The thing is, the first movie is nearly two years away. Think I'm overreacting, overexcited? You're probably right, but I'm not the only one. As I write this, principal filming has begun. To spread my enthusiasm around, I decided to write a two-part article about the crew and cast of LotR, respectively. In this first article, I'll analyze and give my impressions on the key members of the crew (the full 400+ list of which was just recently revealed). Seeing as this might take a while, I'd better get to it.
Director- Peter Jackson. He has done a number of independent horror/comedy films, including Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and Brain Dead aka Dead Alive. Now you're probably rattling off all kind of obscenities, but wait. After these films, Peter Jackson went on to create Heavenly Creatures, the critically acclaimed film that garnered him and his writing partner Frances Walsh an Oscar nomination for their screenplay (they along with Stephen Sinclair and script editor Philippa Boyens have fashioned the scripts for the LotR films). He also directed the larger budget FX-filled film The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox. PJ, as most of his fans call him, has long been a sort of favorite of many of the movie geeks who roam the Internet, and he has a passion for the LotR. Q&As conducted with him by Harry Knowles of AICN have shown that PJ is a man who seems trustworthy of holding this mega-movie epic in his hands. Not to mention, New Line seems to believe in him enough to give him $180 million, roughly equivalent to $360 million in the cash of New Zealand, where the movies are being filmed concurrently. I think Jackson has a creative personality, and with the talented crew backing him, I also believe he can pull off this movie with a lot of flair. However, he has not had experience making "large" films, so this may be a small concern.
Producers-- Tim Sanders, Peter Jackson, and Barrie M. Osborne. Sanders and Jackson co-produced The Frighteners while Barrie M. Osborne produced huge films such as Face Off and The Matrix. This is a nice blend of two fresh and open minds along with one guy who knows his Hollywood.
Conceptual Designers-- Alan Lee and John Howe. These two men are widely considered to be in the top five, or even top three Tolkien artists of the world. Alan Lee has had previous experience in such a position when he worked on Erik the Viking (whatever you do, don't watch this movie--but the designs were OK). Both of them have a natural grasp of Tolkien's world, have nice style, and working together should be able to come up with some kick-booty designs. Unfortunately, I have yet to see an at least partially satisfying picture of a Balrog from any artist, including these guys. Hopefully they will be able to storm up something special.
Costume Designer-- Ngila Dickson. She worked with Jackson on Heavenly Creatures and also did much of the costume designing for Young Hercules and Xena: You Know Who. Umm, before you start to get sick, think about it. As far as experience in designing fantasy costumes goes, this lady's pretty far up there. I think that, with conceptual design coming from Howe and Lee along with more money and time to work, Dickson should do an admirable job on costumes.
Supervising Art Director-- Dan Hennah. This guy is basically a Frighteners alumni who also worked with Ngila Dickson on The Rainbow Warrior in 1992, and Nate and Hayes in 1983. Not exactly the most experienced fellow, but he's worked with many members of the crew before and thus should have good chemistry with them. As a director of any kind, good chemistry with the crew is a must.
Production Illustrator-- Paul Lasaine. A matte painter and supervisor who worked on Dave, The Pelican Brief, and Alien 3. Alien 3 is the key movie here. Even if you didn't like the movie, it was a good test of a matte painter's skills, so I'm glad to hear Lasaine is going to be a key factor in LotR's artwork.
Assistant Directors-- Caro Cunningham (1st), Guy Campbell (2nd), and Jo Pearse (3rd). Jo Pearse is currently uncredited, but if I don't mistake myself, Caro and Guy both have a nice repertoire. You see, Caro is only credited with one movie-- No Escape starring Ray Liotta of Goodfellas fame and Lance Henriksen of Millenium. I believe that Caro Cunningham is really one Carolynne Cunningham going by a slightly different name. Why? Well, Carolynne and Guy have worked on a lot of films together, including Paradise Road, The Sum of Us, Shine, Survive the Savage Sea, A Difficult Woman, Back of Beyond, and the Patrick Stewart Moby Dick. Guy is credited on No Escape. Carolynne is not. Caro is. It doesn't take a leap of logic to assume that Caro is Carolynne. If I'm right, than these two assistant directors were excellent, excellent choices.
