SPOILERS Transcript of Newsweek's Jeff Giles' Live Talk - MS-NBC.com

Jeff Giles: Hi, I'm Jeff Giles. I went to New Zealand to see "Lord of the Rings", interview director Peter Jackson and tour the workshops where the armor and swords and miniatures were made. I'll take whatever questions you have. Thanks.

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San Francisco, CA: Will there be three movies, like the original books? Will we be able to recognize the story and the characters? I've not gone to the movies in year, but waited for video rentals. This movie will finally get me back into a theater! Good luck!

Jeff Giles: It's been a lousy year for movies, so you haven't missed much. Yes, "Lord of the Rings" will be three movies. The first comes out December 19th, with sequels planned for Christmas 2002 and 2003. Even in the nine hours' worth of movies, the filmmakers had to cut a heck a lot of stuff, but everything that matters (the characters, the great adventure and the themes of self-sacrifice and so on) are still there. There was a lot of upset on the internet when Tolkien fans heard that the filmmakers had cut the elusive-wood-sprite-or-whatever-he-is Tom Bombadil altogether, but when you see "Fellowship of the Ring" you'll know there simply wasn't enough time for that subplot. On top of which--and I know I'm not the first person to say this--Tom was a really, really annoying character. All that goofy singing! The screenwriters told me they joked about having a "Monty Python"-type scene where the fellowship hears some tra-la-la-ing in the woods and one of them says, "It's Tom! Run away! Run away!"

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Fremont, CA: I would like to know what was behind the choice to emphasize Arwen's role in the movie. Was that driven by the studios, the producers, or Peter Jackson?

Jeff Giles: There's been so much anger and speculation about Arwen (Liv Tyler), but I don't think hardcore Tolkien fans will be scandalized by what's in the movie. Yes, Arwen's bolder in the movie than in the book, but she's not a warrior. She brandishes a sword and taunts the Ringwraiths but she doesn't actually fight anybody. (As I said in my piece, the filmmakers tried shooting her in battle but it didn't really pan out.) To answer your question, I'm sure the studio didn't mind having a strong female presence in the movie--it may be hard to get women into theaters for "LOTR" no matter what--but the decision to make Arwen tougher clearly began with the screenwriters: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Having met Walsh and Boyens--they're really smart, cool women--it's impossible to imagine them writing any screenplay without some gutsy females in it. No matter how much you adore Tolkien's book, you've got to admit it's got way too guys, even if they are different heights.

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Mesa, AZ: Considering the passion the actors in this film have professed for the subject matter, how much impact on the films quality would you expect this "belief" in their work to have? Will this passion show through to the camera lens or is it just a nice footnote to the overall production?

Jeff Giles: I think the fact that the actors were so passionate helped them survive the insanely grueling shoot, but at the end of the day Peter Jackson's the only one who can make the movies great. If you read between the lines of the Viggo Mortensen interview that Newsweek.com posted last night, you get the sense that he wishes the movie were as rich with poetry and detail as the book. But, having said that, the fact that the actors care about Tolkien so much helps in the sense that they bring real passion and power to their roles. Imagine how silly a movie with hobbits, dwarves, elves and wizards would be if the actors were embarrassed or bored or just going through the paces. I think the acting in the first movie is terrific more or less across the board. I didn't really like Cate Blanchett, but it may just be me. It seems like they must have cut some of her scenes, so I couldn't really figure out what her take on Galadriel was. (And there's a pretty cheesy special f/x shot when she's tempted by the ring.) But just about everybody else knocked me out. Ian McKellan doesn't play a cliche wizard: he plays a really wise, weary sort of grandfather figure to Frodo. Viggo Mortensen is fabulous as Aragorn. Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Sean Astin (Sam) are really touching as buddies on an impossible mission.

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Clayton, CA: ... and what of Eowyn?

