August 24, 1998

Lord of the Rings Trilogy Set

New Line Cinema, in what is being called the biggest project in its history, is set to spend more than $130 million to make a trilogy of films based J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved and best-selling The Lord of the Rings series.

Peter Jackson, best known for helming the 1994 Kate Winslet film Heavenly Creatures, will direct, co-write, and co-produce the project, with Saul Zaentz (The English Patient) and Miramax heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein exec producing. Jackson had been working on the project for 18 months at Miramax, which had recently acquired the screen rights from Zaentz. But the studio reportedly wanted the books compressed into one film, prompting Jackson to take the project elsewhere.

In an unprecedented move, Tolkien's trilogy, which is comprised of The Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and The Return of the King, will be shot back to back in Jackson's native New Zealand. Production is expected to last a year and is tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-1999. The studio is apparently considering releasing the first film for Christmas 2000, with the second one due in the summer of 2001, and the third at Christmas 2001.

New Line is taking a big risk on the ambitious, special effects-laden project, which is being compared to the Star Wars trilogy. By making the films back to back, the studio, known for low-budget fare such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, could take a huge hit if the first installment tanks. (A 1984 animated adaptation by Ralph Bakshi was a cult hit, but a box-office disappointment.) New Line's most expensive production so far is this year's Lost in Space, which reportedly cost around $85 million to make.

Tolkien's books, which were published in the '50s as a sequel to The Hobbit, center on a classic struggle of good vs. evil, with a young hobbit's quest to destroy a magic ring before the evil Dark Lord can get ahold of it and destroy humanity. The books have proved immensely popular, selling more than 50 million copies and getting translated into 25 languages.

Jackson, for his part, seems unfazed with the enormous task before him. "This is really the first time you could visualize Tolkien's imagination on film," he tells the Los Angeles Times. "The technology has really only existed in the past two or three years." The paper says the main characters will be played by actors—none of whom have been cast—with many of the creatures and locations to be created by computer.

"It's true that fantasy is the one cinematic genre that's never been done especially well," Jackson tells the paper. "After 100 years of cinema, there's not a lot of new ground for storytelling. We can all point to great musicals or horror films. But no one's really nailed fantasy. So that's the challenge—I want to see if I can pull it off."


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