The journey will be long, the challenges daunting, the popcorn very likely stale. But that doesn’t matter now — the grand epic that is the three-part, film adaptation of THE HOBBIT is upon us with the release of the first installment: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Having braved the onslaught of orcs, goblins, and restless eight-year-0lds, beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons to discuss whether director Peter Jackson has taken what started as a compact, nimble fantasy tale and managed to elaborate on it in a way that will make audiences eager to sign on for all three films. They also delve into the film’s introduction of High Frame Rate (HFR) projection technology, and explore what effect the process has on the viewing experience.
Also: What’s coming to theaters next week.
Next week sees the last, major genre film debut of the year with the release of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY in glorious 3D and an innovative high frame-rate (HFR) projection system (advance word: bring Dramamine). The film marks the beginning of a new film franchise based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tales of Middle Earth, but of course it isn’t the first time director Peter Jackson has visited the realm of elves, orcs, and humble, fun-loving hobbits. So while the film industry took this weekend to rally its strength by observing a moratorium in genre film debuts, Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons take a look back at the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and weigh whether, a decade later, this is a world worth revisiting.
Plus: Dan gives his capsule verdict of BAD KIDS GO TO HELL, and what’s coming to theaters next week (can you guess?). SPECIAL FUN TECHNICAL NOTE: Did you know listening to podcasts in which the audio occasionally, randomly skips makes you more popular? It’s true! Find out for yourself by listening to this show, and just see how many New Years parties you’re invited to. (TRANSLATION: Our audio software screwed up. It doesn’t really mess up the show, but we apologize and will be better next week.)
Not only will Peter Jackson two film adaption of THE HOBBIT stay in New Zealand, the trouble over the production has lead to the government passing a new law to ensure that the situation does not arrise again.
According to Variety, the month-long fight and boycott by several actors’ unions against the film has led New Zealand’s parliament to pass what the press is calling the “Hobbit Law”. This ammendment to an existing Employment Relations Bill makes it law that “actors and other film production personnel hired as independent contractors can not subsequently claim to be employees.” This would prevent them to claiming additional rights and entitlements granted to regular employees.
The unions had called for an actors’ boycott of THE HOBBIT, beginning September 24th, against the already troubled production in order to pressure them into making a deal with NZ Equity that would have substantially changed arrangements. This lead to Jackson and Warner Brothers making serious plans to move the $500 Million project to another country.
Realizing the studio was in earnest, the boycott was lifted last week, amid counter protests by other film trade workers, but it seemed the damage had been done. It apparently took the intervention and assurances by New Zealand’s Prime Minster to convince Warner Brothers (now financing the project begun by New Line and the bankrupt MGM) to keep the production in the country.
Here’s a look at the trailer for ORCS!, a low-budget movie about… Orcs, it seems.
From ORCS! Pictures LTD’s website :
“If you love the Orcs from The Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft (WoW), you will love our new epic movie, Orcs! Orcs! Orcs! The terrible ancient warrior Orcs are spilling out of the mountains with one plan… to destroy the human race.”
Looks a like a fun, tongue-in-cheek movie, and just goes to show you that the term Orcs can’t be copyrighted.
Here’s a look at the announced cast for Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT. According to Time.Com, Martin Freeman (THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE) will play the lead role of Bilbo Baggins.
The site quotes Peter Jackson as saying of Freeman: “He is intelligent, funny, surprising and brave — exactly like Bilbo, and I feel incredibly proud to be able to announce that he is our Hobbit.”
Richard Armitage, who played Guy of Gisbourne in the BBC’s ROBIN HOOD, will portray Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarves.
Rounding out the fellowship, Aidan Turner (BEING HUMAN) will play Kili, Rob Kazinsky (EASTENDERS) Fili, Graham McTavish is set as Dwalin.
John Callen has the part of Oin, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, Mark Hadlow (MEET THE FEEBLES) cast in the role of Dori, and Peter Hambleton as Gloin. UPDATE: Sylvester McCoy (DOCTOR WHO) is due to sign as Radagast the Brown Wizard (via Bleeding Cool).
It’s assumed that Sir Ian McKellen is still signed to reprise his role of Gandalf the Grey from THE LORD OF THE RINGS in the new, two film J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation.
