Ring Masters

Ringers should keep their ears pricked for insider winks, such as the hobbits' discussion of "a short cut to mushrooms," a sly reference to an FOTR chapter title. Other changes may be less welcome, especially Jackson's dismissal of Tolkien's forest dweller Tom Bombadil (think of him as LOTR's Boba Fett--a marginal character with a bizarrely passionate following). "Maybe there's another film in which Tom Bombadil can appear in all his glory," McKellen says. "But in getting the story going, [he's] a big distraction. And you're not doing damage to the novel because it still exists. It's not as if we bought up every copy and destroyed them." As for the rumored transformation of Arwen into a girl gladiator? "There was some fighting with her from the Miramax days," Jackson admits. "But in this version, she completely hews to the book. Well, she does ride a horse."

During the long shoot, the four young hobbits road-tripped around the island, jamming to Travis and Coldplay. "We'd go bungee-jumping, try surfing," Monaghan says. "Billy and I learned to scuba dive, Elijah and I DJ'd in bars." The nine actors in the Fellowship checked into a Wellington tattoo parlor to get inked with the number nine in Celtic. "I was so not a tattoo kind of person," Astin says. "Yet somehow I couldn't believe I'd fly away from these islands and have no permanent record. Movies are just light and shadow." Astin got his on his ankle to commemorate a year spent in smothering, furry hobbit feet.

If the cast and crew avoided the usual tantrums and ego trips of a film set, all bow to the notoriously easygoing Jackson. "He's just a good human being," hobbit Boyd says. "He doesn't lose his patience. There's so many people's money and careers hanging on a moviemaker's shoulders, and he just seems to take it in stride." Wood agrees: "He's a sweet-natured, lovely guy--he's childlike in a way. His sense of visuals is brilliant. As far as direction, there wasn't a whole lot. It was pretty simplistic."

Particularly for latecomer Mortensen, who'd missed out on rehearsal. "There was no conversation, it was just, like, get on with it," he says. "I think you can avoid errors and reshoots by talking things through, but there isn't always time. And I don't think [Peter's] inclined to dwell on stuff like that." Astin occasionally sparred with Jackson over his interpretation of Sam, who the actor feared was veering toward cowardly comic relief. "I didn't want to be like the Bakshi cartoon, which I hated," he says. "I think [Jackson] enjoyed that aspect of the hobbits. And if you read the books, the phrase Sam bursts into tears is there, like, 500 times. But I didn't want to undermine his credibility for the rest of the trilogy."

Character development aside, even the basic logistics of filming proved nettlesome. The hobbits needed to appear about three to four feet tall--tiny compared with, say, the seven-foot Gandalf. This was often accomplished using forced perspective, placing McKellen consistently closer to the camera than Wood in order to trick the eye into thinking McKellen is towering. In other scenes, a diminutive Kiwi wearing a mask would stand in for the hobbits, with their lines shouted from out of camera range. Occasionally F/X wizardry got involved: In the opening party scene in Fellowship, in which Gandalf bursts into Bilbo's hobbit hole, the two Ians (McKellen and Holm) were never even in the same room together.

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