NewsWire: Fantasy, Driven by Reality - The Los Angeles Times

For an article about how the film-makers of the second installments of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings face even greater expectations, Peter Jackson discusses The Two Towers.

Here are some excerpts:

In New Zealand, Jackson has worked steadily through the $300 million pledged by New Line at the onset of the project. The Two Towers also will introduce characters and scenes representing the latest in film technology, but that will not address the biggest obstacle the film faces. The extraordinary critical success of The Fellowship of the Ring set a high bar: To make this middle film of a trilogy best picture or best director material will require all kinds of magic, computer or otherwise.

"There was much more pressure this year," said Jackson from New Zealand. "For Fellowship, " he said, "we had the advantage of being the mystery film. This time, we don't have the future of the studio riding on our shoulders, but we have to worry about the millions of people who loved the first film, who are counting on us."

* * *

"The Fellowship was much more whimsical," Jackson said. "And it had to cover a lot of ground, backstory-wise--it was a half-hour before we even got out of the Shire. The Two Towers is much more of an adventure film, with horses and swords and battles."

The Two Towers begins right after the final action in Fellowship, and if people are expecting a when-we-last-saw-them prologue to get them up to speed, they're out of luck. "That is just too TV miniseries," he said. "And I'm not really concerned with the people who didn't see The Fellowship -- why would they be going to see this movie if they didn't see that one?"

* * *

[Unlike Potter director Chris Columbus, who will not be directing the third sequel,] Jackson, on the other hand, has no plans to step down, and he really couldn't even if he wanted to -- the main action of all three movies was shot all at once, over 14 months (from October 1999 to December 2000), and mostly in sequence.

Since then, he and his team have holed up in Wellington, New Zealand (dubbed "Wellywood" by the locals), editing and adding sound, doing a tiny bit of re-shooting and, of course, filling in all the special effects. For The Two Towers, this includes the computer-enhanced characters of Gollum and Treebeard, the destruction of Isengard and several jaw-dropping battle scenes. The success of the first movie assured him he was doing something right. As The Fellowship was edited, there had been much anguish expressed by Tolkien fans who learned, through Internet rumor, of this cut or that. But when the film came out, there was very little criticism.

"I think even the hard-core fans understood that the two things [the film and the book] are very different," Jackson said. "I think they realized we weren't stomping all over the essence of it, that we were being respectful."

The trust issue is crucial because Jackson and co-writers Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair took even more liberties in The Two Towers. They excavated the love story between Aragorn and Arwen from the book's appendices and made it a centerpiece, and the movie will end in a different place than did the book. (For those familiar with the work, Shelob will not make her big entrance until the third and final film, The Return of the King.)

The trilogy, Jackson has pointed out many times, was actually written as a single book -- a paper shortage led to the decision to publish it as three volumes. The new ending, he said, is actually truer, chronologically, to the tale than the book. But if the fans seem content, some folks not familiar with Tolkien's work had a few issues this time around. Last year, a petition was posted on the Internet, asking Jackson to change the name of the film, The Two Towers being, according to the petition's author, "clearly meant to refer to the attacks on the World Trade Center." The page with the petition, which has been suspended due to lack of maintenance, also includes a note from the Web site, PetitonOnline.com, explaining that the literary classic was published 47 years prior to the attacks.

But it wasn't just Web surfers who had issues. Earlier this year, New Line proposed making its New York premiere of The Two Towers a benefit similar to the one held for The Fellowship of the Ring, which raised $300,000 for the Twin Towers Fund. But the organizations they approached got cold feet.

"Apparently, they thought the name of the film was too close," said New Line head Robert Shaye. There was, he said, a conversation about changing the film's name. "Not going to happen," he said flatly.

***


But the thing that concerns the studios the most is whether the films can meet the expectations set by their predecessors. Industry insiders are betting not on whether the two movies will be hits, but which will be the bigger hit. The money seems to be on The Two Towers this time.

"We are cautiously optimistic," Shaye said.

Which seems a sensible approach. As Harry and Frodo know only too well, it's when things are nice and quiet that the monsters jump out of the shadows.

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