Scottish Daily Record
July 29, 1999
Move Over Obi-Wan, Here
GEORGE LUCAS says it inspired Star Wars and readers voted it
book of the century. Now, almost 60 years after an underpaid Oxford professor first put
pen to paper, Lord of the Rings is about to become the movie series of the new millennium.
JRR Tolkien's classic fable of Middle Earth, elves, orcs and
hobbits is being made into a pounds 100million trilogy laden with special effects. New
Zealand director Peter Jackson, who starts shooting the three- year project in October,
hopes the adventure fantasy will eclipse Star Wars as the world's greatest film series. He
said: "As a story, nothing can come close to it."
The last piece in the jigsaw was the casting of Gandalf, the
wizard who guides hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in their stewardship of the fabled Ring.
Sean Connery loved Jackson's script but could not commit himself to the time needed for
such an epic project, while Star Trek's Patrick Stewart and former Dr Who Tom Baker were
considered too typecast. Jackson finally opted for Oscar-nominated Scots actor Sir Ian
McKellen. He was impressed by his power and range and recalled Sir Alec Guinness's Star
Wars role as Obi-Wan Kenobi, later played by Ewan McGregor. A spokesman for producers New
Line Cinema said: "We are delighted to have Sir Ian in the project. He has read all
three scripts and adored the project. He thinks it's a wonderful part." Sir Ian will
fly out to New Zealand to work on the first film, The Fellow-ship of the Ring, in January.
Once the 18-month live action parts are completed, the film
will take as long again in pre-production using state-of-the-art computer special effects.
While the first film is being edited for release at the end of 2000, Sir Ian and the rest
of the cast will begin work on the sequel - The Two Towers - which will hit the screens in
2001. The third instalment, The Return of the King, will follow shortly after.
Jackson is determined to stay faithful to Tolkien's original
plot. An insider said: "It would be a travesty if the story was buried under special
effects. We don't want it to be another Phantom Menace."
In the books, Gandalf leads a band of heroes in a quest to
destroy the Dark Lord Sauron, whose rings of power threaten the world. What Sauron lacks
is the ruling Ring, which is in the possession of a hobbit called Bilbo Baggins - a small
creature with big feet who lives in a quiet, leafy place called The Shire. He uses the
Ring for magic party tricks - but little else. When Gandalf tells him that Sauron has
enlisted the dreaded orcs and is destroying Middle Earth to find the Ring, the hobbit
entrusts it to his nephew Frodo who must venture to the distant Cracks of Doom and destroy
it for ever.
Ian Holm will appear as Bilbo but Lord of the Rings fans have
raised eyebrows at the casting of all-American boys Elijah Wood as Frodo and Sean Astin as
Sam Gamgee. One critic said: "Middle Earth is really Middle England - not the
mid-west," but Jackson insists both actors will be coached in perfect Shire English.
The role of Pippin, Frodo's best friend, has gone to 5ft 5in
Scots actor Billy Boyd. He said: "It's a long time to sign up for to play one part,
but it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play this great role in a huge Hollywood
movie. "It's the first time anyone has ever really tried to film Lord of the Rings,
so it's incredibly exciting to be involved in that."
Other stars considering roles include Kate Winslet as the elf
Eowyn. Jackson gave the actress her big break in Heavenly Creatures and she is known to be
interested in working with him again.
When the Lord of the Rings trilogy begins filming in New
Zealand it will be the largest production ever to be mounted in the southern hemisphere.
The Mountains of Mordor, where the Ring is destroyed, will be shot on North Island's
volcanic plateau and the forest scenes in the country's Southern Island. Special effects
will be used to add castles and fantasy creatures to the landscapes. For the battle
scenes, Jackson recruited 15,000 soldiers from the New Zealand Army.
Although most of the cast are human, there will be one
computer-generated creature like Jar-Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace. Jackson decided that
Gollum, a human drained by the ruling Ring ,would have to be computer-generated to look
just right. He said: "We have the finished designs. He's not too fishy or too froggy.
I think he looks fantastic."