Jeff Giles: As females in the "LOTR" books go, I always thought Eowyn was much, much cooler than Arwen--she goes into battle dressed a man, falls into a pretty heartbreaking love triangle, etc--so I'm glad you asked. Eowyn is played by an Australian actress named Miranda Otto. She's not in the first movie obviously and I've only seen tiny clips of her from the second, but unless Jackson somehow screw things up she should come out of this movie a star. While I was interviewing people from "LOTR", I heard some interesting rumors about Eowyn's role. Apparently the screenwriters have invented a little subplot for her character: a sort of human-interest thing that they can cut to during the very long Battle of Helm's Deep. I'm not going to tell you exactly what it is because I dont think even the filmmakers know if it will wind up in the movie or not--plus hardcore Tolkien fans would give Jackson endless grief about it in the chat rooms. On a totally random note, I jokingly asked Liv Tyler if there was any tension between her and Miranda Otto because their characters were both in love with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), and she laughed and said, "Well, we didn't hang out."

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Sioux City, Iowa: How convincing is the forced-perspective work with the hobbits?

Jeff Giles: The movie actually uses a lot of different tricks to make, say, Gandalf look so much taller than Frodo. The guy who overseas Weta Digital, which did the CGI shots in the film, said they wanted to keep changing the trick so that audiences wouldn't get used to one illusion and stop falling for it. So they used forced persecptive (where one character is much closer to the camera but you cant tell), they used little-people for body doubles, they had people stand on boxes, stand on their knees, etc. I think it all works pretty well. Once the movie starts rolling you really dont think much about how tall everybody is because youre swept up in the story. The most important thing is, the tricks were dont badly--there's nothing freakish or lame that pulls you out of the story.

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Dinosaur, CO: Is the Balrog fabulously evil or just a kind of big troll?

Jeff Giles: The Balrog is really great. It looks like a walking bull, sort of. It's a computer-generated image obviously but somehow the f/x people got it to spout real flame so the fire doesn't look all cheesy and pixilated like it often does in movies. The Mines of Moria scene, where the Balrog comes after the fellowship, is certainly the highlight of the movie. I was less in love with the Cave Troll but some of my friends who've seen the movie say that the Cave Troll rocks and that I should shut up.

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Indianapolis, IN: Where's Gollum?

Jeff Giles: Gollum is seen only fleetingly in the first movie. His hands, his eyes. One shot of him far away crouching in the dark. Obviously he'll be a huge player in the sequels. They're basically teasing us here. I've seen all the models and miniatures for Gollum and he's pretty great and horrific looking. No one's going to be disappointed: he looks like the perfect mix of self-hate, corruption and evil.

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Denver, CO: Is Peter Jackson at all upset about Christopher Tolkein's resistance to the idea of this being made into a film?

Jeff Giles: Jackson says he's had no contact whatsoever with the estate, ie Christopher. And he says he thinks that's a good thing: if the movie was sanctioned somehow the estate might try and control it. Jackson also thinks it wouldnt be fair of him to tout his movie as the "official" movie and then ignore whatever Christopher Tolkein wanted. So he's happy to be independent.

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Dinosaur, CO: How much poetry and songs are in the whole movie?

Jeff Giles: Zero--and thank God. I know that will upset fans, but I can't stand the poetry. There are songs on the soundtrack obviously. People (Enya for one) sing in Elvish and Dwarvish but the characters dont sing themselves unless I'm forgetting something. Certainly Bilbo doesn't stand up and sing about his adventures or anything like that. The movie's emphasis really is on action. I should add, I havent seen movies two and three, though I doubt they're musicals.

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Abilene, TX: What has impressed you the most with Peter Jackson and his crew?

Jeff Giles: Sheer hard work, dedication to a vision, fearlessness at adapting a beloved book, etc. And I dont know HOW they shot three movies out of chronological order. It is absolutely amazing that the movie doesn't stink utterly. One more thing: the Weta Workshop, which made all the props I mentioned, is one of the coolest places I've ever been. It's the kind of place where a 25 year old guy will be listening to death metal and sculpting, really delicately, a Muppet. The Weta folks hope to have a museum so people can see the armor and swords, etc. I don't know if they will be allowed to do that, but if all that great weaponry and artwork ends up getting sold on eBay instead, it will be a sin. Fans would love the stuff. I held Aragorn's sword--both the broken and reforged versions. Really something.

