Moriarty Takes A Trip To Middle Earth: LOTR Cannes Footage Reviewed!!
Published at: Sept. 7, 2001, 5:25 a.m. CST by staff
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I am finally able to set aside my voodoo doll of Knowles and stop putting giant needles in his back. We are once again on at least a semi-even keel. You see, Wednesday morning at New Line, I got a chance to see the 30 minute reel of footage from LORD OF THE RINGS that was shown to the world press at Cannes.
And I feel much better now, thanks.
You see, up until now, I’ve been watching LORD OF THE RINGS the same way all of you have. I’ve been checking out the stills that popped up online. I saw the two theatrical trailers and that one great Internet trailer. I’ve seen a few of the New Line behind the scenes clips from the website. I’m very interested in the films, but to be honest, I thought of them as Harry’s project on the site, the films he was covering. I knew I wasn’t going to go to Cannes this summer, so I didn’t feel like I’d “missed” something when he went.
The more I heard about it from other outlets, though, from people who hadn’t been to New Zealand, who hadn’t seen the behind-the-scenes stuff Harry had seen, the more I started to get antsy, impatient. Everyone sounded like they’d had religious experiences watching the footage. There was a screening in LA for some of the press at the Egyptian Theater one day, and I didn’t find out until the day after. They showed in in Australia. The more times it showed, the more desperate I got.
And then Gordon Paddison and Wendy Rutherford came through. New Line Publicity Gods that they are, they invited me to one of the screenings on Wednesday, and I managed to wrangle an invite for John Robie, one of the our other West Coast operatives. And so it was that we arrived a half-hour early, crazy to see the footage, determined to get good seats. We did, indeed, too, in the second row of the small screening room, right between Keith Stern, who runs McKellan.com, Ian's official site, and Smilin’ Jack Ruby, man about town for CHUD and 13TH STREET.
The room filled up quickly, and by 11:00, the whole bunch of us were fidgeting with our press notes, chattering a little too loudly, anxious for it to start. When the lights went down, I got that feeling you get when the rollercoaster first catches the track and you start to move forward, into that first big hill. The New Line logo comes up, then a shot of Gandalf and Peter Jackson sitting in a cart, with Gandalf driving. I know you’ve heard reports that Ian McKellan was going to be playing Gandalf in the films, but I’m afraid that isn’t true. They appear to have just found the real Gandalf and pressed him into service. I’ve met Ian McKellan, and that certainly isn’t him in the footage I saw. Peter Jackson welcomed us to Middle Earth, and I realized that he was smaller... hobbit-sized. As he spoke to us, the viewers, Gandalf smiled down at him, bemused by Jackson. When Peter finished his brief intro, Gandalf couldn’t resist a wry, “Very nice, Peter.”
And then the real footage began.
And that’s right about the time I lost my damn fool mind.
Those first shots of Hobbiton set the tone right away. The green of the hills, the golden mid-afternoon sunlight, the way the doors of the Hobbit holes are set in the earth... it’s all perfect. There’s a sculpted, painted feel to each image. Gandalf climbs down from his cart and knocks on the door to one particular Hobbit hole. An irritated voice tries to shoo Gandalf away from the other side of the door, saying “I don’t want to see any more well-wishers.” Gandalf can’t help but smile as he asks, “How about an old friend?” The door is thrown open to reveal Bilbo Baggins, who looks startlingly like Ian Holm. Couldn’t be, though. Bilbo is just over three feet tall, and when he embraces Gandalf, it’s obvious these are real people interacting, not special effects set against each other.
Bilbo invites Gandalf in, and as Gandalf steps inside, my eyes went on overload. It was like I was having trouble processing what I was seeing. As Bilbo took Gandalf’s hat and staff from him and moved around the Hobbit hole, the camera following, it was odd. I’ve read descriptions of this setting since I was very young, and now, all of a sudden, here it was, real, with a real Hobbit running around. Gandalf catches his head on a chandelier, then slams it again moving into another room. The whole time, he and Bilbo talk, and you can sense the history between the two of them. These are old friends, bound by shared adventure. Gandalf finds a map that Bilbo has out on a table, and as he looks at it, we recognize it as the map from THE HOBBIT. Even though I’ve never seen this map, I recognized it right away.