Negotiations between Warner Brothers (now financing THE HOBBIT) were to take place in New Zealand this week, to determine if the project will stay in the country or depart for another location after trouble with the actors union, NZ Equity regarding extras and related issues.
Will THE HOBBIT leave New Zealand for greener pastures in Europe? Tensions continue to grow, although the government believes there’s still hope.
According to New Zealand site Stuff.co.nz, director Peter Jackson told the Dominion Post that he had nothing to do with organizing a protest by aproximately 1500 NZ film technicians against NZ Equity’s blockage of THE HOBBIT being filmed with some extras and performers not necessarily a part of the union or their new parent, the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
Council of Trade Unions’ President Helen Kelly is said to have made statements that apparently implied that the march was cooked up by Jackson and Warner Brothers.
Peter Jackson said:
”I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time I really got very angry. I watched the march on TV. I wasn’t there, and unlike what Helen Kelly’s been saying, I didn’t have anything to do with organising it.
Suddenly I see Helen Kelly and she starts slagging off the production… I’m thinking ‘this is a legitimate march by 1000 people who are basically wondering how they are going to live for the next two years.’
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key thinks the two HOBBIT movies can be saved, and hopes to convince Warner Brothers executives due to arrive next week.
“My concern is that if Warner Brothers deems New Zealand is not a good place to make movies, then there is a real risk other major film production companies will also believe that to be the case.
…This is a very successful growth area for New Zealand and to have the film industry destroyed on the back of the actions of the unions is, I think, reprehensible.”
The PM said he believed Warner Brothers’ main concern was industrial uncertainty, and not New Zealand’s 15% tax incentive.
England, Ireland, and Eastern European countries are reportedly very interested in attracting the $500 million productions.
In Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND Christopher Lee has a brief one line “cameo” as the voice of the dragon-like Jabberwock, so it was interesting to note that Lee himself has recently suggested he might play the voice of Smaug, the dragon, in the upcoming two-film adaptation of THE HOBBIT, being produced by Peter Jackson in New Zealand. Unfortunately, with the recent departure of director Guillermo Del Toro it now appears a start date for the filming of THE HOBBIT will be delayed for some considerable time, so as the 88-year old Lee noted in a previous interview at CFQ about HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, if they want to use his voice in THE HOBBIT, “they better hurry up.” I recently re-viewed the three extended LORD OF THE RINGS movies on Hi-Def which has inspired me to post Christopher Lee’s extensive comments about his work on the THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy that first appeared in a drastically edited version in the December, 2003 issue of CFQ, which did not even include Mr. Lee’s reaction to the unpleasant shock he received in late 2003 when he first discovered that Saruman’s important death scene was being removed from the theatrical version of THE RETURN OF THE KING. Ironically, Lee was the most vocal cast member when the first two movies failed to win the best picture Academy Award, a mistake that was finally corrected when RETURN OF THE KING won a record 11 Oscars in 2004. Unfortunately, Christopher Lee was no longer a part of the third movie (although his footage was eventually restored in the extended DVD version).
