15 May 2001
Conquering Cannes, Mining Moria and
Partying at Hobbit Height
by Lael Loewenstein | May 15, 2001
CANNES, FRANCE--At a remote castle about
half an hour's drive from
Cannes, New Line Cinema pulled off the wraps and put on the Ritz to
launch its publicity campaign for Lord of the Rings.
LOTR stole the spotlight at the world's
premier film festival, thanks to a
three-day, Middle Earth-sized media blitz.
Among the highlights: the screening of selected
footage from all three
films, the presence of virtually every major cast member and a
magnificent party at the dramatic Chateau de Castellaras.
What follows, in a special mid-month edition
of The Latest Word, is a
recap of all the LOTR action from Cannes.
The Screening: Director Peter Jackson unveiled
a 25-minute clip of the
trilogy that introduced key characters--including Bilbo, Galdalf, Frodo and
Aragorn--and featured a montage from the second and third
But the event's centerpiece was a visually
sequence set in the Mines of Moria that showcased Jackson's
commanding grasp of Tolkien lore and special-effects technology.
Jackson said he wrestled with the decision
over which footage to
include, but ultimately chose to put the emphasis on action in
order to satisfy New Line's international distribution partners.
Both aficionados and neophytes were captivated,
with some attendees calling it the most compelling
thing they'd seen since the original Star Wars, which as Tolkien fans know, borrowed many of its precepts from his work.
The Interviews: At a press conference on
Friday, Jackson addressed
the international media, along with producer Barrie Osborne, effects
coordinator Richard Taylor, writer Phillippa Boyens and executive
producer Mark Ordesky.
The team addressed topics including the
need to remain faithful to the
spirit of the books, their communal passion for the material, budget
concerns and the long struggle to get LOTR made.
Jackson also recalled that when he originally
pitched LOTR to Miramax,
which had acquired the story rights from Oscar-winning producer Saul
Zaentz (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The English Patient), company
honcho Harvey Weinstein wouldn't commit to the notion of shooting
So, Jackson shopped the project to New Line,
where studio chief Bob
Shaye exceeded the director's expectations. Ordesky revealed that
Jackson had proposed making two films, but Shaye pointed out that the
story was a trilogy that would require an equal number of films.
And so the project--and a $270 million budget--was born.
Ordesky defended the unprecedented budget,
pointing out it can cost
well over $100 million these days to shoot a complex, effects-driven film.
By shooting all three at once, the studio may have saved up to $100
million, he said.
Furthermore, they avoided the awkward dilemma
of having to having to
recast Frodo as Elijah Wood outgrows the role. "We see it as the
launch of a franchise," said Ordesky, "a brand that will be the company's
legacy for years to come."
Cast members were equally passionate about
the project--especially the
men. All members of "the fellowship" acquired matching souvenir
tattoos, which they showed to the press on Friday.
Asked for a translation of the tattooed
Middle Earth symbols, Ian
McKellen, relishing the air of mystery, would only say, "This means
you're in the fellowship."
Wood called the film "an experience
of great magnitude and profundity.
It's impossible not to get swamped into this world when you're working
as long and as hard as we did."
Producer Osborne said that when the production
took a break for the
Christmas holidays, Viggo Mortensen didn't want to leave without his
sword, so he took it with him when he left the set.
Osborne himself made an unusual commitment
to Middle Earth. After
producing The Matrix, he passed on Matrix 2 and 3 in favor of LOTR. In
fact, when he took the job, he sold his house in Topanga Canyon and
bought a house in New Zealand to devote himself solely to Peter
The Party: At Sunday's exclusive celebration,
Chateau de Castellaras was elaborately decorated to resemble
Middle Earth, with set pieces flown in from New Zealand and
Bilbo's home was there for guests to crouch
in, and objects displayed
in the castle included Gandalf's staff, Galadriel's vial and various
The bar was at least seven feet high, leaving
guests to feel like actual Hobbits as they reached up for
glasses of ale.
On the grounds of the castle, an enormous
cave troll was erected from
polystyrene. Costumed players, some replete with elf ears, served food
and drink. And hundreds of partygoers danced into the night.
LOTR production designer Dan Hennah, who
had worked with his wife
Chris since January to plan the event, declined to reveal the exact cost
of the event, but estimated it ran well into the six figures.
After selecting the location early in the
year, the Hennahs photographed
every inch of the chateau and began planning from New Zealand. As the
festival drew closer, set construction began in French warehouses, and
eventually on site.
"We debated going with something different,
something techno and
modern," said Hennah. "But we felt it was much more important to bring
the spirit and the essence of Middle Earth to Cannes."
Asked what would Frodo say if he were to
witness the festive the
spectacle, Wood said, "Frodo would just raise his glass." And he did.
The Future: Fans hungering for more LOTR
publicity will have to wait a
while. After the media blitz in Cannes, Ordesky said they will not do any
press for many months. In fact, there will likely be a blackout of sorts.
With six months until the release date,
the New Line team, wary of
overpromotion, is content to let the buzz build on its own. As Ordesky
put it, they don't want to "do a Godzilla."
Look for the campaign to resume--gradually--in the fall.
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