NewsWire: The Wizard - Peter Jackson - USA Today

Enchanting players: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Viggo Mortensen

Magical moments: In the first of three films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy originally published in 1954, an army of nine heroes (a wizard, four hobbits, a dwarf, two humans and an elf) are pursued by the Dark Lord while on a mission to destroy a magic ring.

Behind the magic: Jackson, a New Zealander who was unavailable for an interview, may at first glance seem an unlikely choice to shoot three movies at once (total cost: about $270 million), a first-time achievement for any filmmaker. Best-known for 1994's Heavenly Creatures and the 1996 flop, The Frighteners, Jackson does have one important weapon in his arsenal: his own special-effects house, Weta.

Executive producer Mark Ordesky thinks Jackson is uniquely qualified to take on such a massive enterprise. "Peter has been wanting to make this film for so long, it transcends work. It's a calling."

Jackson has said his intention has been to make the films "neither childish nor overly dark . . . a good, solid action adventure with intelligence and depth."

New trick: The look of the Balrog, a creature of fire and smoke that has shape, but it's being kept secret until closer to opening.

Spellbinding force: Despite being make-believe, the story of good vs. evil is not unlike what the country is facing now. As Ordesky notes, Wood's humble Frodo understands he has inherited a massive responsibility in bearing the ring. "He is thinking, 'I wish the ring didn't come to me, I wish I lived in different times.' But he takes the duty on. It's incredibly apt."

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