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What do you think accounts for the tremendous interest in fantasy films these days?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: I think it’s because we all love to dream. We don’t live in a particularly attractive world. I don’t really remember, except as a small boy, anything but a pretty grim world. I’m old enough to have seen Hitler in the flesh. I’m old enough to have been in Munich in 1934, on the night of the long knives, when Hitler butchered so many of his own people. I’m old enough to remember the Second World War and all the other things. So I’m not being a Cassandra, who prophesied nothing but evil and misery; I’m simply facing reality. So, yes, let us not lose faith, let us be optimistic, let us believe in the good things, but we still have to face the world as it is. When you live in a world like that, what do you want? You want to escape, to get out of this world from time to time, into another world, a magical world, an enchanted world, where things happen we dream about, a world of fairy stories and wizards. It is like the conjurer, the enchanter, or magician who says, “Look, nothing up my sleeve. When I do this, you will come into my enchanted world!” Dreaming, escaping, that is what we’re talking about. I firmly believe that is why this kind of film is so universally popular, and always will be, because people like to get into another world.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You first read THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING when it came out in 1954?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, and I was immensely impressed with what I read. I still think THE LORD OF THE RINGS is the greatest literary achievement in my lifetime. Like so many other people, I couldn’t wait for the second, and then the third book. Nothing like it had ever been written. Other authors like T. H. White and Lewis Carroll invented imaginary worlds, but Tolkien not only invented an imaginary world, he invented imaginary races, which you can easily believe in. And he created very long appendices with all the family trees and the names of the previous Kings and so-forth. It’s quite incredible, really, the scholarship and imagination that went into the writing of it. And what is even more remarkable is that Tolkien, who was a professor of philology, invented new languages. The Elf languages are two: Quenya and Sindarin. Quenya is based on Finnish, and Sindarin is basically Welsh. Most of the Elves speak Sindarin. And if you want, you can learn to read it, to write it and to speak it, just like English or any other language. I always thought the books would make a wonderful film, but I also felt it would probably never happen, because of the enormous amount it would cost to make. But if they ever were made, I dreamed that I would be in them. It just goes to show you, that sometimes dreams do come true.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You actually met J. R. R. Tolkien, didn’t you?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, quite by chance, really. I met him with a group of other people in a pub in Oxford he used to go to, The Eagle and Child. I was very much in awe of him, as you can imagine, so I just said, “how do you do?” I also met T. H. White who wrote The Once and Future King.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Having read the book so many times, you must have had a thorough understanding of Saruman’s history and his place in the story.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, from reading the books I naturally knew Saruman and all of the other characters intimately. And the way he is presented in the scripts is the way he is presented in the books. Saruman is one of the great Wizards. When they first came to Middle-earth there were five Wizards. Two of them, the Blue Wizards, are not mentioned. The other three are Saruman the white, who is the greatest of them all. Then, there is Gandalf the grey and Radagast the brown. We don’t see Radagast in the book or in the movie. So basically we have two wizards, Gandalf and Saruman. They have human bodies, but they are immortal. They were sent to Middle-earth by the Valar, who are the creators and guardians of the world. Saruman is number one, the most powerful and the most brilliant of them all. And at the very beginning, Saruman was a good Wizard. He was given the land for his tower at Isengard, and he is the head of the order of Wizards, the Istari, as they are called. He also has one of the seven great seeing stones, a Palantír. He and Gandalf have been friends for hundreds of years. But, as Gandalf first discovers in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, he has been corrupted by the dark power of Sauron. Saruman’s ambition causes him to think he can take over as the Lord of the Rings, because at some stage, he feels that he is more powerful than Sauron. But it’s the biggest mistake he makes in his life, which is many thousands of years. So it’s a question of a great Wizard, one of superior intellect and brilliance, being tempted until the temptation finally overcomes him. He of course pretends to be a servant of Sauron, but Sauron sees through this. It’s a very complex character, superbly written by Tolkein, although a lot of people don’t realize whom the actual Lord of the Rings is. Who do you think it is?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Sauron.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, absolutely, but a lot of people don’t realize that. It is Sauron, because there were many rings made, and as the poem says, “One ring to rule them all… and in the darkness bind them”. Sauron forged the one ring and it’s when Sauron discovers that Frodo now possesses the ring that he attempts to recover it. Saruman knows this and he wants the ring for himself.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What do you think accounts for Saruman turning to the dark side and joining Sauron in a union of the two towers?