"One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them.
One ring to bring them all and and in the darkness bind them"
Los Angeles, 2001 For decades, the words above have ignited imaginations and shaped the dreams of more than 100 million readers around the globe. They were first read in 1954, when J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume in his towering three-part epic, The Lord of the Rings, was published.
Tolkien's work was to have a profound effect on generations of readers, defining for many the archetypal struggle between good and evil, and was voted in many world-wide polls as the "Book of the Century." It set the benchmark for the fantasy genre in its creation of an entirely new and thrillingly believable universe. It introduced an unforgettable hero the hobbit Frodo Baggins caught up in a war of mythic proportions in Middle-earth, a world full of magic and lore. Most of all, it celebrated the power of loyal friendship and individual courage, a power that may hold at bay even the most devastating forces of darkness.
Now the legend that Tolkien wrought is finally being brought to life on the motion picture screen, an undertaking that has required nothing less than one of the most colossal movie productions ever embarked upon. The mythos, landscapes, and creatures Tolkien created are so awesome that it has taken more than four decades for cinema technology to reach the necessary level of sophistication to bring them to life. Such a vast project would require nothing less than a visionary to mastermind it. That visionary is Peter Jackson, who has embarked upon an unprecedented feat to make three motion pictures simultaneously to capture Tolkien's soaring epic in its entirety.
For the past several years, Jackson and his devoted production team have been filming all over the spectacular landscapes of New Zealand. The result has been the deployment of a logistical operation reminiscent of a military campaign. A veritable army of artists including digital wizards, medieval weapons experts, stone sculptors, linguists, costumers, makeup designers, blacksmiths, and model builders as well as an internationally renowned cast of actors and literally thousands of extras have gathered to make this ambitious dream come true.
The result will be three separately released installments that will mark the return of "cliffhanger cinema" for the first time since the serial adventures of decades past.
The second part of the motion picture trilogy The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, releases on December 18, 2002.
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TAKING ON TOLKIEN:
PETER JACKSON BRINGS THE FANTASY TO LIFE
"I am interested in themes about friendship and self-sacrifice. This is a story of survival and courage, about a touching last stand that paved the way for the ascent of humankind." Peter Jackson
When J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, the London Sunday Times stated that the world would forever more be divided into two types of people: "those who have read The Lord of the Rings and those who are going to." The praise extended beyond mere reviews. The publishing world was taken by storm. Never before in contemporary times had an author dared to create an epic quest that rivaled the classic legends of Homer and Chaucer in scope, yet was utterly accessible to readers of all ages and nationalities. The book stoked hungry imaginations across the globe.
Tolkien's Middle-earth struck a chord because it seemed at once to take readers into a fantastically magical realm far, far away, while remaining grounded in urgently real human themes. The book immediately developed a following that went beyond mere appreciation to obsessive devotion. In 1965, the paperback version came to America and was taken to heart, becoming a runaway bestseller. By the late 1960s, The Lord of the Rings was considered classic literature, a must-read for a new generation starting to believe in the notion of limitless imagination. It also became a countercultural symbol because of its prescient themes of environmental conscience and battles against the forces of corruption and war.
The trilogy joined Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey as a literary icon of its time. Tolkien's work also became the godfather of a new entertainment genre fantasy which led to a burgeoning, lucrative market in books, videos, role-playing games, computer games, comic books, and motion pictures.
Another person influenced by Tolkien in his formative years was director Peter Jackson, who became known for his own ability to visually evoke the world of dreams, fantasies, and nightmares in such films as Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners. Jackson had long felt that The Lord of the Rings was ripe for its first complete cinematic telling, but he also knew that to do it justice would take perhaps the most ambitious production ever attempted in history. There was a chance, he felt, that visual effects technology had just about reached the point where it could tackle the legends and landscapes of which Tolkien dreamed and do his brilliant imagination justice.
Jackson waited for someone else to take on the behemoth, but when no one dared, he decided to put his own burning passion behind bringing Tolkien's modern myth to the screen. He began with his own ambitious quest: "I started with one goal: to take moviegoers into the fantastical world of Middle-earth in a way that is believable and powerful," he explains. "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."
From the start, it was clearly a mammoth undertaking, but Jackson felt that if he was going to go for it, he had to give it everything and then some. "I've spent seven years of my life on this project so far," he notes, "pouring my heart into every single aspect of it. But I think that's the least we owe to Tolkien and the legions of fans around the globe. They deserve our very best efforts."
