The ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy hit that increasingly rare sweet spot between the critics and the box office, combining to win 30 Oscars and gross $2.9 billion worldwide. To this day, it remains a landmark series that revitalized fantasy in pop culture and introducting J.R.R. Tolkien to a new generation. In celebration of its 15th anniversary, here are 15 facts about “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
Peter Jackson almost didn’t get the chance to turn “Lord of the Rings” into a movie series. Back in the 60s, the Beatles wanted to adapt “LOTR” themselves, with Paul McCartney as Frodo, Ringo Starr as Sam, George Harrison as Gandalf, John Lennon as Gollum, and Stanley Kubrick as director. Thankfully, Kubrick declined the project, instead going on to make “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Then Tolkien, who still had the film rights to his books, shut down the project for good.
When pitching the film to various studios, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh presented a screenplay for two movies, believing that no studio would ever greenlight a trilogy. At first, only Miramax showed interest, but with the caveat that the screenplay be further cut to fit the entire “LOTR” story into one movie. As a last ditch attempt, Jackson pitched the film to New Line, who asked for the screenplay to be turned into a trilogy.
Christopher Lee is the only member of the cast or crew to have met Tolkien. In fact, Lee mentioned in the extended cut commentary for “Fellowship” that Tolkien had given him his blessing to play Gandalf in any potential film adaptation of “LOTR.” But when Lee auditioned for Gandalf, he was asked to play Saruman instead, as it was believed he was too old to play Gandalf. Lee accepted the role, but agreed that Ian McKellen was right for Gandalf.
Viggo Mortensen initially didn’t have much interest in playing Aragorn, but took the role after his Tolkien-loving son, Henry, pleaded for him to accept the role. After learning more about Aragorn, Mortensen viewed the character’s sword as the key element to his character and carried it with him at all times during filming, even when he was not on set.
For his fight scenes, Mortensen was trained by Bob Andersen, one of the most legendary sword fight choreographers in film history. A former Olympic fencer, Andersen trained actors like Cary Elwes in “The Princess Bride,” Sean Connery in “Highlander” and Errol Flynn in “The Master of Ballantrae.” But his greatest claim to fame is his work in “Star Wars,” where he wore the Darth Vader suit for the lightsaber duels against Luke Skywalker in “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”
Being a dwarf, Gimli is the shortest of the warriors in the Fellowship. But his actor, John Rhys-Davies, is over six feet tall. For some wider shots, a body double was used to make sure Gimli didn’t look taller than Legolas or Aragorn.
Rhys-Davies also had to sit through three hours of makeup to get the big nose and beard so common amongst dwarves. Unfortunately, the makeup severely impaired his vision and triggered an allergic reaction to his skin that caused it to get inflammed. Despite this, Rhys-Davies swung Gimli’s axe in every fight scene, though he had to skip every other day of shooting to allow his skin to recover from the makeup.
Every role required extensive time in the makeup department, but for the hobbits it was especially tough. Elijah Wood and his fellow halflings had to get up at 5 AM to get fitted for the trademark hairy hobbits’ feet. They were not allowed to sit while the feet were applied because their ankles would bend and cause the prosthetics to warp, so the actors had to stand for over an hour while the feet were applied.
If you look closely, you might notice that Legolas’ eyes change color from scene to scene. That’s because the blue contact lenses Orlando Bloom wore would have damaged his eyes if he wore them every day of shooting. The visual effects team was able to digitally change Bloom’s brown eyes for some scenes, but not all of them.
The scenes for the Shire were filmed near the small farming town of Matamata in northern New Zealand. A portion of the set was left behind after filming for “LOTR” fans to take tours of, and was rebuilt in greater detail when Jackson returned to direct the “Hobbit” films. Visitors can now even have an ale at a fully-functioning Green Dragon inn.
During Bilbo’s birthday party, you can see Jackson’s children, Billy and Katie, among the kids listening to Bilbo tell tales of his adventures with Gandalf. Billy is the only actor in the entire “LOTR” trilogy who did not wear a wig, as his dad noted that his naturally curly hair was perfect for a hobbit.
You can spot Peter Jackson playing an extra in each of the three “LOTR” and “Hobbit” films. In “Fellowship,” look for the scene where the hobbits arrive at the Prancing Pony in Bree. Jackson can be spotted munching on a carrot outside the inn.
Sean Bean, who played Boromir, said in a making-of interview that he was scared of heights and hated helicopter flights. Jackson noted that during a later scene, Bean refused to fly to a remote set and instead hiked and climbed for two hours in full costume to get to the location.
Ironically, the scene where the Fellowship struggles through the blizzard on Caradhras was filmed on a soundstage under extremely hot spotlights. The snow was actually a rice-based compound that severely irritated the skin and eyes of the actors. On the flip side, many scenes filmed on-location were done during the winter, even though it was meant to be spring in Middle-Earth.
While filming the scene where Sam tries to stop Frodo from going to Mordor alone, Sean Astin stepped on a piece of broken glass while running into the water. The wound was bleeding so severely that he had to be airlifted back to a hospital.
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