"Lord of the Rings Day" report

Thursday, 11/08/01, 2:45 pm CST

Special feature: Scarlet Fever
Special feature: Vanilla Sky trailer analysis

What it is: To celebrate the release of two movie companion books, bookstores across the nation (mostly Barnes and Nobles and Books-a-Millions, to my knowledge) are showing a 20 minute video of interviews and behind the scenes footage. The following is my, Cleolinda's, report on what I saw:

12:30 PM: I'm intensely early. Shut up.

12:35: I actually get to see the beginning of the video as a rather burly employee rewinds it, starts it, watches it, and rewinds it again, trying to find the beginning. I'm in the magazine section in the back--it's the length of the whole back of the store, and very brightly lit. A large projection screen is blocking the view of the kids' section from where I'm standing. There are about 30 white folding chairs set up in rows of six, with an aisle down the middle.

12:40: I start to notice people wandering about. You know they're here for the video because they walk straight to the empty chairs and then falter, wheel around, and start browsing the magazine section. Soon there are about seven of us sitting on benches with piles of magazines. No one is a big enough nerd to want to sit down first.

12:50: I pick up a Cinescape and a Yahoo! Internet Life--inside the latter (cover story: "Lord of the Rings on the Internet") is a picture of and an interview with the very person I will be sending this report to: Michael Regina of theonering.net.

A manager gets on the PA and makes a cheerful announcement about the upcoming video presentation, which cracks me up--it sounds very Charlie-Brown's-teacher ("Wah wah wah wah-wah-wah") and she has a little trouble rattling off all the actors' names on the video synopsis that the Books-a-Million chain has prepared for her.

As if on cue, we magazine browsers take our seats, en masse.

I am by far the youngest person here at 22 years old, which is odd, and female to boot--there are a couple of guys there that I might peg at late 20s, but mostly it's men in their 30s, 40s and 50s, including a man who introduces a second man as his father to someone else (indeed, they have identical bald spots). There are about three professional-looking women (I won't dare guess their ages). The guy in front of me talks about the video games he develops for a living. A woman takes a seat in the back with three toddlers in tow; yet she's the one I hear say after the video's done, "Come on, I've got to get home to write this up while I can remember it."

1:00: The only problem is that they don't turn the lights in the magazine section off, which is a great detriment, but otherwise the video is great. I had a clear view from the second row.

The video has some large streaks of book promotion (yes, Houghton Mifflin is a fine company. We know), but it opens with shots of Gandalf in his cart, Galadriel at her mirror, and Arwen riding away from the Ringwraiths (film stock, i.e. scenes from the film).

Then, an interview with Rayner Ulwin and his story of how he got
The Hobbit published in 1935 by writing a book report for his publisher father at the age of 10; then, how he was responsible for dividing the book into three parts when he himself grew up to be a publisher. The video also notes that Ulwin "sadly passed away shortly after the filming of this interview."

More shots of the Ringwraiths tearing through the forest on horseback (video stock, behind the scenes).

The cheery voiceovers are terrible. But moving on: Peter Jackson talks as we see behind the scenes/video stock of the hobbit actors hiding from the Ringwraiths in the forest and some shots of armies charging. PJ observes that he now knows WHY no one has ever tried to film three movies simultaneously.

Brian Sibley, author of the Official Movie Guide that they're hawking, speaks.

A film scene of Galadriel's kiss to Frodo, and then Cate Blanchett talks about the extraordinary love she felt on the set among the cast and crew for the books and the project.

A segment about Alan Lee and John Howe: they say that PJ and Fran Walsh wrote from an edition illustrated by Alan Lee and thus wanted to hunt him down for the project, because his illustrations showed "the bittersweetness" of the book. Cut to Alan Lee, who says he was supposed to stay for several weeks, "and that was two and half years ago."

PJ talks about John Howe's illustrations looking like a still frame from a movie: "He's very good at portraying action." So we then have several scenes showing Howe and Lee sketching Hobbiton in a farmer's field, sketching the field as if it were Bag End.

Ian McKellan pops up, describing what he saw on the set: "....and I saw the smoke coming out of holes in the ground...
and I believed."

