Hobbitsteacosy was at the Paris Premiere of LOTR – The Two Towers last week, and wrote this report for us to share!

The European Premiere of The Lord Of The Rings – The Two Towers
Le Grande Rex Cinema, Paris 10th December 2002

by HobbitsTeaCosy

Warning…. contains SPOILERS!!!! (well, mild ones)

I was one of the lucky few who attended the Paris premiere of The Two Towers and I feel privileged to have the chance to share my experiences with you all.

My friends and I left the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris at 5:30 pm and taxi’d to Le Grande Rex cinema. Two of us had tickets, the others would be waiting outside to hopefully catch an autograph or three. We hung around outside for a little while to get a good look at the decor and soak up the atmosphere. The cinema looked a treat from the outside; there was a swish purple entryway with “Le Seigneur D’Anneux – Les Deux Tours” (Lord Of The Rings – The Two Towers,) emblazoned on it, huge, huge posters of all the characters and a canopied walkway for the stars and guests to walk down. The weather wasn’t so hot so that’s probably why the walkway was covered. Anyway, as I made my way along I spotted Sean Astin (Sam), signing autographs at the barrier, (he’s lost a LOT of weight,) but I held my cool and kept moving!

Once inside the reception area, which looked like your standard cinema lobby save for the influx of press and TV people lining one side, I was given directions to my seat, which was on the left hand side of the ground floor, a few rows back from the front. Excellent! The seats reserved for cast and crew were in the centre, about ten or fifteen rows back. The auditorium itself certainly lived up to expectations … baroque and beautiful, with thick carpets and serene lighting. The atmosphere was relaxed, yet exciting at the same time. I didn’t feel the least bit intimidated. There was a little red bag containing popcorn, a bottled drink and a chocolate bar in front of each seat, just in case anyone got the munchies during the film. (I hoped it would contain a party ticket too, to no avail.)

I went to the bathroom to freshen my face, and when I came out I saw Elijah Wood being interviewed by what I assumed was French TV. He was charming and chatty in a beige suit, and his brand new buzz cut made him look younger. I was surprised at how petite he was. Peter Jackson was there too, in regulation casual garb. By this time I was standing by the main staircase when I noticed Dom and Billy arrive. Dom seemed on top form, joking with the press, and he was wearing a get-up which …. well, I suppose the kindest description is LOUD! A gold and black striped jacket, jeans and trainers, and his hair was blond and spiked, not unlike David Beckham’s. Billy was wearing what I first assumed to be a kilt, but I didn’t see a tartan pattern … it was black. A kilt noir, I suppose. Liv Tyler’s dress was astonishing – a pale-pink bodice with a voluminous skirt. I had a cigarette in the lobby then returned to the auditorium. Some of the stars were being interviewed onscreen – Sean Astin, Andy Serkis in a white jacket and huge Elvis quiff, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, one or two French celebs.

It’s a bit of a blur until the time came to introduce the actors and crew onstage. I got up to go to the loo again and passed Brad Dourif talking to one of the attendants. Then back into the auditorium, just in time for the introductions. Peter Jackson, Howard Shore, Phillippa Boyens, Rick Porras, Elijah, Dom, Billy, Christopher Lee, John Rhys-Davies, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, Liv Tyler, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill etc. No Ian McKellen (he’s still working on the second X-Men movie) or Orlando (he’s filming Pirates of the Carribean – I think.) Ditto Miranda Otto, David Wenham and Cate Blanchett. Peter gave a nice speech about the honour of holding the European premiere in France and said some nice things about French cinema. He said that Fran had decided to stay at home with their children this time.

Then it was TIME. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag for those who haven’t seen it so I’ll talk about the standouts. One or two spoilers follow, so go to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know. Suffice to say the opening dream-sequence – a tumbling Gandalf and Balrog locked in battle – is incredible. It’s not long before we get our first look at Gollum, and let me tell you, it is difficult to separate the CGI from the character himself. It is SEAMLESS. Andy’s Gollum has all the requisite whining, hissing sliminess crossed with a strangely appealing wretchedness – cute in a way, but not nauseatingly so. I actually felt more sympathy for the movie Gollum than the character in the book. And the schizophrenic Slinker/Stinker conversation later on is a treat.

