Hey folks, Harry here... Since March of 1997 we've been writing about LORD OF THE RINGS and Peter Jackson... in the beginning it was a question about whether it was LORD OF THE RINGS or THE HOBBIT... Then there was the point where it all almost died. (Click) Then it was saved. (Click) Then it was really saved. (Click) Then Peter Jackson first began his conversation with AICN geeks. (Click) Then came the first 20 Questions. (Click) Then the second 20 Questions. (Click) Then there were all the casting rumors - SAM, PIPPIN, FRODO, GANDALF & BILBO, ARAGORN (not), SARUMAN, ARWEN, MERRY, GIMLI & LEGOLAS & BOROMIR, 1st Image of Orlando Bloom, FARAMIR (not), GALADRIEL & GOLLUM & WORMTONGUE & THEODEN (not), ARAGORN (for real), DENETHOR (not). Then there was Moriarty's Review of the 2 Script Version and my coverage of the ShoWest 2000 reel, the news that Howard Shore was scoring. Then there were the "THERE AND BACK AGAIN: A GEEK'S ADVENTURE" reports I did from NZ. (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 & 11... oh and for good measure... The Cannes Coverage! That's a sampling of the history of LORD OF THE RINGS on AICN... in all there is something like 315 LOTR stories on the site... I've found it quite entertaining to read not just the stories, but the Talk Backs upon all of this... My favorite stuff is the absolute hatred of Sean Astin as SAM... a role he now owns so completely. Figured you folks biding time till the next time you can get into a sold out theater to see this flick... well, you'd want the click through the history of it all...
Because of the histrionics I’ve noticed in the talk backs over spoilers in our LOTR coverage, I’m going to recommend that you consider this interview off-limits until you’ve seen the film. And, really, if you haven’t seen it by close of day Wednesday, I’m going to send Father McGruder to repossess your geek card personally.
Now, here’s Derek (and remember that this is a roundtable interview, so not all of the questions are mine)…
Are you glad it’s over?
Even though it’s not really over – you’re still doing the extended (editions) – but given—
Well, three films feels good.
Oh, you have your shoes on.
Yeah, I have my shoes on. I’m becoming sophisticated now, you see.
Did you ever imagine when you embarked on these that you’d be talking about them so much?
I didn’t really think about it, to tell you the truth. I guess it’s good that we’re talking about them, because if they weren’t very successful no one would want to talk about them. So, I guess it’s a sign that people are responding well to the movies.
It was a huge gamble doing this.
Oh, sure. An incredible gamble. I mean, an unbelievable gamble. A gamble that all logic and common sense tell you that it shouldn’t happen.
How genuinely surprised were you when the first movie did as well as it did?
I was relieved. Relief was more of the emotion than surprise. You never know what you’re making when you’re making it. You never have a clue. And all that you can do, and all that I ever rely on, is making the movie for myself. This one was fraught with all kinds of traps: if we listened too much to what the Tokien fans wanted, or their opinions, I thought we would trip ourselves up. We just regarded ourselves as Tolkien fans – Philippa, Fran and myself – we thought we were going to make it for Tolkien fans, but it was going to be us, not the huge number of fans out there in the world. So, at the end of the day, the decisions that we made on the movie was really, “What would we want to see in the movie? What would we want to enjoy out of the movie?”
Taking a no-holds-barred approach to what you could cut out of the film, the structural pitfalls are myriad, especially in terms of RETURN OF THE KING, where you’re dealing with a lot of falling action, and what some would say is a long denouement at the end. With this film in particular, how did you attack the structural problems?
Obviously, we started with the book. But, then, our structure in this film differed from the book quite a lot because we had inherited a few sequences from THE TWO TOWERS book, like Shelob, or the scene on Minas Morgul going up the Cirith Ungol stairs, and then into Shelob’s tunnel… all of that whole section with Frodo and Sam was in the book of THE TWO TOWERS. When we came to three… in the very beginning, we sort of laid out a ninety page treatment of what we thought the films could be. Then, we developed screenplays. It was sort of compounded by the fact that we started working with Miramax, and we did two scripts, like a Part One and a Part Two. Then, when New Line came on board and wanted three movies, we then had to rewrite it. It was all during that period, which was, like, ’96 to ’99, that we were doing all of the script work and structural work. But we always felt that RETURN OF THE KING was, for us, the strongest film simply on the basis that it had a climax; it had an emotional payoff. It was the movie, because it’s the payoff film… it’s the reason that you make a trilogy. You want to get to the last one. The last chapter is the reason for the first two even existing. It always felt the most comfortable of the scripts to us, and it was more fun to shoot it, too.
You mentioned to the New Zealand Herald that your first viewing of the movie was actually at the Wellington premiere. Did you like it?
Do I like it? I was sort of torn between watching the movie, which I had seen in different forms many, many times. It was the first time I’d seen all the sound effects, all the visual effects, all the color grading and everything in one long run. But I’d obviously seen it many, many times in earlier stages. I was a bit distracted by being interested in what everyone’s reaction was to it, so I was sort of watching it, but I wasn’t able to disengage from the fact that this was the first public screening of the movie, and this was the first opportunity I had to gauge what people were thinking of the film. So, I wasn’t able to disengage from that to totally focus on the film.
