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Since 2000 TheOneRing.net has been publishing reports of the biggest, brightest and some say best pop-culture fan gathering in the United States if not the world, and to not keep up the tradition would be just plain wrong! This was the Cons 35th year in existence, where it has grown from a couple of hundred people talking comic shop into 80,000 (according to un-official reports) people celebrating all things genre while still keeping comic books as its base.
New Line Cinema, along with almost every other motion picture studio and most of the free world, has realized that this convention is the place to launch event and genre movie promotional campaigns. What Sundance is to independent films and Cannes is to Oscar nominations, Comic-Con is to blockbuster cinema. Marketing directors and publicists know that getting on stage at the Con vastly improves a film or actors chances of being embraced by the enthusiastic or even fanatical core audience. A film can still fail on its own merits after making a Con promotion (Halle Berry talked Catwoman last year and it had a disastrous opening last weekend) but if the right people spread the word about something positive, it can ride the momentum all the way to profitability; and yet there is so much more to the event than just a few movie promotions.
With TheOneRing.net not having a booth or table (due to committing its resources to the Oscar party back in February) it was left to documentarions Ringers to hold court. They featured temp tattoos and t-shirts along with footage of the documentary Ringers: Lord of the Fans. They presented a Thursday evening panel for the convention detailing their film (in post-production) along with author Peter S. Beagle and actor Sala Baker on hand, but more on all this later!
On the dealers floor, New Line, along with Sideshow Collectibles and Decipher promoted from the prominent Tolkien Pavilion in the center of the almost 500,000 square foot dealers room. (Yes, you read that right, its a cavernous place.) New Line also trotted out its most prestigious and profitable film franchise The Lord of the Rings as part of a two-hour presentation that owned Friday nights schedule.
Many of you have read reports of this, but not with some of the details about to be shared. There are spoilers ahead, so stop reading NOW if you wish not to know. The footage available on-line doesnt have all this; it seems to have started late.
Many studios would have delivered safe promotional footage, but not PJ and not New Line. Instead they showcased many of the key moments from the Extended Edition. Who gets the credit? Either New Line trusted PJ completely and didnt screen this before it was shown or it was smart on its own. Either way a tasty treat was delivered. The clips were brief but they were crystal clear in many instances. This is your last chance to bail out and some personal interpretations will be peppered amongst the pure reporting.
PJ talks to Comic Con, saying the extended footage will be 50-minutes long and we are the first people to see the preview. It opens with, to great cheers, the Voice of Saruman uttering a threat. (It is a different section than the one that starts the currently available bootleg version of the footage.) There is a money shot of a long camera sweep up Minas Tirith. I believe the White City will be made even grander in the EE.
Frodo and Sam are in Orc gear and they are marching in formation in an Orc company. They were NOT singing Where There is a Whip, There is a Way. Frodo stumbles, threatening to ruin the disguise. Sam helps him.
Legolas and Gimli engage in a post-Orthanc drinking game. This footage is actually available on the web if you search hard enough. Or if you know where I live, stop by. Next Aragorn is shown holding a palantir, and not just holding it but using it, with his sword drawn, showing him the same weapon that cut the One Ring from his finger thousands of years and three movies ago. He is casting doubt and fear into Sauron. He is without a doubt contending with the Great Eye.
The statue head wreathed with flowers at the Crossroads is shown next. A photo is also available on the web and has been for months. Next my favorite segment shows up. We witness a Peter Jackson style tight shot on a mouth with jagged yellow teeth and lips and gums that are rotted and in desperate need of Chap Stick. Just like in the Houghton-Mifflin movie tie-in book, this is the very Mouth of Sauron. Further confirming the design, Sideshow Collectibles puts its MoS bust up for pre-order over the weekend along with some shots of the figure.
Anyway, we see a long shot of Mouth riding his horse from between the Black Gates, presumably after Aragorn has called for the Lord of Mordor to come forth and have justice done upon him. We see another shot of the mouth say, and I quote,
I have a token I was bidden to show thee. Then we have a shot from behind The Mouth and then he holds up Frodos mithril shirt. I believe there was a shot of Merry or Pippin despairing but I dont know that it was related and the cuts were coming quick as lightning at times faster than a writing pen at least.
We cut back to Gandalf and friends vs. Saruman, where the video starts and PJ cuts in to say, Lets face it, Return of the King was always a little short. This is where he repeats the 50 minutes of extra footage. He also explains that for that footage there are about 300 special effects shots, bigger than many entire movies.