Frodo’s gradual disintegration is subtle, with clever use of facial expressions and nuances. In one scene Frodo’s face is half-lit, the other half in shadow, with a discernible darkness under his eye, a hollowness of the cheek. There’s a certain facial feature of Gollum’s that echoes that of Frodo, and so serves as a kind of tragic presentiment, a signifier of what Frodo is in danger of becoming. I won’t say what it is here. Sam, as always, is stalwart, despite the fracturing friendship between him and his master as the latter begins to succumb to the potency of the ring.

We also follow Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in pursuit of Merry and Pippin. Running into Eomer and a crew of renegade Rohirrim,, banished from Edoras by the Saruman/Grima-brainwashed King Theoden, they make a grisly discovery. Eomer informs them that he and his men have just routed a brigade of Uruks and that there were no survivors. All the bodies were cremated. Disconsolate, man, elf and dwarf conclude that Merry and Pippin must also have perished in the battle. All hope seems lost, until they make a cheering discovery … the switch from utter despair to elation in this scene is marvellous.

As Theoden, Bernard Hill handles the transition from broken puppet-king to rejuvenated leader with deft assurance. Miranda Otto is a sensitive, quietly serious Eowyn, appalled by her father’s gradual erosion at the hands of Grima, saddened by his lack of belief in her swordswomanship, and torn by her attraction to Aragorn, which she downplays wonderfully, evoking her feelings by looks and gestures. Brad Dourif is in top Richard III form as Wormtongue, hunched, greasy and weaselly.

But for the real treat, two words – Helm’s Deep. The build-up is incredible. The scene where Saruman stands atop Orthanc before thousands of marauding, battle-ready Uruks is powerfully unsettling, with eerie shades of Leni Riefensthal. The battle itself far exceeds anything seen in Fellowship, a triumph of both effects and the human touch. The powder-keg sense of doom inside the fortress are tense and profoundly moving. A child is seen preparing for battle. Rohan women hug their children close and weep, in realisation that they could be saying goodbye to their menfolk for the last time.

Gandalf’s return is suitably dramatic, Treebeard is fabulous, and there’s some good exchanges between Merry and Pippin. One little gripe – the march of the Ents on Orthanc just seemed to be over too quickly for my taste.

While I’m on this critical interlude, I found one or two elements a little contemporary – most notably a scene where Legolas appears to SKATEBOARD down the fortress stairs. Not so good.

There’s also the overuse of flashbacks – handy for those who haven’t seen Fellowship and need a pick-up, but smacks of unnecessary padding nonetheless. The Black Gate didn’t give me the shivers the way it did in the book either. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but the sky above the gate was BLUE – and this, after all, is Mordor, where the sun never shines and the black cloud has already begun to spread. It simply didn’t ring right. There are more deviations from the book than in Fellowship – whether this is judicious or not is an entirely subjective matter, and it often works – but on occasion it doesn’t.

However, the positives far outweigh the negatives and the film will be a well-deserved smash. It might not be The Two Towers in the minds of some, but it is an astounding cinematic achievement nonetheless.

So I can say I left the cinema enthralled, happy – and relieved. I met my friends outside near the stars’ exit. I’m not one for name-dropping, but here’s a taster … I was standing in front of a guy who wanted to get into the car in front of me, I turned round and it was Karl Urban! I said, “Oooh, sorry!” or something like that, feeling like a real ninny, and he smiled and said, “It’s okay!”

One of my friends had a ticket to the party, (lucky so-and-so!) and we dropped her off there then made our way back to the hotel, where we finished off the champagne we’d bought earlier! I wish I could have gone to the party too, but the sheer excitement of being one of the first people in Europe to see the film, outside those directly involved with the production, more than made up for the disappointment. Paris, quite simply, was the realisation of a dream … I’m confident you’ll all be over the moon come December 18th!