The footage then jumps forward to Bilbo’s birthday party, and it’s pretty obvious how drunk Bilbo is. He’s slurring his words, barely able to stand up. He tells the people of Hobbiton good-bye, then slips on the Ring, vanishing instantly. As strange as it is, this is one of the details I wanted to see. There’s a million ways to make someone disappear. Do you do it all at once? Do they go translucent first? Is there a sound when they do it? All those choices are important, and in every moment of this footage, the choices Jackson has made are strong ones. This doesn’t feel like a film where the FX are the reason to watch, and part of that is because the FX are so incredibly good. They are simply part of the texture of the world, not something removed from it. When Bilbo reappears in his Hobbit hole, he is confronted by Gandalf, who demands the Ring from him. There’s a moment where Bilbo isn’t sure he can give the Ring up. He’s worn it less than 20 times in his whole life, but it’s already got a hold on him. When he gives it to Gandalf, it looks like it almost breaks him. Bilbo slips away in the middle of the night, leaving Gandalf to explain things to Frodo.
And again... I didn’t see Elijah Wood in this footage. I’ve seen Elijah Wood in a number of good films over the years. I’m a huge fan of THE ICE STORM. I’ve watched Elijah grow up on film, and I’ve even had lunch with him. The person I saw yesterday was Frodo Baggins. It was obvious when he decides to hide the Ring and never speak of it again. “After all, no one knows it’s here... do they, Gandalf?” The way he turns, the way he looks at Gandalf, dawning fear in his eyes... there’s something innocent about this poor Hobbit. He has no idea what he’s in for, or what is going to be expected of him. “Do they, Gandalf?”
And then there’s the Black Riders, sweeping into the Shire at night, the Hobbits just barely escaping ahead of them in a series of quick cuts. In the Prancing Pony in Bree, we see the Hobbits trying to blend in, and we see a dark figure in the corner watching them, our first glimpse of Strider. We see the moment from the second trailer. “Are you frightened?” “Yes.” “Not frightened enough.” There’s something great about the quiet confidence in what Strider says there, the way he knows trouble is going to keep coming. A few more quick cuts, and we’re in Rivendell. Our first glimpse of Elrond, looking absolutely nothing like Hugo Weaving. Looking absolutely nothing like a human, actually. There’s something ethereal about Elrond, something alien and beautiful. We see the Council meeting to discuss the fate of the Ring, and we hear Gandalf warn of its power. Frodo steps up to volunteer himself to carry it to Mount Doom, the only place the Ring can be unmade. Gandalf says he will join him. Then Aragorn speaks up, offering his sword. And Boromir. And Legolas. And Gimli. And Samwise and Merry and Pippin. And as we look at the Fellowship of the Ring, assembled for the first time, I got real chills. Again, I’ve imagined these characters for most of my life, and to look at them, flesh and blood, all of them exactly as I’d imagined, the Hobbits the right height, the Elves perfect and odd, Gimli a fireplug of a warrior... it was overwhelming.
We saw the money shot from the second trailer, each member of the Fellowship coming over that mountain pass, all of them to perfect scale even with that moving camera, and a track from Hans Zimmer’s GLADIATOR score came up underneath, low and building in power. We hear them discuss the best way to proceed, and they decide that they will not go over the mountain, but will instead go through it. They decide to enter the Mines of Moria.
All the footage already had gotten me wound up, but just hearing them say “The Mines of Moria” and seeing the doors that they were about to enter kicked me over into a different sort of excitement. It was like we had finally crested the hill, and the rollercoaster was dropping now, down into that first crazy plunge back to earth.
The scale of the mines as they enter is staggering. Giant columns, endless rows of them, all shrouded in shadow. Only Gandalf’s staff provides illumination as they walk through this long-dead place. We saw a sort of condensed version of the scene. There’s stuff here like the Watcher outside and Frodo catching sight of Gollum’s eyes in the darkness that wasn’t included in the footage. It’s in the film, but they cut our sequence to give us one particular stretch of action, placing it in the right context first. Watching the Fellowship move through the Mines, you get a real sense of how small they are in this place, how unprotected. It’s just them. There’s no army to back them up. Even the tallest of them is just a speck here, and the way Jackson shoots them is evocative, powerful.
