November 13, 2000
On December 22, stars such as Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) and all the other remaining hobbits, dwarfs, elves and warrior horsemen and women, will head home.
The imminence of a wrap was conveyed by director Peter Jackson in a special "thank you" press conference at the weekend, appropriately held in an old-style marquee at the base of "Helms Deep", the ancient citadel where the forces for good fought terrible odds against the Dark Lord of Mordor - about 25km north of Wellington.
This is not the end, of course. Jackson confirmed that the computer wizardry that is being mixed with the real-life acting will continue well into 2003.
Wellington's coffee houses can, for the moment, relax.
The projected release schedule for the three films is: The Fellowship of the Ring, to be released Christmas 2001; The Two Towers, Christmas 2002; and Return of the King, Christmas 2003.
He also confirmed that the combined length of the movies would be "between seven and eight hours".
With all the remaining stars beside him, as well as the films' renowned producer Barrie Osborne (Matrix), Jackson started simply: "Thank you for all your support. It's been quite a journey to get here."
He then confessed to having had numerous nightmares. "I have recurring dreams that I'm on the set and things are going horribly wrong, All night long I'm tormented".
But if "horribly wrong" could be applied to a reported budget blowout - latest reports have estimated a budgeted NZ$360 million has escalated to $675 million or more - Jackson was having none of it.
"We're finishing on schedule . . . It's a healthy budget that's appropriate for three epic films, and to portray and bring (author J R) Tolkein's work to the screen."
Asked if the $675 million was accurate, Osborne interjected: "I think that's an appropriate question for (United States financiers) New Line Cinema."
Jumping to the defence of the epic project, Rhys-Davies asserted the films would be "bigger than Star Wars", to the obvious horror of some of the younger members of the cast.
"They say that Crocodile Dundee brought an extra two million tourists to Australia. These are three movies based on books that have occupied three feet of space in every bookshop in the world for the last 40 years," he said.
"In the reading world, every family has a member in it who's read this book. Half of them absolutely love it . . . this is going to be the biggest (film) of all time."
All spoke of the hard work - Astin called the set "boot camp" - but also of the camaraderie, and there was a sense of sadness as the press conference wound down.
"I'm the lucky one," Jackson said. "I get my fantasy on screen."
There had to be one last question. What's next for Peter Jackson - and Wellington?
"I live here. I've got a house here. My kids go to school here. And I make movies here. But it's got to ultimately depend on the subject matter."
So what's it to be? "We've got a film in the pipeline, a New Zealand story," Jackson said. "Just a small one . . ."
Rhys-Davies: "Yeah. It's called The Holy Bible."