Would you have worked on it more? Two weeks more? One month more?
You can work on anything as much as you like. The reality is that nothing’s perfect. Nothing’s ever perfect. We’ve never once at any stage had a script, or an edit, or a special effects shot, or a music cue that we’ve said, “That’s perfect; don’t touch a thing.” You get to a point when you run out of time. So, to answer your question, if we had worked on it another week, it would’ve been better. If we had worked on it another month, it would’ve been better. Anything would be better. Scripts would be better if you worked on them longer, but, at some point, you have to send it out to the big world, and hope that people like it.
Having devoted so much of your life to this project, what is that drove you?
Wanting to see the finished film.
Yeah. I don’t have any agendas other than, really, I just love movies. I always have. You get excited about… an idea of a film, whether or not it’s adapting LORD OF THE RINGS or an original screenplay idea. You get excited about it, and, really, what, for me, is behind the excitement is the fact that one day this could be a finished movie that you could look at and other people could see.
Which film do you consider that: the theatrical or (the Extended Editions)?
The theatrical versions. The DVD versions… it’s so interesting, because it’s all so new, this DVD thinking, a new way of thinking about filmmaking. It’s just kind of fun. (Pause.) I mean, the films that we’ve cut and released theatrically I regard as being the best versions of the movies that we should have in theaters. The motivation for the DVD’s is to give the fans the stuff that we couldn’t include in the films. And it has only grown out of the fact that we have so much footage. We didn’t ever think we were doing extended cuts when we were shooting the movie, but when we started to cut the films, and we realized there were all of the scenes that weren’t going to be in the movie, we just thought, “Well, these are good scenes, they’re legitimate parts of the book, they’re scenes that people would be wanting… or expecting to see.” So, we put them in this alternative version of the fans. At the time, I felt that I was sacrificing pacing and momentum in order for these scenes to go in, but I figured that the theatrical version exists, so this is like a version for the real aficionados who want to see this extra material. Clearly, the dynamics of DVD is different: you can get up and have a cup of tea anytime you like, you can pause it, you can watch it over two nights. Now, I read reviews where people say that the extended cuts are much better than the theatrical cuts. That’s the response that some people are happening. The unknown factor that you can never really know is would the extended cuts have gone down so well if they were the theatrical releases, and you had people sitting in the cinema for three hours forty minutes instead of three hours. Who knows? I don’t really regard them as the definitive versions of the movies, but I’m happy… every time I see a review where someone says, “Oh, this is better than the theatrical version.” I’m happy because they like the DVD version. That’s a nice thing to read. But I’m too close to it. I don’t really know.
Could you talk about the most challenging moment in making the movie?
I think there were several challenging things. The most challenging moment, or period of time, was the post-production of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. I remember that being the most stressful time, because that year we were done with photography in 2000, and that year of 2001, when we were preparing FELLOWSHIP, that was where the pressure was really on. When New Line was starting to stress out, when they were realizing that everything depended on this release, they were flying down to New Zealand to look at cuts, they wanted to prepare a screening for the Cannes Film Festival, which was a lot of pressure for us to try to get that twenty minutes. It was a great idea; it was New Line’s idea. That was a fantastic thing to do. Everybody talks about the fate of the studio riding on these films; that year, I *really* felt the fate of the studio riding on the release of the film. That was a lot of pressure.
Other challenges have been more technically based challenges.
Obviously, Gollum was a challenge – to create a believable CG character – because if Gollum hadn’t worked, those scenes would just be laughable. And, you know, we shot all of that stuff… having no Gollum. We had Andy Serkis on set performing Gollum, but we had no CG Gollum. It wasn’t until we did a version of Gollum for FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, where you just saw him briefly in Moria, but he wasn’t particularly good at that stage. And we sort of kept it very minimalistic. We just kept on working and working, and it wasn’t until the beginning, or the middle of last year, that we got him to work. That was scary, shooting scenes on set and just hoping one day we’re going to have a great looking CG Gollum, but not having him there at the moment that we were shooting. It was kind of scary, really, because you’re putting your faith in something that you don’t really understand.
Why do you think the Tolkien mythology is as relevant today as much as it was when Tolkien wrote it?
