“The Lord of the Rings” appeared not because of the studio’s calculation, but thanks to the author’s perseverance
Today we are used to the fact that big projects like The Lord of the Rings are more like studio products. They can be successful and unsuccessful, but almost always the ideas of such films first arise from the producers, and only then are directors and screenwriters searched for them. With The Lord of the Rings, it was the other way around: Peter Jackson and his co-screenwriter wife Fran Walsh were hitting the studios’ doorsteps and trying to prove that making a film based on Tolkien’s novel was a good idea. Basically, they didn’t listen.
The idea was born back in 1995: Jackson and Walsh wanted to make a “Lord of the Rings-like trilogy” to give work to their visual effects studio, WETA, at the same time. The couple tried to figure out what the story would be about, and quickly realized that no matter what they invent, it still turns out to be The Lord of the Rings. It’s easier to take and film Tolkien himself, and not do something similar to him.
Since Jackson was signed to Miramax, he first pitched the film to producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein. They agreed, but they were only ready to give the director only 75 million for the entire project, and they also forced the entire Lord of the Rings to be remade into one film (Jackson himself originally planned to fit the action into two). In this version, Gondor and Rohan would most likely have united into one state, Arwen and Eowyn would have turned into one character, and one of the hobbits would have to be removed. Jackson and Walsh spent several years rewriting the scripts and convincing the studio bosses to let them tell the full story, not just a piece of it. It got to the point that Harvey Weinstein threatened the director that he would take Quentin Tarantino instead if Peter did not agree to cut The Lord of the Rings into one full-length picture.
But Jackson didn’t give up. In response, the director forbade Weinstein to use any of his developments in the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which would greatly increase the cost of the project, because Peter and the team had been working on the history and design of the world of Middle-earth for several years by that time. Jackson ended up filming a 35-minute video of the making of The Lord of the Rings and began sending it, along with the script, to various studios. Most of the director’s proposal was rejected. But the head of New Line Cinema, Robert Shea, agreed to meet with the director.
But it was not easy to persuade him. The fairy tale of Middle-earth was also not believed because of Jackson himself, a director of low-budget horror comedies who had never dealt with such big projects. The same Robert Shea even openly stated that he did not like Scarecrows and he doubted that he wanted to work with Peter. But Jackson was persistent, stubborn and very persuasive. As a result, Shay agreed to release the picture under the wing of New Line Cinema, and it was he who suggested in the end to make not even two, but three films.
One can understand why in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings in general there is such a huge love of the author for the material. These are really hard-won films, on which Jackson, Walsh and the whole team killed many years of their lives.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the perfect adaptation
With all his love for The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson understood that it was impossible to simply take and literally transfer the book to the screen – the specifics of the language of literature and cinema are too different. Therefore, in The Fellowship of the Ring, and in the following parts, too, the author mercilessly removed the scenes, mixed them up and swapped them. Everything to fit the epic novel into the structure of a blockbuster movie.
Many of the changes Tolkienists did not appreciate – for example, the fact that Jackson completely removed the character of Tom Bombadil, a god-like mysterious entity that the Fellowship of the Ring meets along the way. And in general it is useful to remember that it is now “The Lord of the Rings” is considered a universally recognized masterpiece. And at the beginning of the 2000s, book fans, as is usually the case, scolded the adaptation for nothing. Like, Jackson does not understand the essence of Tolkien, he changed everything, forgot about it, threw it away, and in general the book is better!
Maybe it is. But Jackson got a movie that works just like a movie. The Fellowship of the Ring is only the first act of a great story. But at the same time, the film, unlike, say, “Dune” by Denis Villeneuve, feels complete. The picture has a clear plot, culmination and denouement, in three hours the “Brotherhood” manages to tell the tragedy of Boromir, send the heroes to the very hell of Moria and back, bring the heroes together and separate them in the finale. While the story isn’t rushing at all, there’s surprisingly much going on on screen. And this is just the beginning.
