The first of three concurrently filmed but separately released screen versions of those books, The Fellowship of the Ring brings to vivid life Tolkien's mythological other-world. In an unprecedented undertaking, director Peter Jackson, 40 (who previously helmed Kate Winslet's 1993 art-house hit Heavenly Creatures), shot the films over the course of 15 months in his native New Zealand -- a remarkably versatile stand-in, indeed, for everything from the majestic splendor of Tolkien's Rivendell to the rustic charm of his Hobbiton to the murky depths of his Mordor.
The sprawling saga that begins with The Fellowship of the Ring (opening Dec. 19) continues with The Two Towers (due out in 2002) and concludes with The Return of the King (slated for 2003).
CL: What on Middle-earth were you thinking taking on all three of Tolkien's books simultaneously?
Peter Jackson: In other words, Am I mad?
Well, now that you mention it, are you?
I can certainly see where it might seem that way. The theory behind shooting the three films at once was really based on two things. Just from a budgetary standpoint, it allowed for quite a bit of savings. For one thing, it was a New Zealand-based production, so I think we were able to make them for roughly 50 percent of what they'd probably cost to make in the States. Plus, there was an economy of scale because we weren't having to do a lot of the normal pre-production on the second and third films, and because we didn't have to try reassembling this large cast of 20 or so actors twice more over the next few years, which would've been almost impossible. It just seemed like the most sensible way to do it.
Aside from any financial considerations, though, what was the conceptual motivation behind your decision?
Frankly, we just wanted to do something no one else had really done before. Instead of making a movie and two sequels, I looked on this as an opportunity to tell one story that happens to be split into three parts. I mean, that's in keeping with the nature of the Tolkien books. ... It was more like one big 15-month shoot making one eight- or nine-hour film.
Was it a logistical nightmare?
I wouldn't say that, but it was definitely weird. It wasn't as if we shot the first film, and then the second, and then the third. Everything was all jumbled up, as it always is when you're making a film. For instance, we shot all of the Hobbiton scenes at the same time, so we started by filming the opening scenes from Fellowship of the Ring. Well, the next time we see Hobbiton again is at the end of part three, so it was like skipping from the very beginning of the story all the way to the very end of it, just like that.
With all due respect, you've never directed a commercially successful film. What do you think it was that convinced the studio or the producers to entrust this project to you?
You're quite right. It's a good question, but I have no idea. I could tell you how it all happened, but I couldn't say why. It's like what I was saying before. One of the interesting things about this project is it breaks all the rules. Ordinarily, you wouldn't hire me for this kind of film, with this kind of budget. You wouldn't have as one of your screenwriters someone like Philippa Boyens, who'd never written a movie script before. You wouldn't give the special effects contract to a relatively small company in New Zealand. I have to say, though, I get a certain amount of pleasure out of all of it.
How did you come to be so obsessed with the Tolkien books?
I didn't make this film out of any life-long obsession with the books. ... If anything, this grew out of a life-long love of fantasy films, of seeing King Kong when I was little kid, or Ray Harryhausen movies like Jason and the Argonauts when I was a teen.
Is there an audience for these films outside of fans of the books?
Absolutely. We've taken a lot of care to make a movie that anyone can understand, regardless of what they know or don't know about Tolkien or Middle-earth or any of the books. I mean, the books are renowned for their complexity, and obviously they have a fan-base because of that complexity, but we were determined not to allow that to weigh the film down. Believe me, if you think some of the introductory exposition at the start of Fellowship of the Ring is a bit much, hopefully the payoff will be that the second and third films don't need any set-up, so we can just jump right in and take off.
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