by Crispian Balmer
CANNES, France (Reuters) – It’s not in competition, it’s not even finished, but the Hollywood adaptation of The Lord of the Rings still managed to cast a spell Friday over the Cannes Film Festival.
The first part of the $300 million trilogy is due to reach cinema screens at Christmas and its producers are using Cannes to give the world a sneak preview.
Some 20 minutes of footage were shown to a select group of buyers and reporters late Thursday, and judging by initial reactions, J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy adventure looks on course to become a major hit.
Starring Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean and Liv Tyler, the series was filmed in great secrecy in New Zealand over many months, with the press kept well clear of the set.
The shoot finished last Christmas and Director Peter Jackson is now busy adding the thousands of special effects needed to bring to life Tolkien’s amazing world of Hobbits, trolls, elves, dwarves, monsters and wizards.
“This footage arrived wet at the airport and our team has been blowing on it to get it dry,” Jackson said at Thursday’s screening. “This is work-in-progress … please judge it on that basis,” he added.
If he was worried that he was going to receive the thumbs down, he was wrong. At the end of the sequence, the audience burst into applause.
The project’s producers are planning a number of events throughout the Cannes festival to promote their picture and have even reconstructed some of the sets in a chateau near this Mediterranean resort to show to visitors.
The trio of Ring films, chronicling the struggle between good and evil for the possession of a magical ring, were filmed one after the other and are due to be released over the next three Christmas seasons.
The Fellowship of the Ring kicks off the cycle.
“I think there is a huge amount of skepticism about the risks of doing three movies back-to-back, so this will be a primer to whet (everyone’s) appetite,” Jackson said of the Cannes presentation.
He knows that expectations are huge.
When the film’s official Web site, https://www.lordoftherings.net, was launched at the start of the year, some 350 million hits were recorded in the first three months alone.
He also knows that he faces a tough box office battle this year against another wizard yarn, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which is due to be released toward the end of 2001.
However, The Lord of the Rings preview suggested that the film based on Tolkien’s book should appeal to a slightly older audience.
“I don’t think it will be a film for children. One of the big monsters was genuinely terrifying,” said one of the audience, who declined to be named.