Director of Photography (Cinematographer)-- An extremely important position, and here it is filled by an Aussie named Andrew Lesnie. Some of his previous work includes Temptation of a Monk, Two if by Sea, Babe, and Babe: Pig in the City. Don't laugh. I actually think that this is one of the best picks in the entire crew. Two if by Sea may have been a wretched film, but the visuals were nice and captured the beautiful scenery of Nova Scotia. Babe and Babe 2 were indeed children's films, but they were children's films with great cinematography. Lesnie won Australian Cinematographer of the Year for Babe and also for Temptation of a Monk. His work on Doing Time for Patsy Cline also received awards from the Australian
Cinematographers Society and from the Australian Film Institute. Lesnie is the perfectly experienced director of photography to complement the brash and fresh style of PJ's directing; hopefully, the combination of their talents will result in some awesome visuals. Oh yeah, and he's already in the area.
Dialogue Coach-- Andrew Jack. Normally, I wouldn't even mention this position, but films like LotR with all its various dialects and speech patterns needs a good dialogue coach, and they got one. This guy has worked on Hollow Reed, Rasputin, Richard III, and Chaplin. I'm now confident we won't hear any hobbits yelling, "Whoa, dude!" when the Balrog comes into view.
Gaffer (Chief Lighting Technician)-- In a movie, good lighting is essential to help make the whole thing look sweet. Peter Bloor is the gaffer for Lord of the Rings, and if his track record says anything, he should be very good at what he does. The man has worked on Evita, Mercury Rising, Seven Years in Tibet, City Hall, Empire of the Sun, Richard III, The Omen, Star Wars (!), and much, much more. Grrrreeeat!
Make-up Designer-- Yes, LotR is a big project for someone in the make-up department. Peter Owen is the guy on the job. He's worked on The Birdcage, Oscar and Lucinda, The Portrait of a Lady, and Philadelphia. This one concerns me, folks, because Owen has never worked on anything quite like LotR and none of his previous films are exactly what you'd call challenging when compared to the task before him. I just hope he knows what he's getting into.
Physical FX Supervisor-- Steven Ingram. Let's just say that Steve is a PJ alumni, and he's had no experience outside of PJ films. He's a long-time member of WETA Workshop, the physical FX division of WETA Ltd. which is doing all of the movie magic for LotR. Is he any good? Well, those who've worked with him seem to think so.
On-set Physical FX Coordinators-- Rich E. Cordobes and Blair Foord. Now these guys are the dynamic duo! Cordobes has worked on four movies: The Mask of Zorro, Twister, The Rock, and The River Wild. Awesome! Foord is another comrade of PJ's who worked first on The Frighteners and then went on to do special effects stuff for Lethal Weapon 4 and Payback. In case you couldn't tell, I really like these two fellows. I'm sure that Ingram is gonna appreciate their assistance greatly by the time filming is through.
Sound dudes-- Mike Hopkins and John McKay. In a big film, one thing you can't forget to leave out is a good sound editor. Mike Hopkins is an oddity in that he is both a PJ alumni and an experienced sound editor. Mike sound edited for The Frighteners, Heavenly Creatures, and Braindead, but he's also worked on films such as The Last Emperor, Return to Oz, Superman, and Blade Runner. Obvioucly, Hopkins has got himself an aural aura (excuse that lame pun). John McKay is the sound mixer who's worked on three films I'm pretty sure you've never heard of. One out of two ain't bad.
Supervising Storyboard Artist and Associate VFX Art Director-- Christian Rivers, someone who is very involved in the visual preproduction aspects of this film. Christian is yet another one of those PJ friends that's worked on some of his films (Braindead, Heavenly Creature, The Frighteners). No comment.
Set Designers-- Tanea Chapman and Victoria McKenzie. Hmm, well what do you know, Tanea was an art department assistant on The Frighteners while Victoria McKenzie is uncredited. That honestly doesn't sound too good to me, especially since LotR is gonna require some awesome sets to really give the impression that this IS Middle Earth. Once again I'll cross my fingers and wish that the concept art from Howe and Lee will make all the difference.
2nd Unit Director-- John Mahaffie, a camera operator/ cinematographer/ director. Camera operator for Heavenly Creatures, The Piano, No Way Out, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Cinematographer for Young Hercules and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (TV 1995). Director for that Hercules series and a White Fang series in 1993. Thank goodness he ain't the first unit director. His first assistant director is David Norris and his director of photography is some unknown guy named John Cavill.