The Fellowship of the Ring still has the most vibrant Middle-earth
Surely many viewers wondered why the much more modern Hobbit sometimes looks worse than The Lord of the Rings. What’s there, a significant part of the blockbusters of recent years are visually not as impressive as the fantasy of 20 years ago. Why this happened is a simple question. It’s just that Peter Jackson and the team meticulously built the world of Middle-earth, literally with their own hands.
Many locations in The Lord of the Rings were built as miniatures. Or rather, as people on the set called them, “bigatur” (from the English big – big). Because it is difficult to apply the prefix “mini-” to something a couple of meters high. For example, the tower of Saruman was built almost to the height of a man. Minas Tirith is even higher.
Not only miniatures were involved. To build the Shire, the creators bought a farm in New Zealand and began planting plants there a year in advance, so that by the time of filming the location looked exactly as it should. Scrupulousness paid off in full: both the heroes and the audience really do not want to leave the screen Shire. We perfectly understand what is at stake: after all, this amazing man-made world is about to destroy the universal Evil.
The Fellowship of the Ring is also a stunning demonstration that movies are often like a good magic trick. At the turn of the century, Jackson could not afford to draw all the effects on a computer. And I had to constantly invent something like that: use forced perspective so that a hobbit and a high magician coexist in one frame; seamlessly move between scenery and miniatures, puppets and computer graphics. Every little scene in The Lord of the Rings is the result of the amazing creative work of hundreds of people who didn’t have the tools ready and had to build Middle-earth from almost scratch.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a technological masterpiece
However, with all the abundance of practical effects in The Fellowship of the Ring, there are enough scenes with CGI. Some elements of the graphics don’t look so good right now – for example, the characters running in wide shots in Moria are obviously computer modeled. But overall, the CGI in The Lord of the Rings has aged surprisingly well for a movie twenty years ago.
Now VFX studios are often forced to work on tight deadlines, and some Marvels also bring employees with endless edits at the last moment. Hence the visual flaws, and the feeling of “hack work”: professionals are simply not given either the time or the opportunity to do everything at the required level. On the set of The Lord of the Rings, there was no such problem. Peter Jackson, coming from a low-budget exploitation film background, was well aware of how much time and effort must be devoted to creating even the simplest visual effect. And so gave WETA time not only to work, but also to create new VFX technologies that no one else had before. The Lord of the Rings changed CGI in cinema forever.
For example, WETA specialists were the first to learn how to create realistic chain mail – which can be considered a trifle, but this greatly simplified the work on The Lord of the Rings, and on many historical and fantasy films in the future. The company also invented computer-controlled camera systems that helped glue together scenes with miniatures and real people. Among the other achievements of WETA is a digital “extras” and an incredibly realistic CGI character for his age in the person of Gollum. This, however, will be more noticeable not in The Fellowship of the Ring, but in the next parts of the trilogy.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a product of the love of hundreds of people
The Lord of the Rings began filming in October 1999 and was completed only in December 2000. For more than a year, the team made a trilogy (all three films were created simultaneously), not yet knowing that the saga was destined to become great, earn recognition from the audience and receive a dozen Oscars. During this time, filmmakers have become a real family – on YouTube it is easy to find videos with, for example, Elijah Wood’s last day on the set. Endless hugs, kind words and sincere tears of people who consciously gave almost two years of their lives to the altar of art.
The Lord of the Rings was made by people who were in love with the project, from designers and costume designers to the director and actors. And this love, of course, is felt even through the cold screen of a monitor or cinema. It should not be surprising that fans of films are just as emotional about everything connected with them. They still remember dialogues by heart, occupy actors at various conventions, make memes, pictures, stories, amateur short films and do other fan art.
The Fellowship of the Ring is not just a movie. Rather, an incredible, almost unprecedented result of the efforts of thousands of talented people, united by a common passion and a common idea: to recreate the colorful world of Tolkien’s Middle-earth on the screen. The fact that this film, with all the complexity of its creation, was able to be born at all is a huge miracle. The fact that they turned out to be successful at the same time – after so many alterations, in the hands of not the most experienced, but ardent director, on a scale where any mistake can lead to disaster – this is real magic at all. Movie magic, I guess.