Jackson began by working on a trilogy of screenplays with fellow writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, a process that in itself took three years. For the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, they paid particular attention to Tolkien's many vivid descriptions of characters and places, hoping to build a viscerally true and vibrant world that would pull audiences into the adventure as participants and draw them into the suspense of waiting to see what happens next.
"From the beginning I didn't want to make your standard fantasy film," comments Jackson. "I wanted 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 reread that part of the book right before, as did the cast. It was always worth it, always inspiring.
"That being said," Jackson adds, "it has been equally important to us that the films amaze, surprise, and delight people who have never read the books or know anything about hobbits, dwarves, and elves. Tolkien's world holds an appeal for anyone who comes ready to experience something special."
Jackson knew he could not translate every single line of Tolkien's epic trilogy into imagery and that certain changes to the beloved novel would need to be made, but he committed himself to remaining faithful to how he had responded to Tolkien's work as one enchanted reader.
He explains: "When there was a question about how to proceed, I would just shut my eyes and imagine the characters in my head, the same way a million readers around the world have shut their eyes and seen these books come alive as personal movies in their heads. From doing that, I felt I already knew the characters and the scenes before we started shooting."
The more the screenwriters read Tolkien, the more nuances it seemed they discovered about the characters, the lands, and the adventures which they traverse. "The more time you spend in Tolkien's world," says Philippa Boyens, "the more complex it grows. It was all there for us, but the scope was tremendous."
Within that scope, Jackson wanted to bring front and center Tolkien's themes of good versus evil, nature versus machines, and friendship versus the forces of corruption. "All the major themes are introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring," he notes. "The most obvious one is good versus evil, but this story is also about how friendship endures and overcomes even in a world of tremendous upheaval and change. We really tried to make these themes part of the fabric of the first film.
"What we are trying to do, as we adapt The Lord of the Rings into a film medium, is honor these themes; and whilst you can never be totally faithful to a book, especially a book of over 1,000 pages, we have tried to incorporate the things that Tolkien cared about when he wrote the book, and make them the fabric of the films."
For Boyens, the key to adapting Tolkien was imagining the characters and their individual quests as those of real beings who actually once lived on earth, albeit 7,000 years ago, in a world of talking trees, powerful elves, and fading magic. "Each character in Tolkien has a wonderful personal story and a wonderful journey to go on," she says. "We looked at each one individually and tried to bring their personal growth to the fore."
The completed screenplays took even Tolkien fans by surprise. "They had brought to these characters so much warmth and emotion that you really identify not only with the tale but with the personalities in it," states producer Barrie M. Osborne, who previously broke new ground with the special-effects thriller The Matrix. "It reminded me of the Godfather saga in that there were so many different characters you could identify with. Some fall while others become heroic."
Jackson also embraced another decision in the early days of the trilogy's development: to shoot all three films at once, something which had never been done in filmmaking history. "I felt that in order to do the tale's epic nature justice, we had to shoot it as one big story, because that's what it is. It's three movies that will take you through three very unique experiences, but it all adds up to one unforgettable story," he explains. "I look forward to the day when audiences can sit down and watch all three films in a row, because it is one big story and adventure."
Jackson's decision resulted in a record-breaking commitment of time, resources, and manpower for a single massive production shoot. The logistics might have been staggering to many, but the notion was thrilling to Jackson. "As a director, it has given me an enormous canvas on which to try all sorts of things. The story has so much variety to it. In each installment there is intimate, heart-wrenching drama, huge battle scenes, intense special effects, sudden changes for the characters, every emotion in the realm. It was a continual challenge for me and hopefully will be an enduring delight for audiences," he says.
In the end, there were those who thought Peter Jackson might have been closer to the project than was "humanly" possible. "The cast often referred to me as a hobbit," admits Jackson. "I'm sure it's a joke, but to tell the truth, the hobbit lifestyle good food and a comfy chair in front of a fire sounds pretty good to me! Especially after making three movies at once."
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MANY CULTURES OF THE RING
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
"The Lord of the Rings 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. They were up to the task."
Barrie M. Osborne, producer
At the core of the story in The Fellowship of the Ring are the cultures that make up Middle-earth: hobbits, dwarves, humans, elves, wizards, trolls, ents, orcs, ringwraiths, and Uruk-hai.
