- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

CANNES, France — One of the highlights of the recent Cannes Film Festival was a sneak peak at the long-awaited filming of one of the 20th centurys most popular books. The question of the hour was: Just how did filmmaker Peter Jackson manage to put 3-foot-high hobbits alongside full-scale humans and a towering wizard for the upcoming movie trilogy "The Lord of the Rings"?
Sean Astin, who plays the hobbit Sam in the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkiens fantasy masterpiece, has an "Alice in Wonderland" answer.
"Peter gave us these little blue pills he cooked up and told us to start taking them with water six weeks before we began shooting," joked Mr. Astin.
Mr. Jackson and cast and crew members gathered at the Cannes Film Festival last Friday to show off the first big chunk of footage from the trilogy, one of the most eagerly awaited literary adaptations. Part one, "The Fellowship of the Ring," hits theaters in December.
New Line Cinema figured the festival was an ideal showcase for the sneak peek at Middle-earth, the dark lord Sauron, and the band of hobbits, humans, dwarves and elves who must destroy the ring of power Sauron covets.
"Its also kind of scary, too, showing what were showing here," Mr. Jackson said. "Its weird, because its not the movie… . 'Lord of the Rings is such a rich book with great plot machinations and characters. Its a little bit painful to just show a seven-minute kind of sketchy montage of the story."
Parts two and three are due in theaters worldwide around Christmas 2002 and 2003.
Journalists were shown a 14-minute segment of the heroes harrowing journey through the mines of Moria, where they face legions of fierce goblins called Orcs, a giant troll and a monstrous creature known as a balrog.
The scenes included a striking tableau of the "fellowship of the ring": the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and hobbit companions Sam, Merry and Pippin (Mr. Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd); the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen); the human warriors Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean); the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom); and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).
"Its an interesting challenge to make it believable and also for it not to take you out of the film and make you too self-conscious that these people are so small," Mr. Wood said.
"You see the hobbits have human qualities as well and are not sort of cartoonish. Its short people and tall people, and thats just the way Middle-earth is."
Depicting the various-sized characters was done through a combination of elaborate special effects and tricky but low-tech camera angles.
The trilogy also stars Ian Holm as hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Cate Blanchett as the elf Lady Galadriel, Liv Tyler as the elf Arwen and Christopher Lee as the dark wizard Saruman.
Film franchises generally are shot one movie at a time, with studios making decisions on sequels based on the performance of the previous installment. But New Line took the gamble of shooting all three at once over 15 months in New Zealand, finishing in December.
Executive producer Mark Ordesky, president of New Lines arthouse label Fine Line, said theres such a huge fan base for "Lord of the Rings" that the studio felt confident going ahead with all three.
The combined budget for the trilogy is $270 million. Doing all three at once allowed New Line to economize on travel, equipment and talent costs.
And what if the first film bombs?
"Its not going to bomb," Mr. Ordesky said. "Theres a hundred million of these books out there in 40 languages worldwide. Youve got a missionary effect in that youve got three generations whove been reading it since the 50s, when the book first came out.
"Weve got an amazing pedigree in these films."

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