Abracadabrantesque

Source: Studio (France)

Harry Potter against Lord of the Rings.

A duel between adaptations of two cult books, with all that that means for anticipation, impatience, desire. And for fear: what if these films are not faithful to the books?

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© New Line Productions Inc.
 
It's a long time since the last opportunity to assist at such a confrontation between cinematic opponents. This is not about two stars measuring themselves against each other, like in the good old days of the Stallone - Schwarzenegger rivalry, it's more than that. These are not just two super-productions using their millions of dollars to square off across the world, like in the time of Mission: Impossible and Independence Day, it's much more than that. It's not just about the battle, between two of the most anticipated movies of the year, released two weeks apart, but about the head-on clash of adaptations of two cult books which are amongst the 20th century's literary phenomena, with everything that that signifies for the viewers, like expectation, impatience, desire, (and also fear: what if these movies are not faithful to such beloved books?) What's more, the common points between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, for that's what we are talking about, are very clearly numerous. The writers, J K Rowling and J R R Tolkien, are British. They each had only one idea, yet spawned a veritable saga. Their universes are tied to magic, sorcery, fantasy, mythology. Each of them has sold hundreds of millions of copies around the world, translated into more than thirty languages. Each knew how to reach children as well as their parents, dreamers as well as seekers, university professors as well as sociologists....And the adaptations were only made possible due to the commitment and determination of two directors, whose careers have brought them to a similar gamble. Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone, was able to feel at ease amongst apprentice sorcerers, whilst, for a long time, Peter Jackson, director of Heavenly Creatures, had flirted with the nightmares that haunt our nights, and had stared into the face of the struggle between good and evil...Already two more episodes of Lord of the Rings have been filmed and are slated for 2002 and 2003, whilst Columbus has initiated the shoot for the second Harry Potter, and Spielberg burnishes his sword to take up the direction of the third....Are new chapters in the history of cinema being written? Even before seeing these movies (post-production and marketing - please!!) we have yearned for the chance to present to you the scene of the battle. We'll talk more, when we've seen them....

Two cult novels, born in England, fed by mythology and fantasy, each having become not just a series of literary work but also absolute world-wide phenomena...And here we have, as if by magic, cinematic adaptations of Harry Potter at the Wizards' School (sic) and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, released in France just a fortnight apart. Two extraordinary productions, as was required, finding themselves in competition. It's the most exciting battle of the year.

The Story

In an imagined land, a fantastical epic and an opening narrative with a Hobbit as the hero.

At the heart of Middle-Earth, in the Shire, a region forgotten by everyone, living in peace, are the Hobbits, beings like humans although nuch smaller (1.15m at their tallest) and equipped with furry feet and pointed ears. In the village of Hobbiton Bilbo prepares to celebrate his 111th birthday. Respected by all, he's known for his eccentricity, because he's one of few Hobbits that has breached the boundaries of The Shire in search of adventures (the story of which is told in The Hobbit.) At the start of the party, Bilbo announces that he's leaving and, whilst making his farewells, he disappears in a cloud of smoke. Gandalf the Wizard, a great friend of the Hobbits, nevertheless convinces him to leave behind for Frodo, his heir, one of his treasures: the ring which has the gift to make him invisible.

Nine companions to destroy the ring made by Sauron the Dark.

In fact this ring has numerous other powers. Forged by Sauron the Dark, it is the one ring, able to subjugate into evil anyone who uses it. Besides, Sauron wants it back, to reduce the whole of Middle-Earth to slavery. Gandalf tells Frodo that, having been chosen by fate to carry the ring, he has to flee, to escape Sauron. Accompanied by three of his fellow-hobbits, Frodo crosses forest and mountains. Already, nine black riders, servants to Sauron, are in pursuit. A man, Aragorn, will bring help and lead Frodo into the Kingdom of the Elves. There, he learns that the ring must be destroyed in the depths where it was made, in the Land of Mordor. "I will take the ring" says Frodo "although I do not know the way." Gandalf and Aragorn offer to accompany him, and also Boromir, the dwarf Gimli, the Elf Legolas, and his three loyal companions, Sam, Pippin and Merry. They form The Fellowship of the Ring. The nine companions set out on the most perilous of journeys....