Each culture has its own rich way of life, its own customs, myths, ways of dress, and even style of fighting. Each is fully developed in The Fellowship of the Ring, creating the essence of a living, breathing world just beyond our own history.
For example, hobbits are gentle and close to nature, an almost childlike group who live off the land. With an average height of 3'6", the furry-footed creatures dwell deep in furnished holes on the sides of hills. They love the simple things in life: smoking pipes, eating, and, of course, storytelling. They live to around 100 years old, with the age of 33 marking the start of adulthood.
Elves, on the other hand, are noble, elegant, magical beings whose time is running out and who seem to possess a bittersweet sense that they are now about to pass into myth. Although they can be slain or die of grief, elves are immortal in that they are not subject to age or disease.
Dwarves are short but very tough, with a strong, ancient sense of justice and an abiding love of all things beautiful. Small in stature, they live to be about 250 years old.
Wizards are supremely powerful but can use that power for good or for evil, depending on where their hearts lie.
Men in The Fellowship of the Ring are a fledgling race just coming into their own.
Other creatures are even more fantastical: the leaf-covered ents try to protect their brethren, the trees; the misshapen orcs fight for Saruman; and the sinister, black-cloaked ringwraiths are neither living nor dead but cursed to live in the twilight world of Sauron.
To bring these remarkably diverse beings to life would require a cast of true versatility and also a cast willing to spend months in the deep heartland of New Zealand bringing life to a literary legend. It would require a group of actors who could carry their characters through three chapters of climactic changes.
In the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, the actors get a chance to introduce their characters and their individual quests. At the center of it all is the story's 3'6" hero, Frodo Baggins, the shy but forthright hobbit who assumes the responsibility for destroying the Ring. Despite the help of the Fellowship, it is Frodo who must bear the burden of the Ring and resist its constant temptations of evil. For the actor to play Frodo, the filmmakers chose 20-year-old Elijah Wood for his energy, innocence, and charisma.
"Elijah has a sincerity of purpose that just makes him a natural in the role," observes Barrie M. Osborne. "He is capable of taking the character through a real transformation, which begins with The Fellowship of the Ring."
Wood describes Frodo as "a very curious adventurer. Frodo lives in a time when most of his fellow hobbits want to stay with their own kind, but Frodo is very different in that he wants to leave and see the rest of the world and all its wonders."
Which is exactly what he does in The Fellowship of the Ring. As Frodo begins his journey, Wood was struck by how much like a person, rather than a fantasy character, the hobbit began to seem. "He became alive for me," he admits. "The way we shot the movie, everything was so real that we all believed that Frodo and the others really existed in history. Once I had on my prosthetic ears and feet for the first time, I knew what it was to feel like a hobbit. It sounds bizarre, but it felt the same as playing a historical character, as if hobbits had actually once been alive."
One of Frodo's closest allies in his quest to destroy the Ring is the old and powerful wizard Gandalf, who begins to demonstrate his full powers and purpose in The Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf is played by renowned screen and stage star Ian McKellen, who was thrilled to take on such a magical role.
"I see Gandalf as the archetypal wizard," says McKellen. "I think in the creation of Gandalf, Tolkien was playing with ideas about wizards from stories and fairy tales throughout time. Gandalf is related to Merlin, and maybe even Prospero, but he also is very much his own man.
"When the story hops up and the journey begins and great things are at stake, he makes a real contribution to the Fellowship," he continues. "He shows his stuff as a warrior." Showing off that stuff was a perfect match with McKellen's own innate nobility. Notes producer Barrie M. Osborne: "Ian McKellen has the stature to make you truly believe in Gandalf's power and wisdom."
Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring begins with his cousin, Bilbo Baggins, an aged hobbit with a history of bravery, played by Ian Holm. Holm says that "Bilbo is not unlike me. He's quite grumpy on the outside but basically he has a heart of gold. He is a little fellow who things seem to happen to, but when he's put to the test, he comes up trumps more than most people."
A longtime fan of Tolkien's novel, Holm likens playing such a renowned character to another character noted for its many interpretations. "I think playing Bilbo is a lot like playing Hamlet," he says. "I mean, this is my version of Bilbo, just as it would be my version of Hamlet. He's an eternal character but as an actor you play it as you see it in front of you and trust in that."
