||The Sunday Star
November 12, 2000
Project Opens Its Doors
"Every time I make a movie I have recurring dreams that I'm on the set and things are going horribly wrong," he said yesterday.
"They usually begin when I start shooting and finish when I stop shooting."
Lord of the Rings started shooting in October last year and will finish on December 22, a gigantic project even in the hyperbolic world of movie making.
Yesterday the secretive project opened its doors at the set of the city of Minas Tirith, the scene of the climactic battle in the Lord of the Rings saga. At least one newspaper was barred from the event because the movie makers have not appreciated its coverage.
In a white tent at the foot of the medieval-looking city, Jackson said the JRR Tolkien text had consumed him. "It just dawns on me from time to time that here I am in Bag-end or Helm's Deep . . . and there are moments you do feel that you are physically transformed in the book."
It had been difficult to juggle three movies in his mind at once. "Any movie that you shoot, you shoot out of sequence and what we've done is have three movies shooting out of sequence," he said.
The project hasn't been all plain sailing. Production has been dogged by rumours of a budget blowout that were denied again yesterday by producer Barrie Osborne.
He declined to say what the films' budget was, describing it as a "healthy" budget for a trilogy roughly the size of Star Wars. Some media reports have put it in the region of NZ$650 million.
The production has also struggled with the South Island weather. Filming was delayed for two days during floods this year. At one point the cast was filming atop Mt Olympus and was called down for safety reasons. Osborne and Jackson took to a helicopter frantically searching for new sites for the mountain scenes. Filming is, however, on schedule.
Osborne who has a string of big movies on his CV including Face Off and Dick Tracy, said Lord of the Rings was the hardest he had done, citing the logistics and scope of doing three movies at once.
Jackson said he was hoping to break new ground with animation techniques in the film, particularly with the character Gollum, played by Andy Serkis. The actor's body would be wired to a computer and his every nuance would be translated into a computer-generated image.
But despite all the technical tricks available to a creative powerhouse such as Jackson, the movie maker said one of the greatest challenges had been to capture the power of the Ring and the psychological aspects of Tolkien's work.
Jackson, who has faced close scrutiny from Tolkien scholars, said he believed he had been faithful to the books.
He said the film was always going to be an interpretation. "There will be time for controversy, that will be when the (movies) come out. As long as people realise they are just interpretation."
Early yesterday he was filming a scene for the third film: "You sit there and think no one is going to see this for 3 1/2 years."
After 13 months, the actors have settled into life in Wellington. Elijah Wood likes surfing in Wellington's Lyall Bay near his rented home. Sean Astin, who plays the hobbit Sam, said he had arrived in New Zealand when his daughter was two years old. She is now four and by the time all the movies are out she will be 7 or 8.
Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, wasn't setting out to win friends. "I thought my year in New Zealand would be a wonderful opportunity to go to Australia," he told journalists.
But he improved: "I have had the most sensational year. I didn't expect it, I didn't know the place.
"It's a Kiwi movie and that's what's astonishing for me. It's not an American movie that happens to be made here because it's cheaper and there's some pleasant scenery."
Wood said: "What drove me to be here was to work with Peter and be part of something so beautiful and so epic."
John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli, got carried away about the spin-offs for New Zealand. "They say that Crocodile Dundee brought an extra two million tourists to Australia. These are three movies based on books that have occupied three foot of space in every book shop in the world for the last 40-odd years," he said.
"So I think when you're looking at the benefits this is going to be the biggest film of all time. These three films are going to be bigger than Star Wars."
Glamour star Liv Tyler was not present.
Jackson has already lined up his next project, a New Zealand story. "We've got a film in the pipeline. It's a small one."
"Yeah," some one quipped, "its called The Holy Bible."
The Lord of the Rings has provided an epic battle between the film makers and curious journalists and fans.
Information about the film has been closely guarded and leaks have been rare.
Large-scale outdoor sets, however, have proved impossible to hide. The hobbit village near Matamata, for example, was created a year before filming started so it could age naturally.