I think it’s timeless. It’s relevant in the sense that… it’s not relevant to current affairs, particularly, unless you want to put your own interpretations onto it. All the themes Tolkien wrote about, it was stuff that he was passionate about. That’s what I like about Tolkien: he was wound up about quite a few things, and he just sort of put a lot of his opinions and his beliefs into the book. He was ahead of his time in some cases. His love of the English countryside, and his hatred of factories, and his hatred of chopping the forests down to fuel the engines of industry. That’s something that grew out of the sixties, in a way – the environmental movement – and here he wrote this book between 1939 and 1953, so no one was caring about the forest when he was. So, in some instances, political thinking has actually caught up to Tolkien. But other themes of his were much more broad – the themes of friendship, and war, and the fact that… some wars are worth fighting. What Tolkien was certainly saying is that what is worth fighting is enslavement. If people are trying to enslave you, then you should stand up against them and fight back. And, yet, he also very clearly was making a point that if when you win that war, that you don’t really win. There are no ultimate winners in war; there are only people that lose. You come out of war changed, and no matter the justness of the war, you come home different. That’s obviously very much true of Frodo. He didn’t win; he lost. He lost who he was. He lost his sense of innocence. Even though what he did was justified.
As a movie film, you’re now going to remake one of the greatest films of all time: KING KONG. We talked to Fran and Philippa about it; they said that you’re going to throw out the old script, and go on with something else. Tonally, what are you going for: is this going to be more of an adventure film?
What we’re doing with KONG now, and it’s a lesson that we learned from LORD OF THE RINGS… what interests us about KONG is to actually treat it very real. That’s sort of what we did with RINGS, which is to say, we have the fantasy elements; we have the Balrog, and the trolls, and the orcs, and elves, and dwarves, and things, but we’re going to write it with a degree of truth, if you like. Truth within the world that this story exists. So, we tried to eliminate a lot of artifice and simplicity from it, and let the actors play the roles as genuinely as they could, and with as much depth and true spirit. We think that KONG is going to be interesting, if we do that with KONG now. Our first script that we wrote was a very Hollywood, sort of INDIANA JONES-y type thing. Now, we think it’s going to be much more interesting… to treat it real. How would you react if you went to an island and found dinosaurs and a giant gorilla? How would you react if you see the woman being kidnapped by the gorilla? If you were the woman, how would you react if you were kidnapped by the gorilla? What *would* you do? The exploration of what you would do, and how you would feel, and who is Kong, and why is he doing this, and what does he represent? Our interest now lies in writing a script that will be very different to… our original script, writing a script which now has a lot of emotional truth to it.
Closer to the ’33 version as opposed to the De Laurentiis version?
Well, we’re basing it on the ’33 version. The De Laurentiis version was somebody else remaking the ’33 version. We are also remaking the ’33 version, so we are obviously basing it on a movie that I love.
And Naomi Watts is pretty much guaranteed?
It seems that way. We’re in the last stages – Universal is doing the deal with her agents. It’s about to close.
As you went through the three films, was there any aspect of your approach to the work that changed or got refined over time?
Our respect of Tolkien grew a lot. We actually went into it at the beginning with a sense of, “Okay, adapting LORD OF THE RINGS, we’re going to have to change this a lot, we’re going to have to make this more like a movie, we’re not going to be too locked into the book.” In fact, the very first drafts of the script reflected that to some degree. And, then, we just (realized) the more we read the book, and the more we examined everything, because, in writing the script, you’re also having a minute examination of what Tolkien wrote, and why he wrote it. You’re really putting your brain into it. And we just came to respect him more and more. There were a few things about Tolkien that annoyed us.
Well, if you were writing an original screenplay of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, you wouldn’t have as many characters as you have. If you were writing THE RETURN OF THE KING as an original screenplay, the battle of Minas Tirith would be a defeat, not a victory. That was tough. This big battle where they win, and, then, you still have to sling this story around to Mordor, and another battle outside the black gates. It would be much easier for us if Minas Tirith had been a total defeat.
Did you ever consider making it a defeat?
No, no. We obviously changed a lot of things. We changed a huge amount of things. I don’t know what the rules are with a so-called faithful adaptation. Some people think we faithfully adapted these books, some people don’t, and I don’t know, myself, what the word “faithful” actually means in context of what we’ve done. But we’ve changed everything. Everything’s changed. Even a scene where you’d say, “This did this scene from the book, and it’s in the movie.” It’s changed. We’ve given some lines of dialogue that Gandalf says to Elrond. We’ve given some lines that Elrond says to Aragorn. I don’t know what being faithful to the book really means anymore, but… we drew the line somewhere, and, obviously, changing Minas Tirith to that degree, we sort of drew the line not to do that.
Do you really want the Oscar?
These Oscar questions are terrible, guys. (Beaks agrees.) As a kid who grew up making movies, winning an Oscar is obviously an absolute dream. It’s possible that these movies are the closest I’m ever going to come to an Oscar. It’s *highly* possible. I’d imagine that KING KONG is not going to get me as close to an Oscar as LORD OF THE RINGS will, so it would be really nice to win. But we have the fantasy stigma against us, and I have no real idea. I’m happy to try to disengage, and let other people do the Oscar thing and see what happens.
Do you think you’ll get to do THE HOBBIT?
I don’t know, actually. It’s a New Line issue with the rights. They haven’t spoken to me about it yet. Obviously, I would assume that New Line would be motivated to make it. You’d have to assume that, wouldn’t you?
Hobbits, schmobbits. When are we going to see BRAINDEAD 2: BABY SELWYN RIDES AGAIN?