The Author

J R R Tolkien (1892 - 1973)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned at the age of 12 years. Later, he landed a grant to study the arts. At 23, he enrolled in the English army to fight the Germans in the First World War. It was whilst at the front that he started to write the first of his "faery stories" The Silmarillion. After the war, he was made Professor of Languages and Literature at Oxford University. His days were divided between courses and essays on fantasy poetry. In 1937 he published The Hobbit, a novel in which the hero was an imaginary being - small and slight, who explores the world, accompanied by a dozen dwarfs and a wizard. Following on and more complex than The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings appeared as three volumes, between 1954 and 1955. In France the trilogy was not published until 1972, by Christian Bourgois.

The Director

With Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson, the Blood-man of cinematic gore, makes his entrance into the Court of the Masters

He was born on Hallowe'en forty years ago. And ever since, the New Zealander has harboured illusions about fantasy. At the age of nine he took over the family cine-camera to shoot vampire films. In 1983, whilst working as a phot-engraver for a newspaper, he used his weekends to shoot a movie about an invasion of New Zealand by the leaders of an extraterrestrial fast-food chain searching for human flesh for their hamburgers! Four years of shooting later this idea became his first long feature, Bad Taste. Presented as a joke at the Cannes Film Festival Market in 1988, the bloody, comical film spoke volumes about him.

Next, Jackson, alongside Francis Walsh, who would become his partner and spouse, developed a kind of trash version of The Muppet Show, aimed at adults. The Feebles, wherein Daisy the cow makes sado-masochistic movies and Wynyard the crocodile runs on drugs, received the Special prize at the festival d'Avoriaz 1991. Two years later this same festival gave its Grand Prix to Braindead, which would become a cult movie. Jackson's style improved: short lenses which pick out the character and propel it towards the viewer. Already he was seeking inspiration via Tolkien for an heroic fantasy film, Bludderhead.

Whilst he waited, Jackson quit the blood-soaked stage to adapt a different factual story of the 50s, about two New Zealand adolescents who murdered a parent. Heavenly Creatures brought us the young Kate Winslet, and moreover allowed Jackson with this classic factual story, to free himself from the label "movie-maker for video clubs". The Venice Film Festival awarded the Golden Lion in 1994. From then on, Hollywood made eyes at this unknown New Zealander, nominated for the Oscar for script-writing. Jackson himself chose to direct, for Robert Zemeckis, a comedy-ghost story The Frighteners, 1996, with Michael J Fox. And there was benefit in practicing with special effects (over 400 examples in the movie). From Zemeckis, who had directed the follow-ups Back to the Future II and III , he learned that it was possible to shoot several films at the same time. Lord of the Rings from then on became real. As he worked on the adaptation, he directed a quasi-documentary about an imaginary pioneer of New Zealand cinema, Forgotten Silver (1996). It was away of creating his world and testing the special effects with his usual accomplice Richard Taylor. Naturally: he had decided to shoot Lord of the Rings in New Zealand with an inexperienced team.

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In 1976 the producer Saul Zaentz purchased Tolkien's names and characters, in order to produce a cartoon (which was directed by Ralph Bakshi.) Naturally therefore it was he that Peter Jackson approached when he had the idea, in 1994, about adapting the books for the cinema. Tied to Miramax, who had produced The English Patient, Zaentz directed Jackson to the mini-studio. The Weinstein brothers were in agreement but wanted to make just one movie for $75million. Jackson categorically refused. Miramax, to whom Zaentz had entrusted responsibility for the adaptation rights, gave him three weeks to find new financial backers. Jackson opened negotiations with Mark Ordesky of Fine Line, and with distributor New Line, by presenting a little film with computer-generated images of Middle Earth and several events from the book. He convinced them. Together they decided to shoot simultaneously, for a budget of $130million (which ended up as $270 million), three films, reflecting the three volumes of the book: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, which would be released at yearly intervals starting in December 2001. Jackson was also given complete control over the casting. Right from the announcement of the project in 1998, the wildest rumours circulated.: children would play the Hobbits, Sean Connery would play Gandalf, and Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman would also feature. But Jackson said nothing. Except that he wanted English actors for the Hobbits. That decision changed on viewing the cassette sent to him by a young American actor, Elijah Wood. On July 8 1999, New Line announced that he was the chosen one. For Aragorn, Jackson had already signed up Stuart Townsend (seen in Michel Blanc's The Escort), before dismissing him, after several days, for "artistic differences". Viggo Mortensen replaced him. On October 11, after having had the set blessed by a Maori tribe, Jackson set sail with 114 actors and over 20,000 extras (most of whom were Kiwis) for 274 days of shooting in New Zealand. One hundred sets were constructed, the army was requisitioned, five units shot all the time. The post-production on the first film took an entire year.

