18 May 2001
Cannes' Hottest Ticket
By Joan Tarshis
What was hotter than a ticket to the Moulin Rouge premiere at Cannes? It's not a movie. It wasn't a party. And it's not even finished.
It was just 23 minutes of the first Lord of the Rings movie and it bedazzled the audience completely.
The producers of Lords started what's probably going to be a record-making publicity campaign at Cannes by showing the footage to a select group of reporters and buyers at a sneak preview.
Most of the stars also flew in for a cyclone of interviews and parties, at which they expounded on the enormously elaborate fantasy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's innovative series.
Veteran British actor Christopher Lee, who plays the villainous Dark Lord Saruman, said that, "This is the pinnacle of my career. I've never been involved in a film like this before. It is superb and unforgettable." Also starring in the fantasy are Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Sir Ian McKellen, and Liv Tyler.
Tolkien's trilogy was filmed back-to-back in New Zealand during 15 months of concentrated filming. The shoot finished last Christmas and director Peter Jackson (who wrote and directed Heavenly Creatures) is currently adding the thousands of special effects which are essential to bring to life Tolkien's world of hobbits, dwarves, elves, monsters, orcs, trolls, and wizards.
Jackson, who has to tackle two more years' post-production with the final two parts, said "I've spent the last seven years of my life on this project pouring my heart into every single aspect of it."
The story, set 7,000 years ago in a world not yet subjugated by humans, is a record of the battle between the forces of good and evil for the control of an enchanted ring that has the ability to change the future of the world.
The succinct clip screened at Cannes revealed a portion of the heroes' scary expedition through the mines of Moria. In that setting they have to ward off vicious orcs, a troll, and a monster called Balrog. According to Reuters, the scene knocked the audience out.
Liv Tyler, who plays the elf Arwen, said, "It was wonderful for us to see all the digital enhancements because we hadn't seen any of that. It was unbelievable to see the cave troll. I was genuinely scared by it."
New Line Cinema, who produced the trilogy, is hoping the films will generate the same passion as George Lucas' Star Wars series.
The movie trade magazine Screen International recently wrote, "It is not too dramatic to say that the future of New Line may depend on the success of The Lord of the Rings.
The studio chose to shoot the trilogy one after the other with hopes of keeping the cost down. The decision is a huge risk. If The Fellowship of the Ring is a flop, the next two installments will be thwarted before they have even opened.
The only other attempt to film Tolkien's masterpiece (by animator Ralph Bakshi) failed to set the world on fire not a comforting thought. That version linked the first two books and was going to release the third separately. When an unenthusiastic reaction left the box offices wanting, the sequel never went into production.
But technically, the industry has changed radically over the past 23 years. Back then Disney mixed drawn animation and live action tracings to recreate the Middle Earth. Today, New Line Cinema is using the latest computer special effects.
Executive producer Mark Ordesky defended the cost: "The idea of a $270 million budget seems an awful lot of money, but when you see what we put on the screen and all the excitement it will generate, then you will realize it was money well spent."
If word here on the Web means anything, the world cannot wait to see the pint-sized Hobbits rock and roll into action. When the film's Web site (www.lordoftherings.net) launched earlier this year, it had about 350 million hits in the first three months.
McKellen, who plays the key role of the good wizard Gandalf the Grey, said, "Anyone who likes a bet should put their money on this film having the biggest opening weekend in terms of box office takings in cinema history."
If that's true, his life will never be the same. Like Alec Guinness, his Star Wars equivalent who became a youth cult hero, the knighted actor will be propelled into super-stardom.
And, as Star Wars turned Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill into household names, so the comparatively unknown actors playing the Ring's Hobbits Sean Astin (The Sky Is Falling), Billy Boyd (Julie and the Cadillacs), Dominic Monaghan, and Elijah Wood (The Ice Storm) might find it difficult to go to the mall without being surrounded by throngs of fans.
Even Jackson is concerned about the attention he will be getting. "I'm a shy, retiring type. I'm a hobbit and I hope that I can find a little hobbit hole nearby and go away and hide," he said, in a few TV interviews.
Billed as the latest most expensive production in movie history at $270 million, the first of its three installments, The Fellowship of the Ring, is scheduled to open around the world December 19. The Two Towers and The Return of the King are due to be released at Christmas of 2002 and 2003 respectively.
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