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Tolkein never explains that. Possibly it is the Palantír and the all-seeing eye of Sauron. Saruman thinks, “if Sauron can do this, so can I” although I don’t’ think Saruman fully realizes that Sauron is always one step ahead of him. But when we first see Saruman, you think he is a very agreeable character. He meets Gandalf in the garden at Isengard with a smile and when they start talking about the ring, he says, “Are you sure about all this—the ring of power has been found?” There is absolutely no indication at all of Saruman’s true character to the audience. He only reveals it in his chamber at Orthanc, when he says, “why don’t we join Sauron” and Gandalf is so horrified. Up until then, Gandalf has not even remotely thought about Saruman going over to the dark side. He still regards him as his superior and as the head of the order. That scene was also my first day on the picture and it subsequently had to be done over, because when we did it the first time there were some Orcs in the garden. Gandalf is surprised by this and he says, “Orcs in Isengard?” So that was re-shot to show it without the Orcs.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Before doing THE LORD OF THE RINGS you played another Wizard in a television series, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: That’s right, and the only reason I did that was to show anyone who was watching that I could play a Wizard and that I would be ideal casting for THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And you sent a photo of yourself as the Wizard from ROBIN HOOD to Peter Jackson?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I sent him a picture of myself all made-up in the Wizard’s role, but it was more in the nature of a joke, really. “This is what I look like as a Wizard, don’t forget this when you cast the movie.” It wasn’t me putting myself forward at all, because I think Peter had already made up his mind. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway, that he never thought of anybody else for Saruman, except for me, so it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Had you met Peter Jackson before that?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I first met Peter when I was the President of the Jury at the Avoriaz Film Festival in 1993. Peter Jackson’s movie, BRAINDEAD was in the competition, and I thought it was very funny, very humorous, very close to the Monty Python kind of comedy. As I was head of the jury, we decided to award BRAINDEAD the grand prize. Since then, I think his career has gone through a constant artistic growth. He started with these bizarre horror-splatter movies, and then he made HEAVENLY CREATURES, which was beautifully done. He’s a great director, who improves himself each time he makes a movie.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So Peter Jackson eventually contacted you about appearing in THE LORD OF THE RINGS?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, he asked me if I would do a reading. Some people would have said no, but I certainly didn’t. I met with Peter here in London, in the back room of an old Church. He was there with a casting director and Fran Walsh, his partner, who is also one of the screenwriters on the movies. They asked me to read a scene in front of a video camera, and I read a scene between Gandalf and Frodo. It was one of the first scenes in the book. I think he was just asking me to read something from the book to give him a general idea, and my passion and love for the work was quite obvious to him. Of course I would have loved to play Gandalf, but I don’t think he ever had me in mind for Gandalf, because but that time I was too old.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You must have enjoyed working with Peter Jackson, since he knew the books so well and he wanted it to be as faithful as possible to what Tolkien wrote.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, he certainly shares my passion, as indeed we all did. The whole cast and the whole crew had such a dedication to this work, I’ve never experienced anything like it. And Peter knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. I’ve very seldom met a director who was so absolutely convinced about what should, or should not appear on the screen. He always seemed to know exactly what he wanted and he wasn’t going to let a shot go until he got it exactly as he wanted. Sometimes this meant a lot of takes. But it could be the pace of the scene, it could be the inflection of the dialogue, it could be many things. Peter’s intuition is extraordinary, in terms of how to deliver dialogue and how to play the scene. When he finally got the shot and said, “right, let’s print it,” you knew that was as good as it was ever going to be, which is very encouraging. A good director is someone who cares about what the end result is going to be, and Peter Jackson is certainly a director who cares. So what was on the printed page is what I did. And if Peter Jackson wanted to change any of it, I did so. If he wanted a different interpretation or a different meaning or a certain emphasis given to a line, or a phrase, or even a word, I did it. To me, he always seemed to be right.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In THE TWO TOWERS we are introduced to your new accomplice, Grima Wormtongue, played by Brad Dourif.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, Brad Dourif is a brilliant actor. He plays my right hand man, you might say, who is spying for me, while advising King Théoden of Rohan. He gives a wonderful performance, as he did in films like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and MISSISSIPPI BURNING. He’s a marvelous person to work with and tremendously enthusiastic about everything he does.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In THE TWO TOWERS although you don’t have as many scenes, you are a bit like Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN, since all the other characters are constantly talking about you and what you are planning to do.