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The Lord of the Rings

Magnificence realized
With seven years of effort, a huge budget and a great cast,
director Peter Jackson beautifully brings
Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" to the screen

By Carlos deVillalvilla

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J.R.R. Tolkein's masterpiece, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, has been a phenomenon, particularly since the 1960s. First published in 1954, it has been read by an estimated 100,000,000 people worldwide, and has spawned countless imitations.

"The Lord of the Rings"

"The Fellowship of the Ring"
 Review by Carlos deVillalvilla

"The Two Towers"
 Review by Carlos deVillalvilla

"The Return of the King"
 Review by Carlos deVillalvilla
A consideration of the trilogy
 John Orr discusses the story's call to heroism for the greater good.
A note from Peter Jackson
 The director talks about his seven-year effort.
New Line's site
 Trailers and other features about the films.
 1954 — year "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was published.
 7,000 — years ago: when Middle Earth is said to have existed.
 100,000,000 — estimated number of people worldwide who have read the trilogy.
 40 — languages (at least) into which the books have been translated.
 12,500,000 — hand-linked rings used to create chain maille by Weta workshop for the films.
 3,000,000 — feet of film (at least) used to film the trilogy.
 250,000 — silk leaves applied by hand to a tree in Hobbiton.
 90,000 — still photographs shot on set.
 48,000 — swords, scabbards, axes, shields made by Weta workshop for the films.
 20,602 — extras cast for the films.
 15,000 — costumes made by costume department for the films.
 10,000 — members of crowd at New Zealand cricket game recorded making Orc sounds.
 5,000 — cubic meters of vegetables and flowers planted in Hobbiton a year before filming started.
 2,400 — crew members at height of production.
 2,000 — illustrations drawn for production by conceptual designer Alan Lee.
 1,600 — pairs of prosthetic Hobbit feet used by principal Hobbit cast.
 1,460 — largest number of eggs served at breakfast for crew.
 800 — largest number of lunches served on set at once.
 900 — suits of armor made by Weta workshop.
 550 — hours of film (at least) shot on set for behind-the-scenes footage.
 350 — sets constructed for films.
 300 — handmade, knotted wigs made for films.
 274 — shooting days for trilogy.
 250 — horses used in one scene.
 200 — individually crafted Orc masks created by Weta workshop.
 180 — artists created computerized effects at Weta digital.
 114 — speaking roles.
 100 — locations, at least.
 100 — hand-forged, inlaid weapons crafted by Weta workshop.
 68 — miniature sets.
 30 — actors trained by two dialect and creative languages coaches.
 13 — months the Fellowship travels on its journey in the trilogy.
 9 — the numeral, in Elvish script, tatooed on nine members of the cast following the shoot.
 8 — acres of farm land in Matamata, New Zealand, used for set of Hobbiton.
 7 — years of development of the film trilogy by writer/producer/director Peter Jackson.
 5 — shooting units : Unit 1, two second units, blue-screen unit and miniature unit.
 3 — films were shot simultaneously, a first.

Numbers source: New Line Productions

Filmmakers have wanted in on the phenomenon for a long time. Part of the difficulty has been in securing the co-operation of Tolkein's heirs, who have viewed potential cinematic interpretation of the Professor's works with what could kindly be called a healthy mistrust, if not downright hostility. Given the care that Tolkein put into creating his world of Middle Earth — a linguist, he created working languages for the Elves, Orcs and Dwarves, complete with distinctive alphabets — and the massive, detailed storyline, they were loathe to see Tolkein's vision cheapened or perverted by filmic financial realities.

There were numerous attempts to get the trilogy to the big screen, including via nimation. Ralph Bakshi, director of the movies "Fritz the Cat" and "American Pop," made a bold attempt in the late '70s that satisfied very few, although his rotoscoping technique would break new ground for cinematic animation. Rankin-Bass, who produced the children's television classic "Frosty the Snowman," made a kid-sized version of the trilogy (as well as its predecessor, "The Hobbit") which also met with a great deal of rancor from Tolkein's devoted fans.

Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood
Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood
It was only recently that Tolkein's heirs were willing to consider a live-action version. With special effects technology finally reaching the level needed to make Middle Earth live and breathe, the time was ripe for this classic tale to finally be given the treatment it deserved.

Warner Brothers' subsidiary New Line Productions was able to purchase the rights. CEO Robert Shaye realized that this property must be given special treatment — in the wrong hands, this could be a studio-wrecking catastrophe — but in the right hands, movie history could be made.

New Line selected relatively unknown New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, who had made several on-the-cheap independent horror films in New Zealand (including the cult favorite "Bad Taste") before getting some notice in the United States with "Heavenly Creatures" and the Michael J. Fox-led "The Frighteners." He and the studio came up with the remarkable idea of filming the entire trilogy as one movie, back to back to back, and then releasing the movies individually, one a year for three consecutive years. It would require an enormous commitment from the cast and crew, who would literally have to give up a year and a half of their careers just to film the three movies. Reshoots, pickup shots and special effects work would add years more.

Jackson chose to shoot in his native New Zealand, populating most of the supporting roles with local actors as well as much of the behind-the-camera crew. The groundbreaking special effects would also be produced in New Zealand, at WETA, the special effects house Jackson co-founded.

For fans of Tolkein's works, there was as anticipation and trepidation. Each fan has his or her own ideas of how Middle Earth looks, from the places (Hobbiton, Rivendell, Mordor) to the races (orcs, goblins, balrogs). Word that the beloved character Tom Bombadil would be completely excised from the first movie had the Internet buzzing with negative reaction.

At last, in December 2001, it was go time. The first installment of the trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring," was released. New Line executives held their collective breath; they had sunk an enormous amount of money into filming the trilogy, and should the first movie bomb, it could very well signal the end of the studio, and at the very least, the end of their jobs.

"Fellowship" was a smash hit worldwide. Despite its three-hour length, audiences went to see it in droves. Critics fell all over themselves to come up with superlatives to describe it. Even Christopher Tolkein, the author's son and perhaps the most vocal critic of the decision to film the trilogy, praised Jackson's version as true to his father's vision. Middle Earth was hot once again.

"The Two Towers" followed in December 2002, and if anything, garnered superior reviews. Finally, in December 2003, the trilogy concluded with the three-hour, forty-minute marathon of "The Return of the King," which many feel is the best of the three movies. The first two were nominated for Best Picture Oscars, and there is no reason to believe that the third won't be as well. It may well have the best chance to win the coveted award of the three.

At Triviana we have watched with great interest. We have all eagerly awaited each cinematic installment of the trilogy. Herein, a look at the three magnificent movies.