Says Barrie M. Osborne of the choice of Holm: "He brings out all the nuances in Bilbo's character he gets the crustiness of the hobbit, but more importantly, he reveals what lies underneath."
Three hobbit friends also join Frodo on his journey: Sam, Merry, and Pippin, played by Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd. Astin plays one of the trilogy's most moving characters, the ordinary-seeming Samwise Gamgee, who turns out to be the most extraordinary of friends to Frodo.
"Sean Astin is a wonderful choice for Sam because he brings a real joviality to the role, as well as an empathy for Sam's struggles," says Osborne. "I think it's also a real bonus that he and Elijah Wood are such good friends that closeness really shows in the relationship that develops between their characters."
Astin was drawn to a character that seems to define the best of hobbithood. "To me, he personifies decency, simplicity, honesty, and loyalty, the ultimate hobbit," says Astin. "Most of all, he has an undying friendship with Frodo that is so strong, he's willing to face the adventure of the unknown to help him." Astin also sees Sam as a man of the land. "I look at him as this kind of pastoral figure, a farmer whose hands are always in the soil," he comments. "He's not the most sophisticated being in the fellowship, but he makes up for it with his earnest steadiness."
Dominic Monaghan, a young British actor who comes to the fore in The Lord of the Rings, brings out the quick-witted cleverness and fun-loving spirit of the hobbit Merry, formally know as Meriadoc Brandybuck, another of Frodo's closest friends. "Like most hobbits, Merry always looks on the bright side of life," says Monaghan, "but I don't think even he realizes at first how brave he can actually be. As situations arise at the beginning of their journey, he starts to become pretty important."
Monaghan continues: "The main thing I wanted to get across in the beginning, with The Fellowship of the Ring, is that Merry is just this very sharp, sarcastic, and funny boy who hasn't grown up yet. But he's about to go through incredible experiences and adventures that will change him into a new person."
For the comical hobbit Pippin, or Peregrin Took, the filmmakers chose rising Scottish actor Billy Boyd. Boyd was amused by his character's "knack for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time" but also moved by Pippin's transformation throughout the odyssey. "One thing about Pippin right from the beginning is that his whole life revolves around friendship," points out Boyd. "He loves his friends in the Shire more than anything."
But when Pippin embarks on the journey to destroy the Ring with Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship, he discovers a world unlike anything he's ever imagined. "Suddenly, things turn very serious and dark for Pippin. He's falling in marshes and meeting magical creatures and he'd rather be back at the pub chatting with the ladies!" admits Boyd. "But that's what makes him so dynamic a character. He tunes into the fun and beautiful side of life, even in the middle of a war."
Also joining the Fellowship is the man Boromir, a valiant warrior who lacks respect for the Ring's devastating power. Boromir is portrayed by Sean Bean, who felt that the character "brings the human element into the Fellowship. Boromir has the human qualities of being honorable and brave but also having a very clear opinion about everything. In the beginning," he continues, "he sees the Ring simply as a solution to the problems of his people. But he finds out that it isn't quite so clear-cut, especially as he becomes susceptible to its powers."
Then there is Elrond, the elf of great powers who knows much about the Ring. Elrond is played by Hugo Weaving. Weaving adored playing such a wise yet wistful hero. "Elrond is so wise, so good, so noble, and yet he also has, for a lack of a better word, a real humanity to him. There is a side of him that has been made desperate by the perpetual state of war. He has a real sense of how hard it is for people to get out from under evil," Weaving says.
The Fellowship is completed by an elf and a dwarf: Legolas, the sword-fighting son of an elf king, played by Orlando Bloom; and Gimli, the stout-hearted axe-man who comes to represent the Khazad, the dwarves of Middle-earth, played by John Rhys-Davies. The comic contrast between the boisterous dwarf and the elegant elf becomes a constant source of humor and delight. Orlando Bloom explains: "Elves see dwarves as these muddy creatures who steal from the earth without giving back. But Legolas and Gimli grow to respect one another's differences. They learn to rely on each other in battle and to laugh together."
Rhys-Davies stressed that The Fellowship of the Ring kicks off something many people haven't experienced in a long time an epic, serial adventure. "I think today there is an enormous hunger for adventure and a dynamic life that can only be met in the imagination . . . or in movies like this one. Tolkien feeds that hunger, because in our hearts we want to be part of a heroic civilization like the elves, hobbits, dwarves, and men of Middle-earth."
