Director Peter Jackson told SCI FI Wire that he conceived of his upcoming Lord of the Rings film trilogy as one single movie. “We really haven’t divided the film into three parts that much in our minds,” Jackson said in an interview. “We obviously have the three parts to release, one a year apart from each other, so in post-production we’re differentiating part one [The Fellowship of the Ring], part two [The Two Towers] and part three [The Return of the King] very clearly. But shooting it was 14 months of continuous [production in Jackson’s native New Zealand].”
Added Jackson, the director of Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners, “Like any movie, we shot out of sequence. One day we would be shooting a scene from part three, and the next day we’d be shooting something from part one. That was just pretty much the way the movie went. It was like shooting one big six-, seven-, eight-hour movie.”
Why three movies? “How do you adapt The Lord of the Rings?” Jackson asked. “I think one of the reasons why it hasn’t happened for 40 years, apart from the cartoon version in the ’70s, is [the sheer length of the J.R.R. Tolkien saga]. The key to it is that we’ve made it three movies. The instinct that Hollywood would have would be to just compress it all into one movie. And I think anybody attempting to do that … you just can’t do it. The story is too well known. The characters are too loved. You’d have to lose so much of what people love about the book that it’s never happened. People have just not gone there. The key is that we took the huge risk, which it obviously is, and said, ‘Well, we’re going to make three movies. We’re going to shoot three movies all at the same time. And that’s the way this project is going to be done.'”
Miramax Films, which had acquired the rights to the Lord of the Rings books, wanted to make only one film. But the studio ultimately sold the rights to New Line Cinema, whose head, Bob Shaye, pointed out that Tolkein wrote three books and reasoned that there should therefore be three films. The studio ultimately invested $270 million in the project, Jackson and his cast–including Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood and Liv Tyler–spent more than a year filming in New Zealand, and the resulting features will be released in sequence on Dec. 19, December 2002 and December 2003.