The Fellowship of the Ring London Premiere

Stars launch first episode of Tolkien's Ring cycle
By Hugh Davies
(Filed: 11/12/2001)

THE Australian actress Cate Blanchett missed last night's world premiere in London of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first episode of the £210 million Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Miss Blanchett, 32, who gave birth to her first child, a boy, last Wednesday, was absent from the glittering ceremony, although she had been photographed walking in London with Dashiell at the weekend.

Liv Tyler, who is the daughter of Aerosmith's front man Steve Tyler and plays Arwen the elf, arrived in a scarlet Alexander McQueen dress. She said: "I am very nervous. I've been back and forth fitting this dress all afternoon."

Christopher Lee, who plays the dark wizard Saruman, said that he usually avoided premieres. "But this one is extra special. All the filming in New Zealand is now over. I am in the second part - I'm not sure about the third."

Sean Bean, who plays Boromir, said: "I think this trilogy will be even more popular than Star Wars."

Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf the wizard, flew into London by Concorde from New York to be at the premiere. The British actor, who is appearing on Broadway with Helen Mirren in Orpheus

Descending, called the film his biggest: "It's like a Fritz Lang epic - it's biblical."

With him was an executive producer of the film, Saul Zaentz, 80, a legendary Hollywood figure who told of how he bought the rights to the J R R Tolkien stories back in 1977.

Tolkien, faced with a tax bill, originally sold them in 1958, for £100. Speaking in the foyer of the Odeon Leicester Square, Zaentz said: "I spent around 20 million - dollars that is.

"It was a hell of a lot of money in those days. The move, made in all innocence, is now looking rather smart."

Experts say the film must collect £420 million to be counted as an indisputable success - a sum excluding merchandising profits that could easily be as much. The gruffly-spoken Zaentz is renowned for hits such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient.

He stands to take a fair share of the film's profits, while Warner already has a financial cushion in the £200 million expected by the end of the year from Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone.

Zaentz has waited nearly two decades before granting permission for the film, following the box office disaster in 1978 of the animated version of The Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson, the director, said: "It has been an all-consuming, exhausting experience. At times I was almost driven insane."

Whether the middle-earth epic can emulate the Harry Potter success is debatable. There was applause at a press showing yesterday, but some critics reckoned that at 2hrs 58mins, the movie, which ends in an anti-climax, may be too much of an adventure to take.

Christopher Tolkien, 76, son of the author, has cast doubts about the viability of spending so much in producing the films. A reclusive figure, living in a villa in Provence, he has not been photographed for 60 years.

His only comment was through his solicitor, saying that the books were "peculiarly unsuitable to transformation into visual dramatic form".

The only Tolkien at the premiere was Christopher's son Simon, who has been ostracised for offering a modicum of backing for the project. He arrived with his family, avoiding contact with the media.

He has said of his father: "He won't talk to me on the phone. When I call, he just puts the phone down."
While the Tolkien estate will not benefit from the vast movie operation, sales of the books, for which the family has negotiated a 50 per cent royalty deal, are likely to soar far beyond the current total of over £100 million.

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