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, Saruman does hover over everything like a kind of menacing dark cloud. Everyone talks about Saruman’s armies and Saruman’s forces. They talk about him all the time, so although there isn’t as much of me as there was in the first film, where you had to establish the character, the shadow of Saruman still looms large over everything that happens. So even though he is something of an invisible presence, when you do see Saruman, he is immensely powerful and he still goes through all the emotions that are in the book: the feeling of power, the actual power, the hypnotic effect of his voice and what he says and does. THE TWO TOWERS is really a kind of confirmation of Saruman’s downfall, which is achieved partly by his losing the power after which he lusts so much. Also, several of my scenes that were cut out of THE TWO TOWERS are now restored in the extended DVD. You now see me meeting with the leader of the Wild Men and Grimma telling me about yet another ring, the ring of Barahir that is worn by Aragorn. Barahir was one of the great lords of the north in the first age. He had this ring that was handed down over thousands of years and eventually it came into the possession of Isildur.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It must have been exciting to work with Ian McKellan on the three movies. He said he was really thrilled to be working with you.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Ah, Ian is such a nice man. He always said very nice things about me and I’m happy to return the compliment. Not only is he a very distinguished and eminent actor, with a wonderful record—mainly in the theater—but also to a certain extent in film. He is a major actor and if you find yourself, as I did, playing scenes with him and he’s already had some weeks to get into his part while I’m doing my first day, it can be difficult, to put it mildly. My introduction to the picture was the scene in the garden at Isengard, where I come down the stairs and meet Gandalf. I was up until three in the morning that day, working with Ian McKellen. But Ian was immensely supportive and very encouraging. That doesn’t happen very often these days, where you’re working with a major actor, and they help you and guide you along. But that’s exactly what Ian did with me at the beginning of the film. I was so glad that most of my scenes were with Ian, especially after I got quite badly injured, when a door slammed on two of my fingers. My hand was all bandaged and bloody, so I had to hide it and if you look very carefully, you can see that in the film. It was really very difficult, because I was in extreme pain, but Ian was enormously helpful, very encouraging. He’s a tremendous person to work with and you don’t find that very often these days. People are so concerned about what they consider to be rivalry, or confrontation. They only think about themselves, and they don’t give a damn about the other people who they are working with. But the word is collaboration, not confrontation, and Ian McKellen is a shining example of that. So many people think another actor might be some sort of threat to them, in terms of performance. There are some big stars that won’t have anybody else in the film with them, because they are so unsure of themselves and you can see that in their films.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Ian McKellan said you startled him in one scene, where you sneaked up behind him and snarled at him, as if you were playing Dracula.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, not at all. That’s quite a good story, but I didn’t sneak up behind him. What he said was to be within three feet of a Lee snarl is rather unsettling.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So you didn’t try to scare him by playing Dracula?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, not at any time. That part was last played by me over 30 years ago! I have no connection with it whatsoever. Nor do I wish to have.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Actually, I thought it would have been marvelous if Francis Ford Coppola had used you to play Dracula at the beginning of his movie version. You could have played the Count in Transylvania, exactly the way Stoker described him, as an old man with a mustache. Then, when Dracula arrives in London and starts drinking blood, he would grow younger and be transformed into Gary Oldman!
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, there’s no point in going over the past. These things either happen or they don’t and it’s too late now. I did see Coppola’s version, and while he’s done some wonderful films, his DRACULA was not the Stoker novel. Nobody has ever made a movie about Dracula, from the book, exactly as Stoker wrote it. They’ve come close at times, but it’s never been done. The nearest I ever got, was when I did COUNT DRACULA in Spain, with Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinski. I had a mustache and I even managed to say some of Stoker’s lines, but it was a mess, for production reasons. In Coppola’s movie, Gary Oldman did not have a mustache, and he was wearing what looked to me like a red dress! He also had a hairstyle that I thought was absurd. It certainly wasn’t how Stoker described the character. In the book, Stoker describes Dracula as wearing black from head to toe, without a single speck of color about him. But as far as I’m concerned, that character is very much in the past for me, and I’m really not all that interested in talking about the past, only the present and the future.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You were widely quoted as saying you just wanted to still be around in 2003 to be able to see the final part of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy…
