QUICKBEAM'S OUT ON A LIMB:
The Spectacular Cannes Footage
I stood outside New Line Cinemas main office, nervously straddling the doorway, unsure whether to go in or linger in the sunshine. It was my last chance to avoid the 24-minute reel of footage from the Cannes Film Festival, my last chance to keep myself blind and insulated from the magical secrets revealed within.
Do I go in and watch? Surely it will be fantastic, mind-blowing, exciting.
Do I stay away? Can I save my mental blank slate until that final organic moment of watching the film itself, thus able to appreciate all of Jacksons work in its entirety?
You think the choice is OBVIOUS dont you? You think any idiot worth his salt would run wildly into the screening room, letting nothing bar his way? Yeah, well, its not that simple. Some of us actually want to avoid spoilers! Some cinema fans (like myself) really enjoy the full flavor of the whole movie. The presentation, pacing, rhythm of the story.
Speaking of spoilers, this report is filled to the brimso be warned!! Make a choice right now as to whether you want a clean slate in your head or a fully-colored palette of flavors already in your mouth.
But honestly, I didnt hesitate for long. Being invited in the first place was a surprise; there was no way I would miss out on this. I went in and sat down.
Nearly two dozen people sat comfortably around me. I overheard snippets and half-sentences as they spoke. The audience, all jaded Hollywood types, seemed mainly talent management and reps from different exhibitors. I heard bitchy gossip about how "difficult" some stars were and some hushed bits behind me concerning the "desperate financial gamble" of the three films. Catty and restless people. Typical L.A.
Easy enough to tune them outI was sweating in anticipation, my gaze held fast to the empty screen. The lights went dark, and I may have stopped breathing.
The New Line Cinema logo floated and faded to black, replaced by our very own Peter Jackson, sitting in a horse-drawn cart. Seated adjacent was GANDALF. Now how did PJ get so tiny? Ive met him in person and he may be shorter than I, but not that much!
look at how big Sir Ian is seated next to him!
Here was the first big sucker punch of the day.
This little intro was more than a clever "Hello, audience;" it was a surreptitious way to show off PJs best trick: the invisible forced-perspective effect. Gandalf is only a little closer to the camera, PJ just a little behind. The cart is constructed in a bizarre M.C. Escher fashion with varying horizontal edges that blend into each other when the camera is at the exact correct spot. The two characters look even with each other yet PJ is so tiny! While watching you have no idea your eyes are being fooled by so simple a trick.
PJ introduces himself, speaking a bit about his work, then Sir Ian does something quite funny: he turns, speaking with that classic droll British accent, and brings forth the most wry smile Ive ever seen. "Well done, Peter," he said, as a schoolmaster might say to a difficult child. PJ responds, "We better hurry up! We dont want to be late for Bilbos party!" Then Gandalf leans forward with this uncharacteristic wild leer on his face, railing at the pony to giddy-up! That McKellen guy, hes a card, let me tell you. Comedy like this will be perfect for the future DVD edition (just wait until you kids see the hysterical "outtakes").
Next you see the Shire and Hobbiton fly by, detailing simple folk and their simple lives. Nothing is harder to do than simplicity itself. If youve ever worked in theatre you know this is especially true. In these establishing shots everything the lens captureshobbit holes, rustic clothing, fields of flowershas a warm, earthy look. I recall someone saying the Hobbiton set was left standing for nearly a year to get some overgrowth and really capture that "lived-in" look. Well, they did it in spades! Its beautiful, all of it.
We get to Bilbo and Gandalfs first meeting. Ian Holm is perfect! He hits exactly the right note as our favorite adventuring Baggins. Ah, the infectious color and energy in his eyes! Really great stuff here when they meet. He lets Gandalf inside Bag End, and we are wowed again at the amazing perspective shots. Inside the hobbit-hole its all quite English and playfully cluttered, looking like someone really has been there for 111 years.
Yes, Gandalf bumps his forehead on the ceiling beams across the anteway. And yes, the slapstick works here (especially the way Sir Ian plays it) unlike those painfully lame moments of "humor" you saw in The Phantom Menace. Nothing is worse than watching a Gungan step in excrement, and then reminding yourself that youre supposed to laugh at it. Please.
Moving forward, we have the fireworks and celebration of the big Party. Nervously, Ian Holm gives his farewell speech and ZAP! no more hobbit. This is an excellent set piece for the non-Tolkien person. Newcomers will have no clue about the Ring at this point in the story. Invisibility? Is that what the Ring does? What else can it do? Here PJ gets to educate the newbies about magic rings while also entertaining the true fans who are soaking up every delicious moment.
Now we fast-forward to the brief bits of Bree, where Strider watches the hobbits in the Prancing Pony. Sam, stuffing his face with some tasty morsel, says to Frodo, "That stranger in the corner has been staring at you all night, Mr. Frodo," with a cautious, protective tone in his voice. Its the first time Ive heard Sean Astin speak as the character, and my immediate reaction was: how brilliant! He sounds a little coarser, a little more "simple," just as youd think Sam would sound. Im thrilled that my favorite character is in such capable hands.
