The LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING directed by Peter Jackson, written by Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Frances Walsh, from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, produced by Jackson, Walsh and Barry Osborne, with Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin and Andy Serkis. 200 minutes. A WingNut Films/New Line production. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Wednesday (December 17). Rating: NNNNN
this may be a longer journey than the trek from the Shire to Mordor. That one took less than a year. With The Return Of The King, the final instalment of Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, arriving in theatres Wednesday, the cast hasn't merely worked through a year and a half of shooting and annual returns to New Zealand for reshoots. They've now been through three years of promotion for the film.
"I think it was always at the back of my mind that the promotion would be massive," says Elijah Wood, "but it really hit me at the Cannes Festival in 2001 when they showed 20 minutes of the first film. That was when I realized we were going to be working on this picture long after we finished shooting."
Wood, Billy Boyd and Andy Serkis are in a suite at the Four Seasons on a promotional tour, and we're having a small problem.
It's not the demeanour of the interview subjects, which is somewhere between mildly manic enthusiasm and punch-drunk exhaustion. It's that no one in the room has actually seen The Return Of The King.
Says Wood, "People come up to us and say, 'I can't wait to see the next one,' and all I can say is, 'Neither can I.' Sean and Andy and I were essentially away doing our own movie after the first one. We had no idea what The Two Towers would look like before we saw it, because we weren't on set when they were shooting the battles or the chase scenes."
We will note that none of the hobbits in question - Wood stars as Frodo, Billy Boyd as Pippin and Serkis, in a performance later digitized, as Gollum - is actually hobbit-sized, even if none of them exactly fills a doorway. And in person, with his hair cropped short, Wood looks much less like a butch Winona Ryder than he does in the movie.
Serkis doesn't look like Gollum, but you can't help seeing the character in him, which means he's in every moment of the performance, yet is physically absent.
"It's very strange to think about, and I've had a lot of time to think about it. If you ask my family, they've never questioned for a second that it's me onscreen."
This prompts a digression when Serkis observes that he found it weird that Eric Bana never got to do any of the "motion capture" work in Hulk, work that involves an actor putting on tights covered with small lights that allow a camera and computer to capture all his movements for the animation work.
Indeed, we're mostly digressing after about five minutes, the by-product of having three interview subjects with no movie to discuss, and two previous movies that have been discussed to death.
We cover Serkis's performance in 24 Hour Party People, Wood's new projects, The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Hooligans, a movie about English soccer ruffians, and how hard it will be to schedule the commentaries for The Return Of The King extended-edition DVD, given that no more reshoots are required that would take the actors back to New Zealand.
Of course, come Wednesday, we'll all have a movie to talk about.
Watch for John Harkness's full-length review of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King at www.nowtoronto.com on Wednesday, December 17.