CANNES, France (AP) – Just how did filmmaker Peter Jackson manage to put 31/2-foot-high hobbits alongside full-scale humans and a towering wizard for the upcoming movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings?
Sean Astin, who plays the hobbit Sam in the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece, has an Alice in Wonderland answer.
:Peter gave us these little blue pills he cooked up and told us to start taking them with water six weeks before we began shooting,: joked Astin.
Jackson and cast and crew members gathered at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday to show off the first big chunk of footage from the trilogy, one of the most eagerly awaited literary adaptations. Part one, The Fellowship of the Ring, hits theaters in December.
New Line Cinema figured the festival was an ideal showcase for the sneak peek at Middle-earth, the dark lord Sauron, and the band of hobbits, humans, dwarves and elves who must destroy the ring of power Sauron covets.
“It’s also kind of scary, too, showing what we’re showing here,” Jackson said. “It’s weird, because it’s not the movie. … Lord of the Rings is such a rich book with great plot machinations and characters. It’s a little bit painful to just show a seven-minute kind of sketchy montage of the story.”
Besides a montage from the first film, journalists were shown several minutes of material from parts two and three, due in theaters worldwide around Christmas 2002 and 2003.
The centerpiece of the footage was a 14-minute segment of the heroes’ harrowing journey through the mines of Moria, where they face legions of fierce goblins called orcs, a giant troll and a monstrous creature known as a balrog.
The scenes included a striking tableau of the “fellowship of the ring”: the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and hobbit companions Sam, Merry and Pippin (Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd); the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen); the human warriors Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean); the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom); and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).
“It’s an interesting challenge to make it believable and also for it not to take you out of the film and make you too self-conscious that these people are so small,” Wood said.
“You see the hobbits have human qualities as well and are not sort of cartoonish. It’s short people and tall people, and that’s just the way Middle-earth is.”
Depicting the various-sized characters was done through a combination of elaborate special effects and tricky but low-tech camera angles.
Film franchises generally are shot one movie at a time, with studios making decisions on sequels based on the performance of the previous installment. But New Line took the gamble of shooting all three at once over 15 months in New Zealand, finishing last December.
Executive producer Mark Ordesky, president of New Line’s arthouse label Fine Line, said there’s such a huge fan base for Lord of the Rings that the studio felt confident going ahead with all three.
The combined budget for the trilogy is $270 million. Doing all three at once allowed New Line to economize on travel, equipment and talent costs.
And what if the first film bombs?
“It’s not going to bomb,” Ordesky said. “There’s a hundred million of these books out there in 40 languages worldwide. You’ve got a missionary effect in that you’ve got three generations who’ve been reading it since the ’50s, when the book first came out.
“We’ve got an amazing pedigree in these films.”