The rest goes by in a bit of a blur. There are deliberations at the Council, where Hugo Weaving stands tall as the lord of Rivendell. He seems here the friendliest and most approachable Ive ever seen him (even more so than in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). I wonder if Elronds role should be played as intimidating and somewhat distant, as early casting favorite David Bowie would definitely have played him then again thats probably the only mode in which Bowie can do character work. But my hats off to a kinder, gentler Elrond, because it will certainly help the audience relate to him as he deals with his own emotional demons regarding his daughter. He seems more "real" than in the book, somehow
I cant explain it. He has a heart that is surely breaking somewhere behind that warm smile. It will be splendid to see more of Weaving.
As the "heavies" pontificate about the Rings destruction and Frodo volunteers his role as Ring-bearer, Sam and the young hobbits leap out from behind their hiding places, interrupting with a burst of enthusiasm. Heres a bit of departure from the book: three eavesdropping hobbits clamoring to be sent with the Fellowship. Elrond smiles (yes, a genuine warm smile I never pictured on his face) and says something like: "So shall it be: Nine walkers to stand against the Nine Riders."
I will get to more of these departures as we move along into Moria.
Ah, yes, the Mines of Moria sequence. The crown jewel of the Cannes footage! The unbelievable, way-too-good-to-be-true 14 minutes of action, atmosphere, and effects that every Net writer has drooled over.
Excuse me while I get a napkin. Youd be salivating too if you saw what I just saw.
First came New Zealands stunning Southern Alps as the backdrop for Hollin. As the Company marches south, deep in the background the snows of the Misty Mountains sparkle. These external shots are so magnificent! Really, I was taken with the sweep and beauty of the land. I dont remember exactly what was shown from the Redhorn Pass blizzard but there was enough to get the point across. "We might not go over-land," Gimli approaches Gandalf and offers, "But we can go under! Through the Mines of Moria!" He has a wicked glint in his Dwarvish eye. John Rhys-Davies wins the a special prize for making Gimli the most memorable supporting character! He is the picture of gruff, surly, lovable Dwavishness. Okay, okay
that sounds absurd, but youll see what I mean come December.
Cut to: the Fellowship standing outside the Hollin Gate. Curvy, glittery tracings decorate the door that Gandalf tries to open. Happily, they look just like Tolkiens drawings in the novel. It turns inward and they prepare to walk inside. There will certainly be a huge melee with the Watcher in the Water, but I didnt see any of it here. Perhaps WETA is still working on the creature effects. Although one eagle-eyed fan has already complained on our site that the Company is shown calmly walking into the Mines, ergo there could be NO encounter with the evil Watcher, I think theres more to it. That shot of them walking into the Mines may not be their first entry
Maybe its another edited scene of them walking from another room, well after struggling with the tentacles. We shall see.
Regardless, you are all in for a brilliant, brilliant surprise. Nothing can prepare you for the vision of Khazad-dûm that awaits you. The design team at WETA and the cinematographer have captured a magnificence I cannot convey. There is so much detail in every corner of the framethe dust, the ancient tools, the engraved walls, the towering columns, you will boggle at the enormity of it. Twice over! First you will wonder at how the Dwarves managed this vast underground realm, then you will wonder again at the clever people working with PJ who recreated it. As they say in New Zealand, "Thats full-on, mate!"
Let me try and piece it together.
Gandalf walks slowly toward the camera. He speaks almost to himself. "I think I will risk just a little
light," his staff glowing steadily brighter. Around them are impressive signs of a once vibrant city now lost to decay. Hobbits moving cautiously about never once draw attention to the invisible perspective shots. You, the viewer, are overwhelmed by the ancientry of Khazad-dûm, and the dread of the Dwarves defeat lies thick in the air. What happens next is terrifying.
The sequence takes us straight to the Chamber of Mazarbul and Balins Tomb. A small, high portal window channels in a lonely shaft of light onto the tomb, and Gandalf approaches to read the runes. "Here lies Balin son of Fundin, Lord of Moria." Gimli, kneeling at the sarcophagus, cries aloud in pain.
As Gandalf reads from the Book, the music becomes ominous and disturbing, and you start to notice things in the room that you did not at first. There are corpses everywhere. Most are mere bones still dressed in armor, and many are still pierced with the killing arrow. There is something about the clutter in the room. It shows signs of tremendous struggle and death. The heavy dust carries in the light shaft in a most unpleasant way. Gandalf says, "We cannot get out. We cannot get out." Waves of chills roll across my skin.
Pippin starts poking at a skeleton sitting on the brink of a well. When it falls backward into the darkness it makes an unimaginable noise, dragging along a bucket and a twisted chaina long, drawn out agony of noise that will not stop! Oh, the look on the Companys faces! Even worse, the look on Gandalfs face! What PJ has accomplished at this exact moment is ingenious. You dont know whether to be terrified at the danger or to laugh at the dismayed look on Pippins face. It is a perfect alchemy of anxiety and humor. Ill say it againBRILLIANT!
