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Mr Beaks whispers with Fran Walsh & The Queen of the Geeks re: RETURN OF THE KING!

Hey folks, Harry here... working on my review of RETURN OF THE KING, seen it twice now... gets even greater upon second viewing... Tuesday, I finally get to see THE LORD OF THE RINGS... so giddy. Here ya go...

Not two hours after stepping off a plane from Ohio, I found myself sitting in the main theater at The Grove in Beverly Hills waiting to watch RETURN OF THE KING. Twelve hours later, I was scrunched into a crowded roundtable at the Four Seasons, ready to lob questions at the principal cast and crew.

Surely, there are worse ways to end a vacation.

As we slowly make our way toward December 17th, I will be posting pieces from last week’s marathon junket. To kick it all off, I figured I’d give star billing to the brainy ladies partially behind these amazing pictures, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

Enough of my yakkin’; let’s boogie.

Are you guys relieved this is all over, or are you sad or bittersweet?

Philippa Boyens: Oh, relieved. Definitely. For myself, absolutely, because it was like that essay that was left unfinished, or that project that was just… it was *long*. But, really, an incredible journey.

What can you say about the complications about doing these adaptations?

PB: One thing that we knew absolutely, the guiding principle in doing this adaptation, was that it had to work as a film, first and foremost. As three films. So, that was critical, and, hopefully, we would offend as few Tolkien fans as possible along the way. But that wasn’t an issue. We just had to make these work as films.

Did you prefer Arwen in or out of Helms Deep?

PB: Out. Which is actually why she’s out of Helms Deep.

So, the original call to have her in was… ?

PB: We wrote what really was a selling script initially. If you look at Arwen in the books, she’s sitting at home embroidering a standard for Aragorn, which was not going to play in Hollywood. You can’t take that in a selling script.

It’s not going to play anywhere.

PB: We did attempt to write a character that was going to play much more to a studio’s concept of what they could offer to a leading female character, and a more involved story. What luckily happened as the process of filming these, and the rushes started coming in, and working with the actors closely, people began to trust the material a lot more. Probably including ourselves. And understand that we could do this story, and take it much closer to the appendices.

On the Extended Edition of THE TWO TOWERS, you commented on making a chronological cut of all the movies. Are you going to do this as a side project?

Fran Walsh: I think that would be a great thing to do. I was thinking the other day that, if you did that, you would start with the prologue from film one, and then you would go into the film three sequence with Andy and Deagol and fishing and the finding of the ring.

You directed that portion with Andy?

FW: Yes. Yes, I shot that with him. And, then, we would go into Bilbo coming into the cave. We would be reinventing the storytelling for the film. It would be quite extraordinary. I’d love to do it because we tell so much of it in flashback and in out-of-sequence. I don’t know that New Line would be open to that idea.

At what point in the life of the project was it decided that the opening of film three would be the Smeagol and Deagol scene?

FW: We had a philosophy of “shoot everything”. (Laughs.) Which is why there’s lots of material for the extended DVD’s. So, we shoot as much as we can. We try to get as much of the story as we can on film. We cut it. Try to evaluate the cut, and see what plays. And if it doesn’t play, if we have story problems, we take them out. And we think, “That could go on the DVD.” That’s been our philosophy. Or it could go on the next film, because we’ve always had another one coming up.

Not now.

FW: Not now. And that was very much what happened with the Saruman sequence at the end of THE TWO TOWERS. We had this abundance of climactic action at the end of THE TWO TOWERS, with the flooding of Isengaard, and the battle of Helms Deep, and we have Gollum, Frodo and Sam’s story. We really felt that this denouement, seven or ten minute thing with him was not going to serve the storytelling at that point. So, we thought we’d pop it into film three, that’s no problem. But when we got there, we had a four hour-plus cut of RETURN OF THE KING. It was evident to us at that point that, wrapping out the end of film two with a character who really doesn’t feature in this movie when we had so much to get on with, and we really did need to get some time out – obviously it was too long – so a decision was made to put that on the DVD.

PB: It was the beginning of the year that that was done.

FW: Yes. Sequences do move around, they do shift. And, yes… the Andy and Deagol sequence was shot for film two.

PB: It was when Frodo says, “That was your name, wasn’t it?” And he says, “My name, my name.” Originally, we went into that flashback.

I just wondered if that was a way of catching the audience up on the story thus far.

FW: Well, yes. What happened was, although it was shot for film two, when we were looking at it and evaluating it, we felt that it was going to play better in film three. And one of the reasons we did that was because the film could open with the ring, the finding of it, through this character, and close the ring story with its destruction. That felt like a good kind of unity for the film. It felt like a good way: if you’ve got to destroy this thing, let’s have something of its origin story at the front of the film. That felt right to us. Also, with the character of Gollum, too… if we’re going to see how he ended, let’s see how he began. It had some good sense to it, so we made that decision fairly early on in THE TWO TOWERS cut.

You mentioned ending with a protracted denouement for THE TWO TOWERS, and here in RETURN OF THE KING…

FW: Yes.

… as writers, that’s incredibly tricky. Some would say that’s almost suicide, that it’s just denouement.

FW: Yes, I know.

PB: See, I don’t think it is. I think it’s about the fate of Frodo. We understand the fate of the ring; that is, it’s not a denouement, it is the fate of Frodo. And there’s one part of the story that remains to be told. You’ve destroyed the ring, and he has to pay their price, which is his own destruction. Frodo can’t go back. That’s a critical part of the storytelling. I don’t think it’s the denouement; I think it’s the end of the movie. What was great for me was seeing it play with an audience, and that it *did* play. They actually have an appetite for it. Actually, it carries some of the biggest emotional parts of the story.