They find the tomb of Gimli’s king, and he collapses, weeping openly on the tomb. Gandalf finds a book amidst the bodies around the tomb, a record of what happened in this place, and he reads from it, from the last entry. “Something is coming. They are here.” It’s terrifying, and as Pippin flinches away from Gandalf’s words, he knocks loose a bucket that goes ricocheting down a long well, dragging with it a chain that is wrapped around a skeleton in armor, all of it going along, clanging and banging the whole way down. The noise is incredible. It takes a long, long moment for the silence to return, and Gandalf hisses, “Fool of a Took.” He just barely has time to register his displeasure before another noise begins.
This noise, however, is getting closer.
There is the sound of drums playing, war drums beating, and vast numbers of something moving up from the bowels of the mines, coming closer, and the Fellowship has no choice but to draw back into the relative safety of the room they are in, barring the door just ahead of a flood of arrows and orcs. As the Fellowship draws up close, backs together, and begins to ready their weapons, Frodo sees that Sting, his sword, is glowing blue. He just barely has time to register the fact before the door gives way and these horrifying creatures begin to sweep into the room. The battle that unfolds is harrowing, bloody, vicious. The Hobbits fight with the same determined valor as anyone else, and they begin to turn the tide of the fight, slaying everything that attacks.
Then the Cave Troll comes bursting in. If you look quickly, you can see the Cave Troll in the new commercial that premiered last night during the MTV Video Awards. This thing is what I always wanted the Rancor to be. He’s fast, huge, deadly, and totally convincing. When Legolas tangles with the thing, there’s real menace to the way it moves. Legolas runs up the thing’s arm, shoots an arrow down into the top of its spine, then leaps off of it. The way the thing uses both its hammer and a chain on its wrist as weapons is fantastic. Everyone has a different fighting style. The way Aragorn weilds his sword, or the way Legolas uses his bow, or the way Gandalf fights with both Glamdring and his staff at once... it’s breathtaking.
The Cave Troll corners Frodo, literally, playing cat and mouse with him around a column in the corner of the room. When he catches Frodo and starts dragging him out of his hiding place, Aragorn attacks, and he uses a sort of trident to spear the thing. It roars, knocking Aragorn through the air, and pulls the weapon free, turning it on Frodo. He appears to spear Frodo, and this spurs the others to go crazy, attacking the Cave Troll with renewed intensity. All the orcs are dead now, and the Fellowship works together, slashing and hacking the Cave Troll, circling in on it. Legolas puts one arrow right through the roof of the Troll’s mouth, piercing its brain, finally taking the thing down. When they run to Frodo’s side, he is okay, already sitting up to reveal the mithral armor he wears, a gift from the Elves.
There’s barely any time to catch your breath, though. As amazing as that scene is, it leads right into them fleeing through the Mines, just ahead of an even-greater army of orcs. They flood into the main chamber like spiders, crawling over walls and down columns, a blanket of evil stretching out behind the Fellowship, then stretching out ahead. The Fellowship stops, trapped, orcs on all sides of them. It’s like a nightmare image. Just when it looks like they’re going to be attacked, there’s the distant glow of fire, and the orcs stop. There’s a mammoth sound, low and rumbling, and the orcs actually begin to scatter. Gimli looks pleased, like he believes the orcs are afraid of the Fellowship. They’re not, though. They’re afraid of the same thing that Gandalf is afraid of, the thing that casts the flickering reflection of flames on the walls as it draws closer. Gandalf urges the Fellowship to run, and he stays right behind them.
By this point, there was a woman in the screening room a few rows behind me who had come down with an acute case of the holy shits. Very low, almost too herself, she just kept saying, “Holyshitholyshitholyshitholyshit,” a mantra of disbelief. I could feel my own mouth hanging open, and a quick glance at Smilin’ Jack and John Robie confirmed that they, too, were stunned by what they were seeing.