The deep drums begin and shortly thereafter arrows come whistling into the room. You are about to see a fight sequence like none before. The orcs are more lethal than youve ever imagined, and the Cave Troll goes down in the books as one of the best Movie Monsters ever conceived. It is HUGE and alarmingly ugly. Everything it does looks real; snarling and smashing with its hammer. You will be pinned to your seat.
As the Fellowship fights for its life, black blood flows everywhere. Gandalf proves that one sword and one staff together form the best combination of weaponry you could ask for. Sam gets a lot of mileage out of his old saucepan.
Oh, man, that Troll. WOW!
I cant tell you how amazing this CGI work is. Trust me, Ive avoided many action/sci-fi films over the past few years because Im sick of crappy CGI. You would have to drag me screaming to films like The Haunting, Deep Blue Sea, or The Mummy Returns. Im sorry, I just dont feel threatened by a poorly rendered phantom or giant shark that looks like it was drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch. But this Troll is the furthest away from that as can beit will leave you white-knuckled and gasping.
As the characters escape the Chamber, the camera pulls back, way back, to reveal a never-ending massive Hall lined with lofty columns. It stretches beyond sight. I felt like these poor souls were about to be swallowed whole by the vastness that is Moria. Again, chills on my skin as I watch.
Orcs swarm out of crevices in the walls, the vaulted ceiling becoming like the bottom half of an hour-glass: all the little grains of sand that pour out are indeed vile orcs bent on destruction. As the sea of evil surrounds the Company, a huge glare of fiery red approaches from further down the Hall, the source yet unseen. Gandalf closes his eyes and concentrates. Sir Ians voice never sounded so ominous.
The word rolls off his tongue like a death sentence. As orcs scatter everywhere in fear of the approaching demon, the Fellowship finds itself beyond the Hall and cowering on the brink of an immense chasm high above molten lava. There are flames and burning fissures everywhere, but the huge space is dominated by ancient stairs carved out of the rock, freestanding many stories above the lava. The way down is perilous, as there are no railings on either side and the stair twists back on itself in huge right angles. The heroes are sitting ducks to the Orc Archers, and arrows spatter the group from the far end of the chasm.
Struggling to get safely down, the Company rushes forward when they hear the Balrog bashing the door down from the outside Hall. As if this werent bad enough, the entire carved stair begins to crumble and break apart from the seismic blasts created by the demon. There were audible gasps from the people behind me when the Durins Bane shows itself full-on to a defiant Gandalf. Oh, did I mention that it was brilliant?
Superb? Most assuredly.
What happens here never happened at all in Tolkiens books, but it is surely the most well-executed, invigorating, hellzapoppin action set-piece I remember seeing in a film. PJ and his team have taken a terrifying moment of crisis and magnified it 10 times. The man is relentless! The poor audience doesnt stand a chance against this kind of visceral storytelling.
I can hear many Purist fans out there, complaining about unnecessary departures from the books. They will say, predictably, that there is no reason for the filmmakers to fabricate these bits of derring-do. Tolkien had just the right dialogue and just the right plot devices he needed. The original doesnt need "improvements."
Well, yes and no.
The Professor created an epic novel. He had the tools at his disposal to craft what would stand the test of time, a classic. He poured over it for many years, fuming with himself to make sure everything was exactly right. And yes, it is as near to perfect as an adventure can get. Butlet us not overstate the obviousPJ is not preparing a novel. He has to paint with completely different inks and techniques. He is a storyteller as well, but his films obey the conventions of filmmaking, so the argument cannot really stand. I for one am totally overjoyed with PJs keen directorial work. This Mines of Moria sequence is so breathtaking that I am willing to allow him any deviations in his process of cinematic adaptation. More power to him.
Listen, Ive seen enough crap movies come from Hollywood. I know the difference. Trust me when I say this is Good Stuff. 2 hours and 45 minutes of it!
Bringing it down a notch, the reels final moments contained a fluid montage of scenes from the later two films.
A hideously diseased and decrepit old King Théoden.
Gandalf the White under the eaves of Fangorn, standing in glory before the Three Hunters.
Wormtongue being cast out of the Golden Hall.
A luminous young Éowyn being embraced by her uncle.
Théoden healed, looking dynamic and robust.
A sweeping arial shot of Meduseld, with Éowyn standing on the steps.
Frodo in brief conversation with an anxious Faramir.
Wicked Nazgûl riding forth out of Minas Morgul.
Sam bravely fighting Orcs in Cirith Ungol. "That ones for me Gaffer!"
And at the very end, a wretched and spent Frodo collapsing on the foot of Mount Doom, his servant offering to carry him on his shoulders. This was were my eyes started to get wet.
When all was done, I led the applause. It didnt take much. A noticeable change had come over the jaded audience that was so unconcerned 24 minutes earlier. Now a transformation had come over them.
And over myself as well. My original enthusiasm for these films had always been tempered with caution. I wanted to hold back just a bit, so that the pressing tide of my expectations would not overwhelm the unfolding film itself. Well, its too late for that, Im afraid. The magic of PJs work is indelible in my brain.
This was my original worry. Nothing really has been spoiled by viewing this spectacular Cannes footage, rather it has just needled me to new levels of impatience.
the wait until December 19th is going to be unbearable.
Much too hasty,