Facing off against the Fellowship is the evil Saruman, once the head of the Council of the Wise, who has since succumbed to the dark temptations of Sauron's power. Saruman wants Frodo's Ring and is willing to use his specially bred Uruk-hai grotesque, warlike creatures to get it. Perhaps no one could embody Saruman better than that longtime master, Christopher Lee.
Lee had played many mythical creatures before but had never been involved with a project like The Lord of the Rings. "This is the outright creation of an entire world," he says. "It brings together history and languages and cultures and makes a dreamscape come true."
Although Saruman lived around 7,000 mythical years ago, Lee sees his dark reflection all over the place in the modern world. "To my way of thinking, the evil that exists today isn't that different from what you see in Middle-earth. People will always crave power, and Saruman wants Sauron's power," he explains. "To me, he is not just the physical force of evil personified, he is also very real."
Another mysterious character introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring is Aragorn, a heroic man and warrior, played with trademark intensity by Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen got so into the role it was rumored he was living in the forest in Aragorn's torn, mud-stained clothes! Says Peter Jackson: "Viggo embraced the character so completely it's difficult to imagine the two being separate now." Adds Barrie M. Osborne: "Viggo is the perfect actor to play a man who is struggling to redeem himself from his ancestry and his heritage. He's incredibly dedicated. He's the kind of an actor who one day had his tooth knocked out by a sword and actually asked if they could superglue it back on so he could finish the scene. He became Aragorn, and he brings a real power to the role."
Mortensen felt a strong personal connection to the project: "I'm Celtic and Scandinavian, so I was raised on the myths Tolkien used to inspire The Lord of the Rings," he says. "It's part of my heritage." The actor was also intrigued by Aragorn's primal, self-reliant brand of heroism. "He can survive in nature, live from it, read its signs and live happily, not needing anyone, not relying on anything but his own knowledge and discoveries," he observes. "But now he has to take on more responsibility, and it's not clear where it will lead him."
Two of the major female characters in The Lord of the Rings are also introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring: the brave she-elf Arwen, played by the luminous Liv Tyler, who falls in love with Aragorn, and the powerful, soul-probing elf Queen Galadriel, played by Academy Award nominee Cate Blanchett.
Tyler was drawn to Arwen, the immortal elven princess. "To me, Arwen brings a real touch of femininity to the tale of Middle-earth," says Tyler. "In the midst of a war, she has fallen in love, and becomes the backbone and motivation for Aragorn's fight."
Cate Blanchett was also drawn to her character's fascinating strength. "I loved playing Galadriel because she is so iconic. She is the one in The Fellowship of the Ring who truly tests Frodo," says Blanchett. "I also think she has a profound message to give about taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. And, yes, I have to admit I have always wanted to have pointy ears!"
Blanchett was astonished by how completely the world of Middle-earth and its many cultures had been thought out by the filmmakers. "By the time I started working, there was such a strong and real-life sense of the various cultures, their histories, and their hopes for the future," she notes. "It was really like becoming part of a whole different universe. I've never experienced anything like it before."
The entire cast underwent intensive training in ancient arts and languages for their roles. This included studying sword fighting with veteran sword master Bob Anderson; learning horsemanship with head wrangler Dave Johnson; and practicing the Elvish language with dialect and creative language coaches Andrew Jack and Roísin Carty.
Jack and Carty developed a unique accent and cadence for Elvish, based in part on Celtic, yet entirely unique in the world. In also training the actors in other dialects, they gave exercises during which the actors stood in front of a mirror, making curious noises and faces, learning to use their facial muscles in completely new ways. The result was that the actors each found their own accents spontaneously. Jack and Carty taught the actors as if they were learning a language from scratch, not just having them memorize script lines.
In addition to the technical training, every actor involved in The Lord of the Rings had to be in top physical condition not just because the Fellowship scales mountains, fords streams, and fights physically intense battles throughout the trilogy, but because they had to withstand the 274-day shooting schedule. Says Dominic Monaghan, who plays the hobbit Merry: "We all started fitness programs well before production began, and we worked with physical trainers throughout. Not only was the shoot physically challenging, with huge leaps and big battles and stuff like that, but the hours alone required physical conditioning and fitness. Anybody out of shape wouldn't have made it!"
Summarizes Peter Jackson: "For me the project really came to life when the cast came on board and brought their individual interpretations to the roles. They made it so much more realistic than I had ever imagined."