With some more footage PJ explains that like the book there are appendices that chronicle everything and then there is a cut to a crowd in Wellington at the premier of the film. I have it on VERY good authority from two separate sources that one of the film crews at TORns last Oscar Party was also contracted by the New Line Home Entertainment division and was shooting footage for the DVD and there is a pretty good chance some of it will end up on the DVD. But I digress
There is a section then of the actors, mostly hobbits, talking about the legacy of the films. Billy Boyd sitting by Dominic Monaghan says in his fantastic accent, And when we have keds, and I dont mean together of course which got a giant laugh. He looked forward to seeing the film in 25 years.
Sam sees beauty in the clouds with Mister Frodo and says, Mister Frodo, there is light, beauty in the clouds that no shadow can diminish. very near the end and finally, at last, at long, long last the ancient footage of Merry swearing allegiance to Théoden and Rohan will make the cut. In the first trailer of Fellowship (and I think in the first Comic Con footage) we saw this but finally it is good for something besides promotion.
There is a scene of Orcs crashing the gate at Minas Tirith with a good old normal sized battering ram like the one used at Helms Deep during Théodens last stand. This is a day-time shot and will make the siege and the coming of Grond later that night ring with more significance; we have more fighting it seems, for good or ill.
Aragorn is back agonizing over the fallen Éowyn, obviously in the Houses of Healing and we cut to Frodo agonizing in Orc gear as Merrys voiceover recounts how he cant save Middle-earth but he hopes to see his friends again. Then some exterior shots of Minas Tirith (I think) and next Aragorn stands over the sleeping Éowyn quite obviously NOT in the House of Healing but likely back in Rohan. She grabs his hand as he turns to leave.
Then we get a brief glimpse of the Armies of the Dead surging past the three hunters, Saruman striking Grima Wormtounge, Éowyn and Gothmog facing off, lots more fighting around and on Minas Tirith, and finally Gandalf confronting the Witch King and his suddenly flaming sword. There was dialog between them but my pen was too slow, although I believe WK said, This is my power or This is my time.
It was in effect the best commercial for the EE ROTK that will ever be made. It was better than some movies in fact with its perfect pacing, character development and amazing effects. It was just lovely.
However, the footage wasnt over, just the initial preview. The panel talked at length (if you havent heard) and consisted of Billy Boyd, David Wenham, producer Rick Porras, DVD producer Michael Pellerin and a New Line publicity representative whose name was not recorded in the official TORn notebook.
Before summarizing the content of the panel, indulge TORn with a brief account of what is so vastly different between any of the Lord of the Rings previews at this and previous Cons and the all-too often seen standard promotions for other films.
Have you noticed the difference between the quality of features on the LOTR DVDs (particularly the extended editions) and some other DVDs? Chances are if you thought a behind the scenes look at a film was standard, boring or if it felt too commercialized or fake, it was part of an EPK or Electronic Press Kit. Studios hire epk productions to visit the set of a film for a day, film whatever happens to be going on, conduct short interviews with those concerned and then pass off the production to HBO or another electronic outlet who calls the commercial an HBO First Look which is actually a 30-minute commercial for a film. In some cases these commercials end up as documentaries on DVDs or are shown at Comic-Con. Actors or directors use words like, brilliant genuine visionary and organic to talk about their films or co-workers; consumer beware.
In contrast to that, Peter Jackson has put together, for several years now, a special reel for Comic-Con that is unlike everything the previous paragraph talks about. This writer will never forget sitting next to Tookish and Quickbeam at Comic Con 2000 (before I was a TORn staffer) and seeing genuine footage for the first time from Fellowship. This was no EPK, this was a few guys in a far away land laboring on something special and sending a message directly to those in the room saying, in effect, We hope you like what we have done. We know you are invested emotionally in this project and we hope we dont let you down. Here is some footage.
The Wizards, Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee were in chairs along with Jackson on set saying hellos to the Con. Lees resonant bass voice sent a chill down my spine, confirming for me how obvious and right he was to portray the voice. In the years since, Jackson hasnt let us down with his powerful footage. Actors arent paraded in front of the camera to spout off caned quotes for an epk company, they just talk genuinely to a camera and footage that matters gets shown.
Back at Con 2004, during the conversation between actors and producers, more clips were shown actual segments from the extended edition. The first involved Faramir and Éowyn (Miranda Otto) in the Houses of Healing. Éowyn is depressed by the oppressive darkness and Faramir comes to comfort her saying, I do not believe this darkness will endure.
