Toronto Sun
September 25, 2001

Lord of the Big Screen
Bruce Kirkland

New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson calls J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic The Lord Of The Rings "one of the greatest books ever written."

Now he is trying to forge one of the greatest movie trilogies ever made despite struggling with what he says is "both the joy and the curse" of filming one of English literature's cultural icons.

The pressure is especially acute because animator Ralph Bakshi tried to do The Lord Of The Rings in 1978 and failed miserably.

Jackson already has one of the greatest hype machines ever manufactured by Hollywood in full-bore operation. It began with the Internet release, on Apr. 7, 2000, of a teaser trailer that was downloaded 1.6 million times in the first 24 hours.

The hype was further propelled by the debut of 26 minutes of spectacular footage from the trilogy at the Cannes Film Festival last May. There are also dozens of Internet fan sites active now.

So the first instalment of the trilogy, The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, is now the most anticipated movie of 2001 -- eat your heart out, Harry Potter.

The Fellowship Of The Ring is due on Dec. 19, with the two sequels following over the next two years. The Two Towers will be released in December 2002 and The Return Of The King a year later. In an industry first, the three films were shot simultaneously in New Zealand over the past two years, the key to mastering what had been considered "an unfilmable book," Jackson says.

The trilogy required an astonishing US$270 million investment by the U.S. mini-studio New Line Cinema and their partners. But executive producer Mark Ordesky has downplayed the risk, saying at Cannes: "If you look at it in the context of a Hollywood event movie, it is not a particularly huge sum. We really see this essentially as launching a brand, launching a franchise."

That's money talking. The enchantment factor comes from Jackson -- "I think it would be a mistake to put too much of my brain there," he says of the pressures of the budget -- and from most of the actors, a diverse lot of Americans, Britons, Irish, New Zealanders, Australians and others.

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