had occurred in subway service that bore posting brought crashing home the horrible images of the catastrophe that necessitated those changes. A catastrophe, I suddenly realized, that had been completely banished from my mind for 26 glorious minutes. But the footage I saw was no balm of forgetfulness; it offered more than mere oblivion. It offered the knowledge that good can, and must, triumph over evil. It offered the hope that even the littlest of us can make that happen. It made me realize that this film–this story–is exactly what we need. Coming full circle, Barker once told me (no, I’m not above name-dropping) that his fondest hope was to share his dream-life with as many people as possible. Peter Jackson has taken it upon himself to do exactly that with the dreams of J.R.R. Tolkien. Now more than ever, let us be grateful that he’s succeeded. And believe me, he has, he has, he has.