by Stephen Schaefer
The scene was a theater not far from the Grand Palais at the Cannes Film Festival, but the occasion was a trip to Middle Earth.
New Line Pictures yesterday gave a select group of international entertainment journalists a 24-minute preview of its epic Lord of the Rings trilogy.
It was a bit of a gamble. If the press wasn’t properly impressed, the studio’s $270 million investment had slight chance of ever recouping since the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, doesn’t open until December and bad news would spread like wildfire.
So the pressure was on New Line CEO Robert Shaye and Peter Jackson, the New Zealand filmmaker whose 1994 Heavenly Creatures launched Kate Winslet’s career and whose filming of this entire trilogy simultaneously over the past 18 months puts him in the record books.
“It is kind of strange as a filmmaker to show something six months before it opens, and we thought long and hard what we could screen,” said Jackson, a bearded, stout man who might well be cast as a Hobbit.
The preview opened with a summary of the plot and snippets of the different characters. That was followed by “The Mines of Moria,” 14 minutes of film with original music. Finally came a three-minute preview of films II and III.
The reaction was, well, a ringing endorsement. Commented one journalist, “The best film at the festival isn’t even in the festival.”
Jackson’s lush imagery has created a magical, wondrous world and his casting and costuming – not to mention the ease with which he helmed the action scenes – was a perfect embodiment of JRR Tolkien’s fantasy world.
Standouts in this brief look were: Sir Ian McKellan’s lordly and very tall Gandalf the Wizard; Sir Ian Holms’ Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit; Elijah Wood‘s Frodo Baggins, the hobbit hero of the trilogy; and the swash-buckling Robin Hood-style Aragorn of Viggo Mortensen. Liv Tyler‘s Arwen appeared only fleetingly, as did Cate Blanchett‘s Lady Galadriel.
The mind-blowing mine sequence featured a mixture of action, suspense and digital special effects. A group of nine – the Fellowship of the Ring – encounter an army of fearsomely ugly and ferocious Orcs and a giant ogre who nearly kills Frodo.
The underground chase continues with an amazing race over a crumbling bridge amid a deluge of Orc arrows and ends as a massive, fire-breathing demon appears. As the Orcs scatter, the demon takes on Gandalf.
On Sunday night, New Line presents a party with the cast, “Come to Middle Earth.”
Security will be tight.