More advertising of the Visual Companion book (there are two books coming out for sale today, this and the aforementioned Movie Companion). Lee says that he sketched Rivendell not in his office but *in* the forest, "trying to think like an elf," to design the buildings "around the trees," not interfering with nature--as the elves would have, basically. PJ (or the voiceover guy, I can't remember) notes that Lee was often on set doing last minute touch-ups before the camera rolled (we see him dabbing at a Rivendell pillar with a paint brush).

On to Weta Ltd., and an interview with Richard Taylor, the president and PJ's collaborator. Orlando Bloom pops up--with a dark mohawk!--and talks about how beautiful his weapons were (I think he was referring to a knife or a sword that his character uses, because you see engravings on a blade). They also discuss what went into the making and design of the orcs. It was very important, they reiterate, that this not feel like fantasy but like history (a point that's been brought up in reports of the Casa Loma prop exhibit).

We see video stock of Sean Astin speaking, in a scene, about Gandalf's beautiful fireworks. Then an interview with Elijah Wood, with scenes of him and Sam in Rivendell.

Next, a scene of Saruman and Gandalf speaking in Orthanc--there was some film stock, I
think, and I know there was some behind-the-scenes video of it as well. McKellan notes that he was famous on the set for being the one with the book on hand, and how if there was a question of what to do, he'd always pull it out and say, "It's in Tolkien."

We see some battle choreography in a white-walled studio--I think we see Elijah Wood fighting an Orc, and then Orlando Bloom. It's hard to tell, because they both have dark hair at this point, but I'm almost sure I saw both of them at different points. Everyone is just wearing T-shirts and jeans or sweats, so it's really funny to see the Orc actor moving his head around like a cat and hissing. If we didn't see Bloom in the studio, we see him now outside--practicing his archery (with a full head of dark hair, by the way--no mohawk), and he's very proud of his new ability. There's a couple of wooden cows standing out in a field and they're stuck full of arrows, thick as pins in a pincushion. "Look at that one!" he whoops back to the camera. "That went right in the middle! That's some real archery right there!"

We have an interview with Viggo Mortensen, talking about how important it was to film outside, how you can really see the elements working onscreen.

The cutesy voiceover narrator (grrrrrrr) talks about how the cast and crew felt there was a parallel between the quest of the book and the quest to bring the film to life.

We see them filming the lake outside the doors of Moria, and Gandalf running his hands over the wall, searching for the door (video stock).

A bit of the party scene--and then there's an astonishing scene from the film in which Ian Holm--Bilbo--opens the door and Ian McKellan is standing there in full wizardly regalia. "Gandalf?" he gasps, and you can see that they're filming over McKellan's shoulder, to make Holm look smaller, and it works in a really bizarre way--and then Holm runs forward and hugs McKellan, and I'll be damned if they didn't preserve the play on perspective. I think McKellan kneeled down a bit--I suspect he was already standing on a box--and the camera moves down with him, so it looks like he's having to reach down to hug Holm. I mean, I was able to figure out what they did after a great deal of puzzling, but the effect in the scene is absolutely flawless.

We're winding up the video now--some more voiceover narration, and we see film clips that are basically that last major trailer that came out, the one with McKellan bellowing, "YOU--SHALL NOT--PASS!!!!" And with that line, they end the video. I only wish they'd turned off the lights.

I know that in Birmingham they *are* reshowing it at 7:30 pm our time; I heard some bookstores weren't doing the night show. However, since I've gotten home, I've been reading reports of massive free goodies give away at other book stores--free pamphlets, bookmarks. etc. All we got were 20% Lord of the Rings merchandise coupons, good for today only, and only if you have the magical discount card. They didn't skimp on a good screen and plenty of seating, but I would have liked to carry away some swag nonetheless. The other odd thing is that, for all of this book promotion, I NEVER SAW A SINGLE BOOK. Not one of the two new ones, not a single edition of Tolkien, and I roamed around for about a half an hour afterwards Christmas-shopping. Not even a calendar. Hopefully they'll have the merchandise they're promoting laid out by the showing tonight.
Ian McKellan (Gandalf) waits to be introduced for a Q&A at the New York bookstore event today that Cleolinda was NOT lucky enough to be attending; click the picture to be taken to the large version, courtesy TORN.
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