Well, yeah, it is very resonant.

PB: So, it didn’t feel like a risk. Also, Peter… has got pretty great instincts, and he generally has a pretty strong… and Fran certainly has an instinct, for how much appetite they might have. He kind of knew that you weren’t just wrapping out one movie, you were wrapping out three movies.

Right. But there’s a very tangible idea of the destruction of the ring. You really feel that. And even that’s tricky because you’re destroying something that is… it’s the Eye of Sauron, it’s not even a character so much. But, then, with that gone… I mean, it does feel—

PB: You imagine the film without it. That’s what I always say. Take those endings away, and how would the film resonate? It doesn’t actually resonate until you destroy Frodo.

On the other side, there’s the much longer ending.

PB: Oh, are you kidding? We could’ve gone on for a half-hour if you wanted to play out the whole ending.

Was there some discussion at any point of, at least, a credit call or a narration of what happened to everybody? It seems like, in the book, a lot of the characters wind up going into the west.

PB: That will probably appear in the DVD.

Thank god for the DVD, right?

PB: Well, actually, what these films have done is, inadvertently and organically, produced this kind of form of storytelling whereby you have the big screen, and it must work as a piece of storytelling on the large screen, and that’s a different experience to the DVD, which is another form of storytelling. It can be slightly more episodic.

Talking about the ending, I like this film’s ending because it follows the personal story. But when I saw the film last night, some people, right after Frodo had completed his journey and it blacked out, thought it was ending and tried to clap.

PB: Part of that was to show that the story goes on, but also that we wanted to end the films exactly where the book ends, which is literally on the last line of the book. It’s a little bit of a conceit that we end up on the same page eventually.

As this went along, did you find yourself, especially with the last two films, starting to write toward the way the actors were playing it?

FW: Yes, very much so.

Can you point to specific things?

PB: Viggo Mortensen, just about the whole way through, became Aragorn. Aragorn was actually a really hard character to write, just as most lead characters are the hardest. The easiest characters to write are the interesting characters, the secondary characters – Wormtongue or Gollum – they’re flawed and they’re interesting. But, you know, Aragorn was tough, and I don’t think we found him until Viggo Mortensen stepped off the plane. And we started writing towards him. We did have an instinct and an understanding that Aragorn’s journey wasn’t going to cut it on the film, and this sense that there would be doubt and questioning; that we would give him more psychological depth. But what Viggo brought to it was that he was able to make that play so brilliantly. He paced his performance, if you look at it over the three movies, really beautifully. You’re treading water if you’re not careful with that character.

Are you guys continuing to work with Peter on other things, or are you taking a break from the world of Peter Jackson?

PB: (To Fran) You can’t.

You’re stuck there. But generally speaking.

PB: It’s actually a pretty cool world to inhabit. And the two of you are so great. It’s a ride.

Are you going ape?

PB: Yeah, we are going ape. That’s what I was just going to mention. It is amazing. You have breakfast, or you have a cup of tea, and suddenly you’re talking about stuff. Peter’s having this idea, or Fran’s having an idea, and I’m sitting there eating my cereal going, “I want to see this movie! I want to see this movie!” Because you just know it’s going to be fantastic.

So, you are departing from the earlier draft.

FW: Yes.

It’s going to be much different.

FW: We’re tossing it out.

Is anything going to remain?

FW: Some of the action sequences will remain.

For instance?

FW: There was a brontosaurus part, I believe.

How different is it?

FW: It’ll be much closer to the 1933 film.

And Namoi Watts is definitely in the film?

FW: We hope so.

PB: We’re 99.9 percent sure.

FW: They’re finalizing details.

How do you handle nineteen major characters?

PB: That was absolutely one of the hardest things that we had to do. We worked it, and worked it, and worked it. That’s how you do it. It’s just a slog. Really. And, also, being involved in each part of the storytelling process, Peter’s very collaborative, and he embraced the fact that we had started this journey, and that it was a good idea to keep us going on it. It was really great for me to be included in (Fran and Peter’s) inner-process, because you got to fix some of those mistakes in the pick-up shoots.

FW: Well, we had no option. We couldn’t just cut these characters, or kill them off.

PB: That was one of the early notes from Miramax. One early note from Miramax was, “What do you need four Hobbits for? Get rid of two of them.”

FW: “Kill a Hobbit.”


PB: Yeah, but, you know, actually not a stupid note. Or *as* stupid as it sounds. In terms of storytelling, yes, you understand that maybe you don’t need four Hobbits in the Fellowship, and having one die really early on would make the Black Riders effective. But you just could never do it, and that became our problem continually. That’s what you do in the process of adaptation.

FW: I remember how nightmarish that scene in FELLOWSHIP in Rivendell, because it was in that sequence – I don’t know how many pages it was, ten or whatever – we had seven introductions. We had all of these characters that came in. We had Arwen, we had Elrond, Gimli, Boromir…

PB: Bilbo turned up again.

FW: Bilbo turned up again. And, then, Gandalf had to explain how he got back. It just went on, and it was like, “Enough!” Every page we were trying to reestablish or introduce a new character, and that was the worst, actually, because you had to try and disguise each introduction as something else.

Next time, we’ll check in with… well, everyone short of Miranda Otto, Karl Urban and Peter’s kids, really.

Faithfully submitted,

Mr. Beaks

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