The New York Post
August 7, 2000

Hooray for Hobbit-wood
Su Avasthi

Two years ago (September 14th of 1998) I stumbled upon my reason for living. I was browsing casually through the New York Post when this huge headline jumped out at me from their section entitled "Postplus."

It is interesting to see how much has changed in the twenty-four months sincs I read this article, and also how much has stayed the same. It is also interesting to note that unlike their British cousins, at least American reporters appear to do their homework. No mention of the evil elven-queen Beruthiel here!

One of the chanciest gambles in recent Tinsletown history will finally bring the Hobbits to Hollywood.

In a bold move the New Line studio is planning to make three live-action pictures based on "The Lord of the Rings," J.R.R. Tolkien's classic trilogy of fantasy novels. The total price-tag for the ambitious project will run between $130 million and $150 million.

Unprecedentedly, all three movies will be filmed at the same time -- thus running the risk that if the first film bombs, then the studio will be left will two further duds on its hands.

The movies are being made by Peter Jackson, director of the acclaimed art-house hit "Heavenly Creatures," who will be behind the cameras in New Zealand during the next year. According to the studio, making three pictures simultaneously can save as much as $50 million because base costs won't have to be repeated.

The current plan is to feature actors in key roles, and use special effects to create the mythical world and battle depicted in the saga.

The studio is clearly seeking to create a profitable "Star Wars"-caliber franchise from the series.

Nonetheless, even hardcore "Rings" fans in Hollywood are buzzing about the high-stakes gamble of producing sequels before knowing whether the movie will fly with audiences.

"I salute them for their cojones to make all three at one," said Steve Hockensmith, editor of Cinescape magazine. "But it's incredibly risky. If the first [installment] doesn't go over so well, they've got a big problem with the other two."

New Line Cinema took the project after archrival passed on a commitment to green-light all three films at once.

Director Peter Jackson and executive producer Saul Zaentz, who owns the rights to the book, then took the project to Ted Turner-controlled New Line. Miramax co-honchos Bob and Harvey Weinstein still retain an executive producer title in a rare alliance between the two studios. Miramax is a division of Disney.

The first installment is due in time for Christmas 2000, with the other two to arrive at theaters in six-month intervals.

Written in the mid-1950s, the Tolkien trilogy has a massive international following. The books have sold more then 50 million copies and have been translated into 25 languages. New Line also controls the worldwide merchandising rights.

Jackson, who also made the 1996 comedy-horror "The Frighteners" starring Michael J. Fox, says he is optimistic about the box-office and artistic potential for the trilogy.

"It's a commercial spectacle," full of wonderful visual characters," he recently told reporters from his New Zealand home. "The challenge is to capture the vividness of it all -- to take our cameras into Tolkien's world and make it feel as real as the world he describes in the books."

Upping the ante further is the fact that some fantasy fare has done poorly at the box-office. Pictures like "Dune," "Willow" and other otherwordly sagas have failed to attract wide audiences.

Said Cinescape's Hockensmith: "It's either going to be really, really big. Or it's going to be a total disaster. There won't be any middle ground here."

To date, New Line Cinema's riskiest project was the campy "Lost in Space," released this past spring, which cost $85 million and earned the studio $69 million in this country. Foreign and video sales are likely to make it marginally profitable.

The Tolkien trilogy "Lord of the Rings" has been widely considered "unfilmable" for years because of the many imaginary creatures and otherworldly elements. Here's a peek at hor director Peter Jackson might overcomes some obstacles while realizing the misty fantasy worlds on celluloid.

Middle Earth

In the book: A mythical, pre-historic place inhabited by elves, trolls, hobbits, and wizards

On the screen: Filming will take place in New Zealand; most creatures, castles, and cities will be created by computer graphics and special effects. Prominent Tolkien artists Alan Lee and John Howe are illustrating and designing elements


In the book: Little people, 2 to 4 feet tall, who becomes embroiled in saving Middle Earth from the forces of evil.

On the screen: Actors will play the lead roles. One possibility is that computer graphic technology will be used to "shrink" the actors, who will most likely be relatively unknowns, to half their original size.

Frodo Baggins

In the book: The heroic lead Hobbit who leads his fellow soldiers of good into a battle against the dark forces.

On the screen: Most likely to be cast with an unknown actor, made to look Hobbit-like through a combination of make-up and computer graphics,

Bilbo Baggins

In the book: The elderly Hobbit wo discovers the power of the all-powerful rings and serves as Frodo's mentor.

On the screen: Most likely to be played by an unknown character who is both dignified and lovable.


In the books: The wizard

On the screen: Most likely to be a cameo role for a Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins or another older, well-known actor of similar stature.

Dark Lord Sauron

In the books: The sinister tyrant who seeks to control the rings.

On the screen: Another part suitable for a well-known actor who delights in bad-guy roles. Think Christopher Walken, John Malkovich, etc.