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, that’s quite true.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: …Which is why it was obviously upsetting for you when you found out that Peter Jackson had cut your final death scene from THE RETURN OF THE KING. Production designer Grant Major told me that the scene was originally supposed to appear at the end of THE TWO TOWERS and after it wasn’t used, Peter Jackson put it at the beginning of THE RETURN OF THE KING, then decided to cut it out because he thought it slowed down the opening of the picture:
GRANT MAJOR: Producer Barrie Osborne and I came up with the idea for Saruman’s death scene. As you know, Christopher Lee is very well known for his parts in the various Dracula films, and of course, Dracula traditionally gets done in by driving a stake through the heart. So Barrie and I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to quote that same sort of death for Saruman?” The death of Saruman was written in the script to happen at Isengard, where Grimma Wormtongue actually stabs him in the back and he falls off the top of Orthanc tower and goes all the way down to his death, landing on this treadmill structure of his own devising which has these large spikes sticking out of it. So Saruman is impaled on this huge spike. That was originally going to happen at the end of THE TWO TOWERS, as sort of a finale, but it didn’t appear, so now I suspect it’s going to be used in THE RETURN OF THE KING.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I was really outraged when Barrie Osborne called to tell me I wasn’t going to be in the third film. He told me they were worried about keeping my scene in the third film because everybody would think it was a continuation of THE TWO TOWERS, after you see me and Grimma on the balcony of Orthanc looking horrified as everything around us is being flooded. They felt if they included it in the opening of THE RETURN OF THE KING it would seem like a continuation of THE TWO TOWERS. I thought that was rather strange, because it is a continuation of THE TWO TOWERS and it’s a crucial part of the story. You can’t have Saruman looking frantic on a balcony while everything in Isengard is being destroyed and then never see him again! The audience needed and indeed, they demanded to know what happened to Saruman!
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The restored scene in the extended DVD is quite marvelous, because after you vainly attempt to persuade King Théoden to make peace, you become enraged, shouting at him, “What is the house of Rohan but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek and their brats roll on the floor with the dogs,” which is dialogue taken straight out of the book.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, and even in defeat Saruman can still exert his power and that makes them uneasy. You see, I had to make the audience believe that Saruman is still a very considerable hypnotist, particularly with his voice. There’s a chapter in The Two Towers called The Voice of Saruman and Tolkien describes Saruman’s voice as “low and melodious—its very sound an enchantment.” Saruman is able to hypnotize people with his voice and at first he succeeds. People fall under his spell, but not King Théoden and not Gandalf. They now see him for what he is. He then says to Gandalf, “Oh, you want information do you. I can give you some. You are all going to die!” That is, of course vicious and sarcastic. Later, in the book, Gandalf finally laughs at Saruman, and then the other side of his character is revealed: the hatred and the fury when something doesn’t go the way he wants it too. So part of it is savage and harsh, part of it is sarcasm and contempt and part of it is “I know things you don’t, things you have failed to see.”
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Since you knew so much about the Tolkien books, did you have any kind of capacity on the film as an unofficial advisor?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, I don’t recall that. But members of the cast and crew where always trying to catch me out. They’d ask me questions like, “what was the name of Frodo’s father,” or “what was the name of this or that sword.” Things like that. Well, they never caught me out—not once! They tried, but they never did.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You had to go back several times to shoot additional scenes for all three movies?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I went back to New Zealand four times to shoot pick-up shots. I think everybody else went back, as well, with the possible exception of Cate Blanchett and Ian Holm. But everybody else went back at one time or another, because they can’t take any chances. They can’t take risks. Once they start editing the picture, if they feel an extra scene is needed, or additional bits of dialogue or action are needed, then they have to call us back. It’s in our contract.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It must have been hard on you having to fly back to New Zealand so many times.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, that’s the downside of shooting there. The tremendous length of the journey, even if you break it up, is 25 hours in the air, which is very tiring, particularly to someone of my age. The other thing is that we seemed to have done most of the pick-up shooting in our summer, which is their winter. Many people don’t realize this, but New Zealand is south of the equator, so they were bang in the middle of winter. Before I arrived there in June, they had several weeks of sunshine, but I’m afraid I brought gales and sheeting rain with me. There were 70 mph winds and bitter cold. On the southern island, in places like Christchurch, there were blizzards and vicious cold, because the further south you go, the closer you get to Antarctica. So many of us got sick with the flu, or something like it. Most of the cast, in fact, since if you are working on a set that is hot and dusty and anybody has anything wrong with them it’s going to go around very rapidly. So if you walk out of the set to go to your caravan or to make-up, into the kind of weather we had to put up with, it was murder!
