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Cover featureSelected ReviewsNews from this issueContents of this issueHow to buy this issue
The cover of Xpose's Lord of the Rings pull-out souvenir: Ian McKellen as Gandalf

Voices from the Last age

Condensing the saga into a workable script is a daunting task. Tolkien expert Brian Sibley tells Anthony Brown of past and present attempts to dramatize the tale.

Plus! Elijah Wood tells Bryan Cairns of his role as Frodo Baggins, the young Hobbit who bears the One Ring.

Excerpts selected from Xposé #62

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Writer and broadcaster Brian Sibley brings a unique perspective to his role as the author of The Official Lord of the Rings Movie Guide, and two further volumes on the production of the saga which will follow as the remaining films are released. On top of being a Tolkien expert and the author of a number of maps of Middle-earth, he was also the co-writer of the BBC's acclaimed 1981 radio adaptation of the tale. So it's hardly surprising that he found himself comparing notes with the script writers responsible for this latest version when he visited the set.

"I had long fascinating conversations with Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens, about ‘How you do this, and that', because we'd been through the same experience, though they're having to contract it even more... Director Peter Jackson (also interviewed in this issue - Ed.) said to me, ‘Yeah, but you had 13 hours to do it!', which is considerably more than they're going to have for the entire story, and yet we still had to make contractions, such as dropping the character of Tom Bombadil. So in many ways I think they've been more courageous than I'd been in some of the things they've done. I was reading the response of people in the Tolkien society magazine to some of the things that are coming out, about the role of Arwen for instance in the film, and realizing that there is going to be a huge amount of criticism from the purists, which is a pity in a way."

Arwen is of course, the distant Elven beauty who the Ranger Strider plans to marry once he's reclaimed his true name and position – as Aragorn, the rightful king of Gondor. "The issue with Arwen," explains Sibley, "is that in the books, Arwen does not speak until the end of volume three. So what do you do with this character? Do you have her as some vague beautiful Elven woman who is seen in a mist at Rivendell? You have to believe that she's prepared eventually to give up her immortality and marry Aragorn, and you have to believe that this is part of Aragorn's concerns, his love for Arwen. So fleshing her out as a character, I think that's perfectly valid. You have to believe in her and you can't wait until film three in two years time to find out who the hell she is. You have to know now." However, Tolkien's work has such a dedicated following that others are sure to disagree.

"I understand why people will carp and complain, it's inevitable, but what I felt very strongly on the set in New Zealand was that the one thing that Peter and his cast and crew have captured is the real spirit of the book. There's absolutely no chance that they've lost or sacrificed the central theme of the quest, and not just the quest but the significance of the quest: the cost to Frodo, the cost to everybody who's involved in it. To have captured and held that is one hell of an achievement to my mind. They could just have gone for the adventure, for sweeping vistas of marching armies, and those are going to be there in the film, but I believe Peter Jackson has really captured the core of the story, its heart and emotions. But there's going to be a lot of criticism by purists, because people find it very hard to accept that in moving to a new medium, you have to do it differently."

Sir Ian Holm is another direct link between the radio and film versions. Having played the Ring Bearer Frodo Baggins in the 1981 production, he returns to Hobbiton as Frodo's uncle Bilbo in Peter Jackson's production. "It's not accidental," explains Sibley, "that he's playing the part of Bilbo in the film series as Peter Jackson knew of the radio version. One of the most moving things for me was to travel to New Zealand and find that everybody there knew about the radio series. Indeed when I went to the Weta workshop, where they built all the magic for the film, and are now largely employed in making the originals of sculptures for Sideshow Toys (in many cases the people working on the toys are the people who designed the prosthetic makeup worn by the actors in the film), in the background I could hear Stephen Oliver's music from the radio series.

It turned out that these young artists working there had this battered old cassette recorder and the box of tapes and were playing them. When they got to the end they'd have a couple of weeks off, and then they'd play it again! So there I was, sitting there in an office reading the script for the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, while outside still in earshot I could hear Ian Holm, Bill Nighy, and Peter Woodthorpe, as my version of Frodo, Sam and Gollum, crossing the dead marshes… That was really, really spooky.

"So Peter knew of the series. In fact it became a kind of emergency crash course for people who joined the film – if an actor came onto the film like Sean Bean who didn't know the book they would give them the boxed set and say `Don't worry about the book, but listen to this on the aircraft coming over to New Zealand'..."

The Ring Bearer
Elijah Wood as Frodo

You would think that after squaring off against Middle-earth's most malevolent forces and weathering a gruelling shoot on what's being touted as 2001's last and greatest sure fire mega-blockbuster, nothing could throw actor Elijah Wood for a loop. But in the end, it wasn't the insidious Gollum or the Dark Lord Sauron who got the drop on the LA resident turned Hobbit hero. Instead, it was something much more common.

"I'm sorry, I have a bit of a cold today," apologizes Wood before insisting on proceeding with a phone interview.

No problem. No mere virus can dampen his enthusiasm for New Line Cinema's version of The Lord of the Rings. Yet for Wood, the real adrenaline rush began long before the movie trailer sent fans frothing at the mouth. While filming the teen Sci-Fi invasion flick The Faculty, Wood caught wind that The Lord of the Rings trilogy was receiving Tinsel Town's golden treatment. Wood resolved to be part of the Hollywood production, taking a creative gamble that paid off big time.

"I didn't follow the general path in getting this role," reveals Wood. "My agent called and said `you have to put yourself on tape immediately because they are looking for English actors' so I decided to do my own video. I got a book to research what a Hobbit looked like and then went to a costume store for the wardrobe.

"My friend George Huang shot the scene from different angles which we cut together for the video. The next day, I went to the casting office and gave them my tape. The initial reaction was really positive but I didn't hear Pete's reaction until a few weeks later. Then, I had to re-audition in front of a white screen, and a few months later, I got the part."

Of course, fans and critics already knew the young actor possessed the right stuff. Movie guru Roger Ebert even once praised him as `the most talented actor in his age group in Hollywood history.' But now as Frodo Baggins, the lead character of The Lord of the Rings, the five-foot-six actor is about to hit a new plateau of fame.

With six weeks of prep, not to mention the sixteen month shooting schedule, the Lord of the Ringscast became close very quickly. To commemorate their strong brotherly bond, Wood and his three fellow Hobbits, Sean Astin, Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan each had an elvish designed number 7 tattooed on various parts of their bodies.

"The fellowship at the end of the movie became the fellowship in real life," explains Wood. "The actors involved were collectively passionate about Tolkien's world, and I've made true friends for life..."

Xpose #62, Lord of the Rings cover

Get the full Elijah Wood and Brian Sibley interviews, plus director Peter Jackson in conversation and our guide to the world of The Lord of the Rings - all in one 16-page pull-out section when you buy Xposé #62

Images © New Line Cinema
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction

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