By John H. Foote

For the record, I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy on screen. Peter Jackson put such artistry, craft, love and passion into those first three films, they remain extraordinary fantasies, and the finest trilogy ever put on screen. 

Ian Nathan’s new book is a consistently fascinating account of the films, from the very beginning through to the eleven Academy Awards won by The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (2003) and the legacy of the films since. Written with astonishing access to Jackson, it is a wonder to hear how this artist created these films, from the selling of the idea to New Line under brutal pressure from Miramax, the casting, the decision to shoot in New Zealand, the genius in making all three films at the same time then releasing each one year apart, right through to the incredible success. Nathan, obviously a fan, takes a step back and is able to see Jackson clearly, an artist fighting for his film, but sometimes picking the wrong fights with the wrong people. 

One aspect of the making of the films is very clear, Jackson had a vision, he was going to create the world described in those books, he was going to create to perfection the characters, he wanted battle scenes unlike anything we had seen before and he wanted to move people with an intimate epic that would astound them

It started at Miramax where blustering Harvey Weinstein invested twelve million dollars in tests and writing before deciding he would not do it with Jackson. Prevailed upon to give Jackson a chance to take the film elsewhere, he dictated brutal terms. Twenty eight days, he got his entire twelve million back upon signature of a deal and green light and maintained executive producer credits, though he had brother Bob would do nothing. One by one the major studios turned Jackson down until finally he met with Bob Shape at New Line. They took their reel of special effects tests and pitch for two films and with little hope started their pitch.

Partway through, Shape stopped Jackson and asked why he was not making three films? There were three books were there not, so why not make three films? Make three as one, release them on year apart to build anticipation, did that not make some sense? Little did Shaye know he was saying everything Jackson had dreamed of hearing. 

Within hours, literally hours a deal was struck, Weinstein had his cheque and then began protesting Jackson had pulled a fast one, and the director from down under was scouting locations in New Zealand and casting his opus. Shaye for the most part stayed out of Jackson’s way and in May, 2001 at the Cannes Film Festival New Line showed the world press ten minutes of the first film, to be released that December. That 10 minute reel became the talk of the festival, earning a prolonged ovation, shouts of “encore” and demands to be seen again and again. That ten minute reel made clear Jackson had created something very special indeed, and it was at once clear The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) was going to be a massive success. 

Even the toughest of critics was stunned into silence by the footage they saw, no one could quite believe how extraordinary the film looked. Of course ten minutes does not a movie make, and Jackson was still editing the film down to three hours while shooting the rest of two and three. He was under brutal pressure, but the reel had alleviated much of what he felt from Shaye back in America. The studio chief, from that moment on, never second guessed the director again. In fact he supported Jackson. Knowing that editing key scenes he loved out of the final cut of each film, Shaye proposed that the DVD releases each be extended editions with up to forty minutes of extra scenes cut back into the film. Jackson was touched, and thrilled. This meant between films there would be a standard DVD release followed by the massive Extended Cut versions.

The films made billions, and collectively won seventeen Academy Awards. The third and final film, The Return of the King (2003) was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won every single one, tying the record for wins with Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997).

Jackson mastered the use of the internet as a marketing tool really before anyone else in Hollywood had figured it out. 

There are wonderful anecdotes from the set about the actors, all who forged an undying bond, and excellent studies of the motion capture technology that brought Gollum to life.

A great book, one of the best reads about the movies you will ever encounter. The love with which Jackson made the trilogy shines from every page, and Nathan brings that vividly to life with his prose. 


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