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you have to re-dub a lot of your dialogue?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I did most of it here in London, because it is very difficult to use direct sound in New Zealand, as the studio was a former paint factory that was not sound proofed. It was right bang by the airport runway, so there were planes all over the place and that meant we had to re-record all of the dialogue afterwards in a sound studio. Some members of the cast did their ADR afterwards in a sound proof studio in New Zealand, as hardly any of the direct sound could be used. For people playing major roles that go through all three films, like Frodo, Sam and Gandalf, it means they have to do their entire roles all over again in the sound studio.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Would you prefer not having to re-dub your dialogue?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, I’ve done it for years and years, so the technical aspects of re-recording doesn’t disturb me at all. The problem, which is the same for everybody, not just for me, is that it’s not just a question of getting the right lip-sync to the lines, which even experienced actors find difficult. It’s also a question of getting it right in terms of the atmosphere, the tone, the pauses, the voice going up, or going down. You’ve got to repeat all that in a sound studio, following the original soundtrack, which you can hear of course, but it can’t be used. Sometimes you can improve on it, but the problem is, that you’re there alone. If you were playing scenes with other people, which one does all the time, they are no longer there! And the same thing applies to them. I’ve never in my life done any looping or post-synching with another actor, because you can’t get them together at the same time. I think that is the most difficult thing: not having anybody to act with. What must be absolute hell is when somebody has to play a quiet romantic scene and the woman is there without the man, or vice-versa. That is really difficult, although it didn’t apply in my case.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Besides being cut from the RETURN OF THE KING, I was rather surprised your name wasn’t mentioned as best supporting actor in any of the trade ads New Line Cinema ran for the first two films.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, that didn’t bother me, because it’s not a question of whether I’m mentioned, or whether my name is in a certain position in the credits. It’s what’s on the screen that is far more important than any critical reviews. You were saying some very nice things about my performance in the film. Well some people have agreed with you and some people haven’t even mentioned that. But it’s what’s on the screen that counts. I keep saying that, because it’s true. It is what’s on the screen that the audience looks at, what the industry looks at and what the Academy members looks at. Isn’t that the really important thing?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Yes, exactly. And now after your roles in THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the two STAR WARS movies all you need is a part in one of the HARRY POTTER pictures to complete a triple-crown of the three top-grossing fantasy series of the new millennium.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: It’s funny you should say that, because after my agent had seen the script for the first HARRY POTTER movie, she was talking to one of the producers and said to him, “there’s a part in the film that would be ideal for Christopher Lee.” Well, this producer gave her a look of absolute horror and said, “oh, but he’s already played a Wizard.” Now wouldn’t you think that a smart producer might say, “oh, he’s going to play a Wizard in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, that’s going to be an enormous success, let’s get him for HARRY POTTER.” I’ve read the first HARRY POTTER book and it seems to me that it is really for children, although I think grown up people can enjoy it as well. On the other hand, THE LORD OF THE RINGS is not for children, and when I say children, I mean younger children, those under nine or ten years old, although some of them will undoubtedly still go to see it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Orson Welles talked about being what he called a “King actor.” He felt he was an actor who did his best work when playing people of great power, whether they were Kings, Prime Ministers or Wizards.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, these kinds of parts are very definitely a challenge to the actor. In the case of Saruman you have to make the audience believe in his immense power. You have to make people believe that here is a man who is an immortal in a human body. The question is, what’s he going to do with that power? Does he control it? Does he believe in his own destiny, or are there any doubts? All of these things are in the books.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You’ve said several times that you think THE LORD OF THE RINGS will go down in cinema history.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I said that on my second day of work on the film, when the executives from New Line Cinema arrived in New Zealand and asked me how I thought everything was going. I said, “You are creating cinema history!” I think everyone connected with the pictures has. These films will be seen for years and years, long after the HARRY POTTER films have—I won’t say faded away—but perhaps, have lost their appeal. It is the soul of Tolkien on the screen. This film is a modern miracle and it will be remembered for a long, long time. Professor Tokien had a vision for a very long period of time. Peter Jackson had a vision. And I have my own vision: I see Professor Tokien walking over to Peter Jackson, shaking his hand and saying, “well done my boy, well done.”