On the Making of the Lord of the Rings - Documentry, DVD, and the Making of a Monster

With the first Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring DVD slated to be released in August, and the Director's Cut edition to be released in November, there's little many of us can do but sit back and wait for all the goodies to come on those shiny little discs.

Well, Ted and I aren't going to have to wait for everything... We had a chance to take a look at the rough draft of The Making of The Lord of the Rings that will appear on the special edition DVD in November. It was just a matter of being at the right place at the right time.

It just so happened that the 2002 Western Regional Conference on Christianity and Literature is being hosted this year by Azusa Pacific University, a private university only about 20 minutes from my home. Though this conference is primarily for scholars and academics, registration is also open to others who wish to sit in on the sessions and presentations throughout the weekend.

This year's theme for the conference is The Gift of Story: Narrating Hope in Film and Literature. As The Lord of the Rings has been such a brilliant spotlight for the last year with it's current importance in film and its established significance in literature, the introductory seminar held last night was a Film Screening of The Making of The Lord of the Rings with New Zealand filmmaker Costa Botes, who directed this documentary for the DVD release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Mr. Botes introduced his film noting that primarily it's a "fly on the wall" look at the making of The Fellowship of the Ring. The documentary has no narrator and no captions to offer a didactic explanation of how the film was made. He simply had a small hand-held digital video camera, and followed one of the film crews wherever they went (which occasionally proved to be difficult, citing the oft schedule changes and because of the simple fact that there were always three to five crews filming in different places all over New Zealand). And the documentary is still in its rough form; what we were going to see was not the finished product there was to be much more editing and adding before the final product is burned onto the DVD.

Oh, and one other note. Mr. Botes said they have over 500 hours of behind-the-scenes footage, with more post-production behind-the-scenes being taped weekly. Wow...

Now, pardon me if some of the following seems disjointed and brief. There was so much to absorb in this documentary, that I'll only be scratching the surface of what we saw.

The documentary proceeded in a simple chronological time frame, starting with preproduction. The scene was Peter Jackson going over some money issues with producer Barrie Osbourne, with the most memorable quote something like, "Well, we could always do it like Lost in Space, but we know what happened with that." The film continued with a number of scenes of folks working on costumes and miniatures, and getting the logistics down regarding some new walkie-talkies. By this point, the scope of the production and all that was involved with it really became clear, especially when the "plane spotter" had her moment on film--it was simply her job to sit near the Wellington airport and radio in when planes were taking off/landing so that the noise didn't disturb a crew filming nearby.

As the documentary progressed into shots of the crew filming the actors, you couldn't help but smile at the comraderie of the actors, the fun they had together, particularly the four hobbits--Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd. In one memorable scene, Dominic and Billy are sitting in front of the camera, remarking on how aloof and self-centered Elijah was... then Elijah comes over and sits with them, all three greeting each other as though they're old friends... then Dominic gets up and Elijah and Billy remark under their breath on how he just keeps talking and talking and never shuts up... then Dominic returns to another boisterous greeting by Elijah and Billy, with a "Hey! How're you doing? Good? Good!! Good to see you again!"... then, Billy gets up and Dominic and Elijah remark under their breath how he has no respect for anyone... then Billy returns to another boisterous greeting from the other two. It was clearly a staged scene, but quite hilarious and really showed how much great fun they were having together making this movie.

One of the most interesting parts of the documentary were the scenes with the little people who stood in for the hobbits. Just like other actors, they were intimately involved in training for the same scenes and being sized for the same costumes as the other principle actors. One shot showed the four of them standing next to the four "famous" hobbits(across a dividing line), each group doing the same actions on either side of the line, perhaps to give the director a feel for how each group moved and interacted and how they needed to be more similar. It was actually quite odd--eerie almost--to see two sets of the exact same people in the same place, doing the same thing, with the same clothes, but one group at half the size of the other...

I have so many different thoughts bouncing around in my head, that I just need put them down...

  • It was pretty clear that Liv Tyler was afraid of the horse that was Asfaloth. At one point (in the scene where she meets Aragorn to pick up Frodo and take him to Rivendell), the horse simply turned to her, and she squealed out, "Don't bite me!"
  • Sean Astin's injury from running into the "Anduin" was quite bloody. Apparently he stepped on a stick that went straight through his prosthetic hobbit foot... the hobbit foot had to be cut off so that they could treat his foot, which they then saw needed to be treated at a hospital.
  • Ian McKellen, Peter Jackson, and Viggo Mortensen always had their copy of LOTR on them.
  • Christopher Lee definitely relished his time there--on the foley stage when he was rerecording his lines, he simply broke out into the ring poem to make the point that these are the most important words in the entire story.
  • Viggo Mortensen likes to go fly fishing on the banks of the "Anduin".
  • Those guys who hand made hundreds of chainmail suits for the cast definitely had been sitting there for much to long...
  • The special effects it took to make the hobbits look small was definitely special--forced perspective is an incredible thing.
  • Every item that both a hobbit had to hold--the teapot Bilbo uses, for instance--was created in two sizes. One extra large for hobbit hands, and another normal-sized for human hands.

After the DVD had finished, Mr. Botes took some questions from the audience of about 75-100. Most interesting, perhaps, is the fact that the FOTR DVD to be released in August will include only extras that have aired on television already. The special edition that releases in November will include the final draft of this documentary, and lots of other never-before-seen extras (which of course include lots of additional footage in the film). He also said that it's his hope to release a VERY extended "making of" documentary DVD in the future... which could clock in at 16 hours! He's doing a "making of" for each film, but has so much footage he wants to share, that cutting the 16 hours he wants to share into a 2 hour DVD extra seems a travesty.

He also said that there are plans to release a 9-disc LOTR "uber" DVD edition after the LOTR trilogy has been released into theaters.

It looks like we're all going to have PLENTY of things to look forward to in the future... and, when November rolls around, I HIGHLY recommend you grab yourself a copy of the Special Edition DVD, if just for this great "fly on the wall" look at The Fellowship of the Ring.

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