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© New Line Productions Inc.
 
The Characters

Meriadoc Brandybuck, known as Merry
An optimist by nature, Merry is a cheerful and lively Hobbit. With no fear of adventure, he will volunteer to accompany Frodo on his voyage.
Dominic Monaghan: Young Englishman mostly seen on TV.

Peregrin Took, known as Pippin
Frodo's cousin, one of the youngest hobbits of the Fellowship. Impulsive and goofy, he has a gift for attracting trouble.
Billy Boyd: Scottish actor, this is his first big cinematic role.

Galadriel
Elf Queen, she welcomes the Fellowship, exhausted by their battle in Moria and injured by the disappearance of Gandalf. She possesses a mirror which allows one to see the future. But is Queen Galadriel really a force for Good?
Cate Blanchett: Queen Elizabeth for Shekhar Kapur, a medium in Sam Raimi's The Gift, we await her appearance opposite Bruce Willis in Bandits.

Legolas
Son of the King of the Mirkwood Elves, Legolas is an ace archer chosen to protect the Fellowship. He will befriend Gimli.
Orlando Bloom: British theatrical actor, his cinematic debut was in Wilde alongside Stephen Fry and Jude Law.

Gimli
Son of Gloin, one of the dwarves who went with Bilbo on his voyage, he is strong and brave. Whilst helping Frodo he also seeks to save Moria and his people, subjugated by Sauron.
John Rhys-Davies: Shakespearean theatrical actor, he's best known for his role in Indiana Jones.

Boromir
Arrived from Gondor, he seeks to restore his kingdom to glory. Wary, he joins the Fellowship even though the destruction of the Ring appears unnecessary to him. A troubled man....
Sean Bean: Partner to Sophie Marceau in Anna Karenina, at present he is attached to Don't Say a Word with Michael Douglas.

Aragorn
The heir to Elendil's broken sword, Aragorn is a descendant, via many generations, of Isildur, who cut the ring from Sauron's finger. Friend of the Elves, he has lived until now in exile, and travels the world under the name of Strider. A royal destiny awaits...
Viggo Mortensen: His beautiful blue eyes have illuminated Sean Penn's Indian Runner and Gus van Sant's remake of Psycho.

Frodo Baggins
This young Hobbit likes to smoke his pipe, sleep, and speaks Elvish. Bilbo's heir, he has the onerous task of carrying the ring to the edge of Middle Earth to destroy it. A quest in which he will be revealed to himself and transcended.
Elijah Wood: Discovered in Ang Lee's Ice Storm. Recently seen in Robert Rodriguez' The Faculty.

Bilbo
Legendary Hobbit, the one who retrieved the ring, believed lost, by stealing it from a strange being who was holding him prisoner. Using its power to render him invisible, Bilbo has treasured the ring, unaware that it was exerting its influence over him. A bad influence.
Ian Holm: Tarzan's mentor in Hugh Hudson's Greystoke, archeologist for Besson in The Fifth Element.

Samwise Gamgee, known as Sam
Kind and brave Hobbit, neighbour and gardener to Frodo. He devotes himself to Frodo with complete loyalty also becoming one of his most faithful friends.
Sean Astin: Made his debit in The Goonies by Richard Donner. Recently on the bill for Bulworth, by and starring Warren Beatty.

Gandalf
The Grey Wizard, bestowed with enormous powers. Friend of the Elves and the Hobbits, he strives to restore peace to Middle Earth. It is he who first identifies the trinket that Bilbo brings back from his travels as The One Ring. He goes with Frodo on his painful voyage. To his ruin?
Ian McKellan: Shakespearian actor, for Bryan Singer he has played a former nazi in [i[Apt Pupil[/i] and Magneto in X-men.

Saruman
The White Wizard, formerly wise, he has succumbed to the power of evil. He will do anything to retrieve the ring and seize its power.
Christopher Lee: the legendary Dracula, can be seen in Star Wars 2: Attack of the Clones.