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: Do we see Galadriel in the Fellowship?

Jeff Giles: Sure, she's at the end. Small part and, as I said in another answer, I wasn't nuts about Blanchett. The whole Galadriel section (the mirror, the gifts, etc) is shorter than you'd expect.

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Denver, CO: What about the literary feel -- If you watch a movie like "A Room With a View," you almost get the feeling that you're sitting by the fire, reading a classic piece of literature. Is there any of that feeling in the LOTR movie, or does it get lost in all of the fantasy and escapist visual efforts

Jeff Giles: Hmm. Read Viggo Mortensen's interview on newsweek.msnbc.com. He thinks, and I thnk, that Jackson chose adventure over poetry but I think it was the correct(and only) call. It's very much Tolkien's world but no it's not highly literary. It's far more visually stunning than it is verbally stunning.

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Lakeland, FL: Was Peter Jackson barefoot when you met him?

Jeff Giles: Always.

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Dinosaur, CO: Do the eagles look real or just cheesy?
i. e. Gandalf is being taken over Orthanc in the clutches of an eagle.


Jeff Giles: I liked the eagle--and the crows that spy on the fellowship. The crows go by pretty fast but they worked for me. In the movie, Gandalf (Ian McKellan) says something like, "They are Saruman's spies!" In the bloopers reel that I saw at Peter Jackson's house, McKellan shouts, "Duck! They're spies from 'Star Wars!'" Youve got to love Sir Ian.

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: How much spoken elvish, dwarvish, etc is in the film? A lot?

Jeff Giles: Very little. Liv and Viggo both speak Elvish, and there are some subtitles as they profess their love. Gandalf reads dwarvish out of a journal in the Mines of Moria--but he translates it into English on the spot, being a really smart wizard. As I said before, this is not a scholarly movie in the sense that Tolkien was a scholar obsessed with the roots of language, etc. But it as true to the basic vision of "LOTR" as any movie I could imagine.

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Indianapolis, IN: Does the first film flash-back to Bilbo's adventures as the 'burglar' in the Hobbitt? How are the viewers informed of the origens of the Ring?

Jeff Giles: The movie opens with a prologue that explains how Sauron forged the ring to rule the others, then lost it in battle, etc. (You first see Elrond in the battle sequence.) The prologue also shows Bilbo finding the ring, as you hear Gollum's frantic babbling offscreen. It's a pretty intense opening. ONly lasts about 5 minutes, but you know what you need to know, and it is gorgeous to look at.

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Dinosaur, CO: How does this movie compare with other movies of it's type, especially "Harry Potter"?

Jeff Giles: LOTR is nothing like Potter, just as TOlkien is nothing like ROwlings and Jackson is nothing like (Potter director)Christopher Columbus. I didnt care for Potter, though i like the books as much as anybody. I thought LOTR was astonishing to look at at times (reminds me of really really good, dark Tim Burton), and much better acted. More importantly, LOTR has real drive--you want to keep watching because youre on an adventure. Potter petered, no?

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: How much of the loyalty and friendship of the fellowship retained in the dialog

Jeff Giles: I think the Frodo/Sam stuff is really touching. This movie, more than others presumably, has to introduce a lot of characters so there'e very little time for Legolas, say, or Gimli to emote. Still, the bond is really strong and clear--and Legolas's fighting is great fun to watch.

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: Jeff, I've read your interviews of the cast members of LOTR at the Newsweek site. Do you sense that this was truly a unique experience for the actors, or are they simply hyping the film by saying it was such an epic experience?

