I'm standing in the rain watching a large group of soldiers in medieval armor poke at dead horses and slain warriors lying in the mud of a riverbank. There are bright lights, smoke, and machines spraying everything with water despite the steady downpour nature is providing. A hideous orc sits smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper while his bleeding enemy lounges beside him eating a candy bar. I've flown 9,000 miles to witness this, I'm seriously jet-lagged, and it's all starting to become a little unreal. Around me, huddling under umbrellas, is a small multinational hodgepodge of journalists ranging from a petite Japanese woman and her translator to a tall, thin Swede who bears a striking resemblance to Max von Sydow. We've been observing the rehearsals for a scene from The Two Towers, the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This isn't a reshoot, it's been explained to us, but one of the "pickup" scenes-brand-new scenes inspired by the editing of the film or the necessity of filling an obvious gap in the narrative.Although the whole trilogy was shot simultaneously over a year and a half, each of the three films is being taken through this post-production process before the editing of the next one begins. The first release, the hugely successful The Fellowship of the Ring, appeared last August in a two-DVD set. But a four-disc, boxed special edition, featuring an extended 3 1/2-hour version of the film (see "The Second Cut Is the Deepest," page 88 in the January S&V), was due out November 12. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) in the elven retreat Rivendell.
After a while, I'm ready to get back in the van, and the extras playing dead in the mud-who aren't allowed to move out of position between rehearsals-don't look too thrilled either. But director Peter Jackson, who's been doing this almost continually for going on four years already, is in his element (see "Ring Master," page 87 in the January S&V). Oblivious to the winter chill, he strolls around in shorts and hiking boots, calmly checking out the image on a video monitor or conferring with an assistant director. Frequently described in conversations with the cast and crew as "a hobbit," Jackson has a short, squat body, solid muscular legs, and a large, round face surrounded by straggly curls and a rough beard. He usually wears big wire-framed glasses and a playful smile. In his shorts and boots he does have a strikingly hobbit-like quality about him. Once Jackson and the crew are finished setting up the equipment and blocking out the shot, there are rehearsals with the extras until they're ready for a take. It doesn't look like much now, just a bunch of drenched guys in costumes and some cast-resin horses, but you know that when it's up on the screen, it's going to be epic.Author Krebs in front of the miniature of Rivendell.
Everything about The Lord of the Rings seems big. More than 100 million copies of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy have been sold since the first volume appeared in 1954. The Rings movies were shot with the aid of 2,500 crew members (sometimes up to six different film crews were involved), 26,000 extras, and a large cast of talented lead actors. When I visited, three and a half years into the production, Jackson estimated there was still a year and a half to go before they could take a holiday. The remaining work included pickup scenes, new effects, and postproduction for The Two Towers and the third movie, The Return of the King.The four-disc boxed DVD set of The Fellowship of the Ring ($40) is just as epic. Its extended cut of the film is spread over two discs and includes an extra 30 minutes of music from composer Howard Shore (The Silence of the Lambs, Ed Wood, Panic Room). The quality of the picture transfer and of the Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES soundtracks is as sensational as the original transfer of the theatrical cut on the two-disc set. The new set also includes four feature-length running commentaries-14 hours worth-and two discs of extras, comprising more than 7 hours of documentaries plus plenty more (see "Extras," page 86 in the January S&V). For the hard-core fan-and since there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of Lord of the Rings Web sites, there must be a few of you out there-a special $80 Gift Set contains all these treasures and more. Where did this giant-sized film and these mammoth DVD sets begin? On a small island that's half of a small country. Small Middle-earthNew Zealand's population of 3 1/4 million is tiny even for a small country. England, for example, although a slightly smaller land mass, has 16 times as many people. This means that most of New Zealand's amazingly varied and beautiful landscapes are barely touched by industrialization or tourism. Tolkien modeled many of the landscapes of Middle-earth that appear in The Lord of the Rings after pre-industrial England. As one of the few places left that can still look like ancient Britain, New Zealand must have seemed the perfect place to film the trilogy.But it quickly became apparent what a tremendous undertaking it would be. Indeed, for a little-known director to embark on such an immense endeavor in such a small country, without any of Hollywood's machinery, resources, or experienced personnel, and to attempt to create a whole world in such detail that it would live up to the expectations of millions of passionate fans of the books was unquestionable insanity. And yet, as the elven Lady Galadriel declares, "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."Most of the creature prosthetics, props, armor, weapons, and special makeup were designed and created at the Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand, where the miniatures for the background landscapes, cities, and buildings were also built and shot. Richard Taylor and wife Tania Rodger created the workshop 14 years ago, starting out of the back room of their apartment. In 1994, they joined with Jamie Selkirk and Jackson to form Weta Ltd., an all-inclusive effects facility. In addition to Weta Workshop, it also houses Jackson's digital effects company, Weta Digital, and Camperdown Cinema, the director's full-size movie house. (You'll find tours of both Weta Workshop and Weta Digital on Discs 3 and 4 of the boxed set.) Of the 148 people at Weta working on the movie at its busiest time, only 28 had worked in TV or film before, the other 120 being young artists who had to be trained. Together this fellowship made 48,000 separate props-including 500 suits of leather armor, 2,000 swords, 10,000 facial appliances, and 1,800 body prosthetics. BigaturesJackson would rather shoot a building in the real world-even as a set or a miniature-than use a matte painting or digital effect because he feels that actual photography is far more