Arwen
Daughter of Elrond, the Elf princess has given her heart to a human, Aragorn. A decision which will have grave consequences for this immortal being.
Liv Tyler: Introduced via Stealing Beauty, last seen in One Night at McCool's.

Elrond
Revered for his great wisdom, Elrond comes from the line of Elf-lords. Immortal, he previously assisted, many years earlier, at the battle in which Sauron's ring was snatched by Isildur.
Hugo Weaving: difficult to recognise, between his stilettos in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and his villainous costume in Matrix.

Gollum
Previously a Hobbit called Smeagol, he killed his friend Deagol to take the ring from him. Haunted by this murder, he went to live underground, transmuting into a hybrid creature with huge bulging eyes. It's there that Bilbo came across him. Gollum is entirely computer-generated but Andy Serkis (actor favoured by Mike Leigh) gave him his voice via voice-over.

Did Jackson really take risks?

100 million readers and almost as many of the curious await the film. Curse or Blessing?

The whole world agrees. Artistic gambles are high-risk. Even more when the anticipation is huge....the arrival on-screen of Tolkien's mythological world is simultaneously an extreme pleasure and an intense peril. Because for 45 years, Lord of the Rings has reputedly been un-adaptable - not enough action, too many sub-plots, and more than one - starting with Ralph Bakshi with his cartoon - has failed to solve the problem. The traps are numerous: simplification of the story, which reduces Lord of the Rings to a Willow-like heroic fantasy, or on the other hand, too much complexity which intensifies boredom, caricaturing the characters, exaggerating the battles....could Peter Jackson achieve not deceiving the fans, whilst bringing the uninitiated on board? The occasion at Cannes, in the interests of demand, when 26 minutes were on view, the power of Jackson's imagination, his journey through the fringes of the system, was however one of the best weapons to win this gamble.

Second issue: the comparison with the "other" trilogy. Self-proclaimed "trilogy of the third age" Lord of the Rings is in up-front competition with Star Wars. Not via the calendar (episode 2 of Star Wars is planned for May 2002) but via the long-term impact.

Stronger than Star Wars?

Lord of the Rings: will it suffer from the fact that Lucas has been heavily influenced by Tolkien's mythology, or on the contrary, insofar as it departs from the original work, can it exceed Star Wars and land an old-timer's punch?

Then there is also the "special effects" battle. Weta, a special effects company from new Zealand has developed, in terms of artificial intelligence, revolutionary software for Lord of the Rings even installed in the rival ILM, Lucas' special effects association - so even that is compelling....

If, on paper, the bill of $270million appears a little steep, it's worth a second look: $270million is only $60million more than for Titanic. In addition, the anticipation of viewers is such that the number of seats sold for just the first installment, Fellowship of the Ring, (opening on 10,000 screens simultaneously across the world on December 19) could cover the total budget for all three films. That's without mentioning the revenue from spin-off products...in truth the real risk is for the two following episodes if, against all predictions, the first fails to rise to the occasion.

The Music

Composed by Howard Shore, composer associated with Cronenberg, but also with the sound track of Seven. He called on, amongst others, Irish singer Enya. On sale November 20.

It's two years since New Line put the finishing touches to its biggest production to date. It is growing in power. First via viral marketing, during the shoot, by overseeing fansites and extracting information from the official site, started in April 2000. Conclusive result, given that close to 2 million downloads of the teaser trailer occurred in the first 24 hours after it appeared on-line.

Second stage: mobilise and lure the press. 26 exclusive minutes of the film were unspooled at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001. Followed by a memorable party in a castle in the company of Jackson and a large part of the cast. Budget: $1.5million. Since May, the distributors in each country have carried the baton. Thus Metropolitan, New Line's French distributor, has devoted 25 million francs to supporting the film (5 times more than for Dances with Wolves). The Festival of Film was also saw the distribution of a trailer preceded by a message from Peter Jackson. Before the release here of the film on 800 screens , agreements were made with licensees. Because there are many who would like a slice of the cake. In October, spin-off products are ready: books, clothing, to be sure, but also phone-cards, figurines, games, and a gold ring cast especially by the Paris Mint...get to your piggy-banks!
Last edited: 10 October 2010 09:23:00
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