by Paul Majendie
LONDON – The Lord of the Rings film epic was launched at a glitzy world premiere Monday with critics already hailing the mammoth fantasy as a masterpiece.
The J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy that attracted at least 100 million readers over the last half century has been turned into three movies costing $270 million. It took New Zealand director Peter Jackson 18 grueling months to film with a cast of 2,400.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of the three films planned for release, and show business hype reigned supreme at the London premiere.
The film looks set to propel its diminutive hero, American actor Elijah Wood, to international stardom. Hollywood veterans such as Liv Tyler and British horror star Christopher Lee were on hand to watch Wood’s turn as Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins.
More than 2,000 fans braved the chilly night in London’s cinema-lined Leicester Square to greet the film’s stars as they entered under a row of burning rings.
“We had a lot of fun and we had a lot of work,” Tyler, who plays elf-maiden Arwen Undomiel in the film, told Reuters. “When I read the book and the script I really longed to be part of this movie.”
The film, a dark tale of the fight between good and evil played out by hobbits, elves, wizards and orcs, could go head to head with another magical tale — Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — when it is released on Dec. 19.
A 1978 animated version directed by Ralph Bakshi failed to capture the imagination of the film-going public or the admiration of the legions of Tolkien fans around the world.
The first feedback from critics of this latest version of The Lord of the Rings was euphoric.
“The movie works. It has real passion,” Newsweek declared. The film critic for Entertainment Weekly said, “I really got a sense of awe and grandeur.” Variety said, “The effects are blended in extremely well with the fabric of the movie.”
Jackson said he did feel nervous about how the public would receive the film but was heartened by the early reviews.
“I’ll be relieved to have people finally see the film because it has been the buzz on the Internet, there have been spies (on set), it has been gossip and rumor for three years now,” he told Reuters.
“Three years is too long. People have just got to see it. It is just a movie and it needs to have an identity as a film now and not as this Internet buzz. I’ll be relieved when it is out there.”
Christopher Lee, who plays the fallen wizard Saruman, said he was seeing the film for the first time at the premiere, but was confident it was going to be fantastic.
The 79-year-old veteran called Jackson one of the greatest film directors of the age. “Someone asked me what my greatest ambition in life is and I replied that it was to live to see the third film,” Lee said.
Wood said the film was breathtaking and he hoped it would inspire a whole new generation to read the books.
“I love it, I think it is wonderful. Everyone involved has done such beautiful work.”
Co-star Sean Bean said his role as the orc-slaying warrior Boromir “was physically demanding.”
“I think it was hard work but I think we were all so excited to be part of it that the adrenaline carried us through.”
Sir Ian McKellan, who plays Gandalf the wizard, said making the movie was “everything I dreamed it might be.”
“Any worries that I had that the story may be too complicated, that the special effects wouldn’t be quite as magical as required absolutely vanished.”