- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

“The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy seemingly has it all — epic battles, noble heroes and a deft blend of digital and physical backdrops.

What the films lack are characters aimed at ripe demographics, catch-phrase-laden dialogue and a fast-food tie-in meant to line the studio’s coffers.

The trilogy began its improbable life by adhering to J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose and clung madly to the printed word thereafter.

The results speak for themselves.

The latest entry, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” nabbed four Golden Globe nominations Thursday, including best picture and best director for Peter Jackson, the bearded force behind the trilogy.

Expect an avalanche of Oscar nominations next month.

Barrie Osborne, the film’s producer, says the crew’s laserlike focus on the source material never wavered.

“We were really devoted to one thing: bringing it to life as true as we could with as much detail and care as Tolkien took in writing it,” Mr. Osborne says.

Mr. Osborne joined the “Rings” team while the project was in the proverbial “turnaround” at Miramax Films — it eventually became New Line Cinema’s property. Eighteen months of pre-production already had yielded a horde of costumes.

“I walked in and saw this incredible Elven armor,” he recalls. “I knew [the film] was going to be something special.”

It’s easy in hindsight to see the franchise as a sure thing, the legion of Tolkien fans as imposing as the Orc armies that assault the terraced city of Minas Tirith in “King.”

It wasn’t always such a slam-dunk.

“Before the first film was released, there was a lot of nervousness about how Peter’s work would be [seen],” Mr. Osborne says. “Once we went to Cannes and showed 20 minutes of the film, that instilled the confidence.”

From there, “we were pretty much given a free hand” by New Line, a modest studio that struggled pre-“Rings.”

“Had that been another studio, who knows?” he says.

That freedom meant casting decisions came down to finding the right actors, not lining up stars with the kind of box-office mojo to woo swing movie voters.

The three “Rings” movies were shot concurrently, an unprecedented way to ensure consistency.

“I don’t know if it will become a paradigm, but it was the only way to do this,” Mr. Osborne says. It also assured faithful fans they would see a second and third chapter, even if the first film imploded at the box office.

With each “Rings” episode, Mr. Jackson and company did more than faithfully re-create middle earth on-screen. They kept the novels’ themes — such as the power of brotherhood — essentially intact.

The fantastic battle between good and evil teems with spiritual metaphors.

Some could argue that the film bolsters the aggressive stand President Bush has taken versus Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, the personifications of 21st-century evil.

Mr. Osborne, a New York native who rose to the rank of 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before pursuing film, gently demurs from such interpretations.

To him, the films celebrate diversity — the elves, hobbits and humans join together to smite evil.

Its implicit underdog theme also resonated within him.

“The fact that Frodo and Sam, from the littlest and weakest culture in middle earth, can take on this mission to destroy the ring is meaningful,” he says.

Perhaps that underdog spirit helped keep the trilogy on an even keel.

Mr. Osborne recalls a storm that halted filming during the trilogy’s first days of shooting. Cast and crew quickly reassembled at another location and began anew.

When Mr. Osborne arrived at the new location, actor Ian McKellen “had a huge smile on his face,” the producer remembers. “He said, ‘Now I realize this movie’s going to get made.’

“No matter what came our way, we’d find a solution,” he says.

And they did it all without commercial tie-ins or cross-promotions.

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