Stunt Coordinators-- Greg Powell and Bruce Brown. Powell is awesome at stuntwork. He's practiced his art in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Son of the Pink Panther, Far and Away, Interview with the Vampire, First Knight, Michael Collins, Mission: Impossible, The Saint, Lost in Space, and The Mummy. However, Bruce Brown is a variable to me. His company Stuntworx did work for Hercules and The Frighteners and will be the primary source forLotR's stunt people. In a recent interview, Bruce talked a little bit about gearing up for LotR and related some of the various devices that they were using and had been specifically designed for LotR, including a special foam fall mat, a two way air-ram, and a wind machine with 450 horsepower. The guy sounded like a real entrepreneur and a pro, so I think that he and Greg Powell will be orchestrating some pretty spectacular stunts--stuff that will probably make their stunt players say, "Oh, no way! No way!"
Swordsmaster-- LotR is a film that has a LOT of swordfighting. Thus, it is absolutely pivotal that they have a swordsmaster who can expertly choreograph believable and exciting swordfights. Bob Anderson is a fantastically great pick for his position, right up there with Andrew Lesnie. Anderson was the swordsmaster for The Mask of Zorro, The Phantom, First Knight, The Three Musketeers, the Highlander TV series and the first Highlander movie, By the Sword, The Princess Bride, and others. I cannot stress enough how happy I am that Bob is going to be handling the swordwork in LotR. If you've seen The Mask of Zorro, or Highlander, or any of those movies I mentioned, you'll know what I mean. In his domain, Bob Anderson is top dog.
Visual FX Supervisor-- Mark Stetson. Mark's got quite a duty. He has to oversee the making of the LotR's horde of intense visual effects. He's done FX work for 2010, Masters of the Universe, and Die Hard. His first round as VFX supervisor was Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, and he also supervised the visual effects for the upcoming 2000 film, Supernova. No, this man is not Dennis Muren, John Knoll, or some other distinguised fellow born and bred at the wondrous offices at ILM; nonetheless, The Fifth Element had very nice CG effects and Supernova is also an effects-reliant film. I'm very glad that WETA has someone with real experience directing their efforts because they are gonna need it. I don't want the FX looking even remotely like something from NBC's Noah's Ark.
VFX Producer-- Charlie McClellan. Another PJ alumni joins the ranks of the LotR crew. Charlie was the digital FX producer for The Frighteners, which was lsited in VFXHQ's (www.vfxhq.com) top VFX films of 1997 by the way. Under his direction, WETA produced the majority of FX shots for the incredibly impressive "The Ride" sequence in which Jodie Foster is hurtled through space in a vessel of alien design. So there may not be a whole lot of experience there, but there's talent.
Creature Technical Director-- Jamie Pilgrim. Pilgrim's main responsibily is to direct the FX work when it specifically concerns CG creatures. Jamie was a tape operator for Boss Film Studios on Air Force One and Desperate Measure. Then came technical director on 1999's Virus. Finally, and this is the big one, Jamie was the lead animator for The Matrix. This is important because animation is a huge element of CG creatures. I'd say there is only one shot in The Matrix where the animation looked generic, the shot which zooms in on five Sentinels who are closing in on Morpheus' ship. They move just a little too synonymously. The rest of the CG animation for the mechanical creatures was high-quality, however, and leaves me hopeful for the monstrosities in LotR
FX Director-- Richard Taylor. Richard Taylor is the last member of the crew that I'll mention, and it just so happens that he is a PJ alumni like so many of the people working on these films. Taylor is also the head of PJ's WETA Workshop, and PJ's past films have made him somewhat of an expert in physical FX. He was a model and puppet maker for Meet the Feebles, did gore and creature effects for Braindead, prosthetic and miniature effects for Heavenly Creatures, and creature and miniature effects for The Frighteners. In this case, I think Richard actually garnered some good experience in his field from his work with PJ, whose films have always had a lot of physical FX.
There you have my long-winded analysis of only a select few of the crew members who are lucky enough to embark on this movie-making adventure. If you're disgusted with me right now, remember, no one said you had to read the whole thing; you could have easily just taken a peek at the positions that interested you. I personally feel that, on the whole, the crew of this trilogy is a nice mix of nobodies, talented yet only moderatley experienced persons, young minds, and respected veterans. I pray that everything goes well with them as they start their magnum opus, the great work of their careers today. Soon, I'll be back with Part II in which I'll take a look at the myriad of actors and actresses which make up the cast of the LotR.
Until then, I'd advise you to go www.theonering.net if you want to see the full cast list and a lot of other awesome content and news about the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Oh, and thank heavens for the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)!