Aiglos sends us the good word from The Irish Times:
HIT AND MYTH
Rarely has a movie generated such avid anticipation as The Fellowship of the Ring, the first instalment in Peter Jackson’s epic mythic trilogy adapted from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The hype which has been building up since the project got the green light in Hollywood has been extraordinary, but matched by the level of international interest in the series.
As director Jackson took on the task of filming Tolkien’s trilogy, which was voted Book of the Century in several polls two years ago, the challenge for him has been to turn it into the first great epic film of the 21st century, while simultaneously appeasing the worldwide army of Tolkien purists who can be guaranteed to pick over every detail of the three movies.
Each casting decision was scrupulously analysed on the film’s various websites, which have attracted record numbers of hits for a movie. Inevitably, there has been controversy along the way, starting on the day before filming began when the Irish actor, Stuart Townsend – cast in the key role of the brave, rugged exile, Aragorn – was dropped by Jackson and replaced by the US actor, Viggo Mortensen.
“I spent two months working on it in pre-production in New Zealand,” Townsend told The Irish Times earlier this year. “Then, the day before shooting started, I was off the picture without filming a single scene. It was a horrible experience.”
More positively, after 20 minutes of footage from the film was screened to critics and exhibitors at Cannes in May, the reaction was uniformly enthusiastic when New Line Cinema hosted a lavish themed party for the film at the festival. Formerly one of the leading US independent producers and distributors, New Line, now owned by AOL Time Warner, has gambled $300 million on financing the trilogy, which will be released over the next three Christmases, beginning on December 19th with the global opening of The Fellowship of the Ring.
The bar is now set so high for the trilogy that it will have to sustain all the promise of its Cannes showreel and build on that if it is to come close to matching the great expectations it has aroused. Furthermore, it is opening at a time of so much political uncertainty around the world, and it faces fierce competition at the US box-office at a time when a wealth of prestige productions are released in time to qualify for the end-of-year Oscars deadline.
At the core of The Fellowship of the Ring are the nine different creatures and cultures which make up the world that is Middle Earth: Hobbits, Dwarves, Man, Elves, Trolls, Ents, Orcs, Ringwraiths and Uruk-Hais. Each culture has its own way of life, customs, myths, dress modes and style of fighting. Barrie Osborne, who is producing the trilogy with Peter Jackson, says that the films “required a commitment from our cast to learn how to swordfight, horseback ride, canoe, learn Elvish, climb mountain peaks and at the same time bring the magic and magnetism of Tolkien’s characters to the screen.” He adds: “They were up to the task.”
That intriguingly chosen international cast is led by the young former child actor, Elijah Wood, as Frodo Baggins, the shy but forthright Hobbit who undertakes the quest to destroy The Ring. He is joined in the cast by some of Britain’s most established actors, including Ian McKellen as Gandalf, the powerful wizard; Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit who bequeaths The Ring to his cousin, Frodo; and Christopher Lee as Saruman, the Wizard who has succumbed to the lure of power and evil. Cate Blanchett, the Australian actress nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Elizabeth – and set to play the murdered Irish journalist, Veronica Guerin in a movie to be made in Dublin next year – is cast as Galadriel, the Elf-Queen who is very powerful, and in her own way, dangerous.
In addition to Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, the principal cast also features Liv Tyler as Arwen, Sean Astin as Sam (aka Samwise Gamgee), Billy Boyd as Pippin, Dominic Monaghan as Merry, Orlando Bloom as Legolas, Sean Bean as Boromir, John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Andy Serkis as Gollum and Marton Csokas as Celeborn. The project marks a massive undertaking for Peter Jackson, the 40-year-old New Zealander who has adapted the trilogy for the screen and has made all three films back-to-back in his home country. Some observers in the film industry have questioned the choice of a director as relatively inexperienced in epic film-making as Jackson is, to take on such a daunting production.
However, it is a measure of Jackson’s tenacity that when he failed to get a job in the New Zealand film industry as he had hoped, he started work as a photo-engraving apprentice and used his own wages to provide the entire finance for his first feature film, the cultish and aptly titled Bad Taste (1988), a very low-budget science-fiction comedy which he wrote, produced, directed, starred in and edited – and even was responsible for the gory make-up.
After two more small pictures, Braindead and the adult puppet comedy, Meet the Feebles, Jackson made his mark internationally in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures, a stylish, richly atmospheric and factually based picture set in 1950s New Zealand and featuring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as two bright schoolgirl friends whose obsessive relationship led to the murder of one of their mothers. It received the runner-up prize, the Silver Lion, at the Venice Film Festival, and the screenplay by Jackson and Fran Walsh earned them an Oscar nomination. Less successful was Jackson’s next film, the characteristically offbeat and dark-humoured paranormal picture, The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox.
In approaching the mammoth logistical operation that is The Lord of the Rings, Jackson felt that visual effects technology had just reached the point where it could tackle the legends and landscapes of which Tolkien dreamed – and do his brilliant imagination justice. “I started with one goal, to take movie-goers into the fantastical world of Middle Earth in a way that is believable and powerful,” Jackson says. “I wanted to take all the great moments from the books and use modern technology to give audiences nights at the movies unlike anything they’ve experienced before.”
He began by spending three years on adapting the trilogy for the screen in collaboration with writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. “I’ve spent seven years of my life on this project so far, pouring my heart into every single part of it,” Jackson says. “But I think that’s the least we owe to Tolkien and the legion of fans around the globe. They deserve our very best efforts.
“From the beginning I didn’t want to make your standard fantasy film. I wanted to make something that felt much, much more real. Tolkien writes in a way that makes everything come alive, and we wanted to set that realistic feeling of an ancient world come to life right away with the first film, then continue to build it as the story unravels. We constantly referred to the book, not just in writing the screenplay, but also throughout the production. Every time we shot a scene, I re-read that part of the book right before, as did the cast. It was always worth it, always inspiring.”
He adds: “That being said, it has been equally important for us that the films amaze, surprise and delight people who have never read the books or know nothing about Hobbits, Dwarves and Elves. Tolkien’s world holds an appeal for anyone who comes ready to experience something special.” Quite how special that experience proves to be on the screen is certain have websites and chatrooms buzzing incessantly after The Fellowship of the Ring is unveiled to the world on December 19th.