The Fellowship starts into another chamber, down a long series of stairs, and what is set and what is digital matte and what is miniature all blurs for me. What I am seeing is impossible, but it is real. As the Fellowship tries to head across the stairs, the thing in pursuit of them begins to rain massive blows down on the room, and sections of the stairs begin to fall away ahead of them. There is no choice but to push forward, even if that means jumping for the humans or throwing the Hobbits across. Someone offers to throw Gimli and he growls at them, “No one tosses a dwarf,” practically biting their arm off. One after another, they make the leap, until it’s only Aragorn and Frodo left to cross. Another section of stairs falls away, and suddenly it’s too far to jump. There’s no way they can make it. The room continues to crumble, and suddenly the whole upper section, where Aragorn and Frodo stand, begins to fall. “LEAN FORWARD!” Aragorn yells. “FORWARD!!” He and Frodo ride the stairs down, into the next section of stairs, leaping at just the right moment. This whole time, orcs shoot arrows at the Fellowship, and Legolas returns a steady stream of fire. It’s unreal how many elements of suspense Jackson seems to juggle at once. The Fellowship begins to hurry off, but Gandalf stops and turns to face whatever is pursuing them. “Your swords can do no more good here,” he says, urging them to leave him. Just then the Balrog makes its entrance, and upon first sight, it became one of my favorite movie monsters ever. Made of shadow and fire, with flames that erupt from cracks in its skin, like a giant bull with elements of a scorpion mixed in, the Balrog is like nothing you’ve seen on film before. Gandalf stands and faces it, and in a voice that is worth every penny McKellan was paid and more, intones, “YOU... WILL... NOT... PASS!!” He slams his staff down, we fade to white...
... and then the shots are flying past us now, fast, each one more amazing. Frodo and Galadriel speaking together in Loth Lorien. Several shots of Arwen. Shots of massive battles. A quick glimpse of Wormtongue. Saruman The White facing the Fellowship. Theoden The King in obvious distress. The battle at Helm’s Deep. Aragorn readying himself for battle, putting on his armor. There is dialogue over the images, but the blood pounding in my own ears prevents me from retaining it. There’s a lyrical beauty to every bit of dialogue we hear, though, an almost Shakesperean elegance to it. This is not dumbed down. This is not for the lowest common denominator. These are massive historical epics, a modern mythology come to vivid life, and what we are being promised here are films for adults, movies that have something to say.
But the thing that got me... the thing that brings tears to my eyes even now, almost two days later... is a series of shots right at the end of what we saw, footage from RETURN OF THE KING. In one shot, Sam is kneeling over Frodo, and they both look scorched, beaten, barely able to draw breath. Sam leans in over Frodo, tears on his face, and says, “It is too heavy, Mister Frodo, and I cannot bear the weight. I cannot carry The Ring.” A look crosses his face, something terrifying and determined and undeniable. “But I can carry you!” That declaration of love, so powerful in the scripts I read over a year ago, is wrenching on film, and it’s only made more powerful by the next image. Frodo stands in the heart of Mount Doom, bathed in its unearthly glow, and turns to face Sam. Something has died in his eyes, replaced by something dark and awful, and he practically screams, “I will NOT destroy it!! The Ring is mine!!” And as he moves to slip it onto his finger...
The lights come up.
And I’m sitting in a screening room just off Beverly Blvd. It’s a Wednesday morning. Everything’s back to normal.
Only it’s not. Because I’ve seen what I’ve seen now, and there’s no turning back. I’m not just eager to see these films at this point. I’m rabid. I’m manic. I’ve never seen anything like the images I saw yesterday, and neither have you.
You think you understand after you see the new TV trailer that debuted last night. But you can’t.
On December 19th, it all changes. What we call a blockbuster, how we view fantasy on film... changed, transformed by two hours and forty-five minutes that will transport you through time and space to Middle Earth. You will take that journey with the Fellowship, and along the way, over the course of three films, we are going to be treated to a spectacle of imagination the likes of which we have not seen in years. Technology and storytelling and design and performance have all been drawn together masterfully by Peter Jackson and his amazing cast and crew, and if 30 minutes of footage can turn me from an interested observer to an evangelical loon, then the whole film may just reduce me to that humbled, awe-stricken child who first fell in love with movies and their potential so many years ago.