Slyly the two end up holding hands and then she falls into his embrace. Wenham revealed in the chat after, that the two actors worked together previously on an Australian radio play. In the play the two of them were supposed to be making love in a bath and they found everything so funny that the director apparently became quite annoyed when they kept laughing during dialog.
The second clip, shown after Boyd said, And now I get to be in a scene with David Wenham, involved the self-doubting Faramir and the self-doubting Pippin. Pippin is heard talking to himself and the two try to help each other feel better. Pip supports Faramir with, You have strength too (like Boromir and Denethor) but of a different kind. Your father will see it in the end.
Pippin, doubting himself for swearing loyalty to Denethor, is told, Generous deeds should not be chaffed by cold council, and Faramir loans him his own childhood armor. From the discussion, it seems that Boyd filmed the scene with Wenham present but than had to go film his absolute final frames of film (directed by Rick Porras) while Wenham filmed his portion of the film with a memory of Boyds work and a body double. There was a segment, either here or back in the preview where Faramir says, I would not take the ring, which should help fanatics relax a bit. Boyd also cracked on Porras for filming Pippin looking around a corner so thoroughly. There are only so many ways you can look around a corner, Boyd quipped.
Boyd shared a story of a prank being reversed on Monaghan and himself just before shooting the initial Treebeard work. The night before the pair took a five-hour drive to the location, new scripts were delivered for the next days work. The version they received (made 100 percent believable with watermarks and other official presentation) was quite different and unusual in that it called for the pair to climb Treebeard only to fall and be snagged on branches as they fell.
Surviving the fall, the pair discovered in the exchange of Hobbits and tree, they had lost all their clothes and were now cold. Hold me Pippin, were to be Merrys words in the faux script. Dom was sporting a fat suit at that point in filming and they wondered how it could possibly work.
The final official clip, with a Jackson intro describing it as a bit of fun, was of the three hunters traversing the paths of the dead. After Aragorn shouts, What say you the army dissipates and there is a minor earthquake. Following the tremor a few skulls start pushing out of the walls, and they gradually increase until the heroes are fighting to stay out of the Niagara Falls of skulls. Billy Boyd kept one of these for his own collection until recently when he tossed it away on a cleaning day. He regrets the loss now.
Several times during the DVD discussion, Pellerin was characterized as the final authority on the shooting of The Lord of the Rings. He knows and remembers more than the actors do. Boyd and Wenham explained that during lengthy interviews for the DVD (12-15 hours) Pellerin would remind them of anecdotes and experiences they had themselves forgotten about. While 7 million feet of LOTR footage was shot, Pellerins crews shot perhaps 12 million feet, documenting the experience.
One final clip was shown that will never be on the DVD apparently, as Pellerin and his co-workers knew this particular interview was a joke. Monaghan related a fictional story where he invited Viggo Mortensen over to his own home for a pre-Oscar celebration but Viggo never returned his calls. Eventually Monaghan found that Mortensen was having his own Oscar Jell-O party with casts of the Oscar statuette in gelatin. Those attending the party were required to smack Mortensen with the Jell-O while saying, You ARE the King, You ARE the King, You ARE the King. A Mortensen reaction with much laughter was also filmed.
Perhaps shooting less footage but no less passionately was TORns own film crew the Ringers crew. Technical difficulties delayed their presentations video opening but the director Carlene Cordova, producer Cliff Broadway, director of photography Josh Mandel and author of The Last Unicorn Peter Beagle entertained while filling time until technical problems could be resolved.
When the glitches were fixed after Beagles favorite joke which drew laughter and simultaneous groans the crew launched into coverage of their movies. Eventually five separate segments were shown on the screen, with actors, fans and others, all talking about the different meanings and influences of Tolkien. Faces ranged from leather spiked patrons of last years Con to Andy Serkis to Ian McKellen. Footage was gathered from all over the world in places like Wellingtons premier for Return of the King and Salt Lake Citys 1,200 people party at the 12:01 a.m. screening.
Anecdotes were shared but most importantly, fans had a glimpse of themselves talking about the book by J.R.R. Tolkien and the films that were a result of it. The film talks with fans who are common and unrecognizable as well as those who have attained fame and often have injected a bit of their Tolkien influence into their work. The list of more famous fans includes several of the Rings actors as well as Clive Barker, David Carradine, Cameron Crowe, Terry Brooks, Forest J. Ackerman, Colleen Doran, Geddy Lee, Terry Pratchett, Brian Sibley and Royd Tolkien among others.
The film is hopeful about being shown in a film festivals starting early next year and then perhaps it will be picked up by a major distributor so that it can go into wide release.
(In the spirit of full disclosure I am a credited second-unit director on the film.)