Rings of Fire

The daunting journey of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to the big screen.

Boyens frequently found herself called upon to ply her trade spontaneously. "The very first time we went to set, at Weathertop [one of many Tolkien-esque locales], a line wasn't playing," she says, chuckling. "That was my first experience of having everyone -- the crew, the cast, the director -- turn to us and say, "What's another line?' Fran [Walsh] and I went off into a huddle and started scribbling frantically. That became the norm. The great irony is that I think that line was cut anyway."

Tolkien's works have inspired scores of fantasy writers, among them Richard Adams (Watership Down) and Terry Brooks (The Sword of Shannara), but Boyens has her eye (and pen) set on adapting Ursula K. Le Guin's fantastic A Wizard of Earthsea. "In a way, as much as I love Tolkien, as a woman I really relate to her work," Boyens explains. "She's a colossus in terms of pure imagination."

Since Earthsea is also a series, Boyens laughs knowingly, "Yeah, I only do multiple films!"

From Gore to Lore: Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson's splatterfest led to his Tolkien adaptation.
From Gore to Lore: Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson's splatterfest led to his Tolkien adaptation.


Directed by Peter Jackson

Screenplay by Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, and Cate Blanchett

Opens Wednesday, Dec. 19

AMC 1000, AMC Kabuki, Metreon, UA Alexandria, and UA Colma

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The Lord of the Rings is definitely a tale of multiples -- books, films, languages, marketing tie-ins, but especially production units. In order to capture all the locations in which hobbit friends Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) play out their adventure, it became practical to shoot all three films back to back. This meant a total of 274 shooting days spread over 15 months, often with several units operating at once.

It took an extremely adventurous producer like Barrie M. Osborne to keep the machine running. Osborne, known for the cult hit Wilder Napalm and the mega-hit The Matrix, found in The Lord of the Rings more than enough reason to leave the Matrix sequels in other hands, instead spending several years of his life transforming New Zealand into Middle Earth.

"Logistics were quite immense, supporting five separate shooting units and interlinking them with satellite communications so that Pete could keep an eye on what the second units were shooting. It's like supplying an army," says Osborne. "We'd be in very remote locations, and catering for the different units. There was a morning when I think we served 1,400 eggs for breakfast. It was quite a huge undertaking."

A massive amount of armor and weaponry was also created for the film, mostly by Richard Taylor's WETA studio, a strong component of Jackson's previous films. (Conceptual designs were provided throughout by acclaimed Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe.) Osborne recounts that 26 40-foot trucks were required to transport the swords, shields, and chain mail (forged from 14 miles of PVC pipe) around the country.

While organizing the logistics may have been killer, Osborne waxes contemplative when asked about the stories themselves. "What I love most are the many characters you can identify with, and the arcs those characters travel. You have a guy like Aragorn -- played by Viggo Mortensen -- he has a dark path. He feels that his ancestry let mankind down and didn't live up to their promise, so he carries that in his lineage. He has to come to terms with that through this journey, accept where he came from, and rise above it."

Osborne is quick to laud the rest of the cast, including Cate Blanchett as the elf queen Galadriel, Liv Tyler as her granddaughter Arwen, Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, Sean Bean as the noble Boromir, John Rhys-Davies as the dwarf Gimli, and Orlando Bloom as the elf Legolas. Apparently, there's also a nasty Gollum waiting for us, voiced by English actor Andy Serkis but animated like an evil Jar-Jar Binks. Seems like justice.

All right, then, we've got a bunch of little guys with furry feet trying to smuggle a piece of jewelry past some über-meanies, but how might a modern audience apprehend these stories? Providing a little wisdom outside the maelstrom of film production, Los Angeles-based lecturer Dr. Stephen Hoeller steps forth.

"There may be a somewhat more informed appreciation of Tolkien at this point because, since the first Tolkien excitement in the '60s, we've had quite a mythological revival," he says. "A good many people have been affected by an interest in myth, primarily by way of the work of [mythologist] Joseph Campbell."

Hoeller, a retired professor of comparative religion who speaks regularly at Hollywood's Gnostic Society Center, refers to Tolkien as "the wizard from whose pen, as from a sorcerer's wand, sprang the great myth of the 20th century."

The insightful Hoeller left his native Hungary at a very young age (while Tolkien was still writing The Lord of the Rings), and fondly cites the work of Hungarian Carl Karenyi ("the most psychological of mythologists"), especially in collaboration with C.G. Jung ("the most mythological of psychologists").

From Karenyi and Jung's Essays on a Science of Mythology, Hoeller quotes, "Only the greatest creations of mythology could hope to make clear to modern man that here he is face to face with a phenomenon which in profundity, permanence, and universality is comparable only with nature itself."

Referring to the psychological archetypes inherent in Tolkien's work, Hoeller posits some surprising links: "With the elves we have a sort of transcendental, angelic archetype that in Jungian terms points to the self, the individuated ego." He continues his scintillating comparison, relating the hobbits' quest to neutralize evil as an inner journey.

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