Jeff Giles: Good question. Different actors had different takes, except that they ALL thought it was an unbelievable amount of work. I got the sense Liv had a hard time and was homesick. I got the sense Ian McK had the time of his life. I got the sense Elijah Wood had great fun but worked like nuts. I never thought anybody was lying to me about how grand the project felt, because they all spoke so frankly about what a nightmare shoot it was.

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: One thing I'm worried about is the general feel of the movie. Does it leave you feeling good about yourself?

Jeff Giles: This has been such a dreadful year for movies that I could have jumped up and down just because LOTR was terrific. To be more specific, the end of the movie is touching--and, as david ansen said in his review, leaves you wanting more. You cant help but get a little buzz from seeing brave hobbits bond with wizards and elves, can you?

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: Is there any other 20th century author who describes landscapes with as much attention as Tolkien?

Jeff Giles: I've referred this question to my colleague David gates who is a full-on TOlkien nut. HIs reply:

boy, not that i can think of. hemingway can be good, but he's nowhere near as detailed, nor as obsessed with geography and geology. there may be people whom i haven't read who do it--maybe peter mattheisson, or however you spell his name. maybe some of those western writers, like wallace stegner or edward abbey? toni morrison does landscape well, but, again, she's nowhere near as detailed. maybe some writers from africa or india?

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Grand Marais, MI: I find it interesting when I read these four books to know J. R. R. Tolkien was an Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Literature scholar. I find echoes of his scholar ship all the way through the books. Will you comment?

Jeff Giles: again, i defer to master gates:

absolutely right. i wouldn't say 'lotr' is a pastiche, but so much of it comes out of his wide and deep reading in anglo-saxon, medieval and saga literature. the whole idea of the rings, for instance, inevitably reminds you of the niebelungenlied, on which wagner based his ring cycle. the battles, the battle cries, the songs and poetry, the chaste and lofty romances, the monsters--all of it. on the other hand, the name sackville-baggins tells you that he also knew a thing or two about what was then the near-contemporary bloomsbury scene.

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: What does Jackson say about the relationship of good vs. evil related in the book to what is going on in Afghanistan? e present day

Jeff Giles: He said he felt it just showed how timeless the books are--that once they reminded people of WW2, then they thrilled the counterculturalists, and now they may make you think of terrorism and so on. i, for one, didn't think about bin laden for one second during the movie. the analogy is there if you want it, but you may just want the escapism and the adventure.

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: Will this film buck the trend that 'Fantasy is for geeks'? Does FOTR stand a chance come Oscar time for anything other than costumes, effects, etc..?

Jeff Giles: I think FOTR could conceivably get a Best Pic nomination. There are so few great movies. I can only think of two obivous best Pic contenders at this point: Ali and Beautiful Mind. Beyond that, it's anybody guess: In the Bedroom, Moulin Rouge, Blackhawk Down? I think a really wide audience will love this movie, but the geeks will know they were there first.

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MSNBC.com Chat Room: is there an intermission?

Jeff Giles: No, but there's always the Counsel of Elrond.....

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Dinosaur, CO: Is this a family film or intended for the older audience?

Jeff Giles: LOTR is much darker and more violent than Potter. A head gets chopped off for one thing. (Notice I'm not saying what kind of head.) I cant imagine kids under 10 being ready for it, and even then I'd really think twice. Orcs and Uruk-hais are some scary looking things.

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Alexandria, VA: As a film critic, do you think that the movie will draw repeat business, or is it another "event" film that is only worth seeing in the theater once?

Jeff Giles: I liked it far more the second time. There's so much flying at you--information, chartacers, body parts--that you want to go back just to notice all the nuance. There's so many beautiful and terrifying shots in this movie. You cant possibly take them all in at once.

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Jeff Giles: OK, I'd better stop. Thanks for the great, varied questions, and check out the LOTR stories on newsweek.com. See you Decemeber 19th.....

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Andrew Cohen: Special thanks to NEWSWEEK Senior Editor Jeff Giles and everyone who participated in today's Live Talk on "Lord of the Rings." Be sure to check in again next week when we have another NEWSWEEK Live Talk.

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