As ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film turns 20, we look back on how Harvey Weinstein almost axed it – Screen Shot
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As ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film turns 20, we look back on how Harvey Weinstein almost axed it

“One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.” If the bells of memory are working right in your old noggin, then you know that these are the opening lines of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of a three-part monolith that is The Lord of the Rings film series, which also spurred on the release of another epic film box set to binge that started with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. On par with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was also released in the same year, The Fellowship of the Ring is the movie that made fantasy ‘cool’ again.

Imagining a world without LOTR is almost impossible, The Fellowship of the Ring was a trailblazer and part of the exclusive club of blockbusters recognised at the Oscars. The first film picked up 13 nominations and took home four in 2002. However, recent news shared earlier this week has revealed that Ringers could have been left high and dry—and movie-less—if Harvey Weinstein had his way. Now, I won’t point out the elephant in the room that is Weinstein’s predatory abuse and sexual assault convictions, as Sofia Gallarate already did for Screen Shot back in April 2020. What we’re here to focus on is how the former film producer was just as difficult to battle off as Sauron’s army in The Fellowship of The Ring.

In celebration of its 20 year anniversary, The Independent sat down with the star-studded cast of the movie series and got the real tea from behind the scenes—speaking to everyone from Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies and Sean Bean to Billy Boyd, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, and the ever-so-gorgeous Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett.

The anniversary piece dabbles in everything from the crew hiking through the evergreen hills of New Zealand to find the perfect spot to shoot according to production designer Grant Major to the great lengths the art department went through to bring director Peter Jackson and the novel series’ writer J.R.R. Tolkein’s lovechild to life. Even the LOTR audition and casting process got spotlighted by the publication as Andy Serkis, who played the gruesome Gollum explained how he prepared for the exigent role. 

“I started building Gollum psychologically, emotionally and physically, going through the book and taking Tolkien’s descriptions. When I was looking for inspiration, my cat came into my kitchen and started coughing up a furball. I watched his whole spine ripple and this sound coming out of him that was like a trapped voice, so I incorporated that into the audition,” Serkis shared with The Independent.

Even Elijah Wood opened up about his own unusual path to becoming the Frodo Baggins we all know and love: “As you can imagine, every single living, breathing actor wanted to audition for it. I didn’t want to do a traditional audition because I find the process very fraught and it makes me nervous. I wanted to make the biggest impression I could, so I dressed up like a Hobbit and got a voice coach to work on the dialect.”

“Then I went out to Griffith Park [in Los Angeles] and shot a tape from multiple different angles and sent that VHS to the casting director,” Wood continued. “Fast forward several months and Peter Jackson phones and asks if I want to be Frodo.”

One of the most interesting tidbits to come out of this candid interview with the film’s cast and crew is the fact that Weinstein allegedly came incredibly close to kicking Jackson—the only man who could manage to pull off this goliath of a movie—entirely off the project. How crazy is that?

The Independent stated that many tried and failed to bring the quest to Mordor to the big screen, including famous filmmaker John Boorman as well as The Beatles. Say what? Due to its insurmountable depth, intricate worldbuilding rivalled by none, and Tolkien’s lofty lore, for a long time, the prospect of it ever seeing the silver screen was more ludicrous than little Frodo venturing out of his shire.

Back then, Jackson was most known for the Oscar-nominated 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. He now has three Oscars to his name, with a total of nine nominations. The film director understood the perils that awaited him in taking on the challenging task of adapting LOTR and the scope of Tolkien’s work, which he would have to make digestible for average moviegoers, but he steeled himself up and took a crack at it anyway. Surely, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Well, we now know that it was indeed messy.

American film critic and YouTuber Lindsay Ellis has comprehensively chronicled the entire explosion and dumpster fire of the LOTR filming process. For those of you who want the short version, it was absolute hell to film. The problem didn’t necessarily lie with the way the first film came about, after finally clawing itself out of the production hole it was stuck in, since Ellis also covered how the stroke of bad luck stained The Hobbit series over a decade after The Fellowship of the Ring’s initial release. What’s interesting is the trouble started before the lights and cameras went up. In fact, the film was initially doomed to fail from its inception as Jackson turned to American entertainment company Miramax, which was co-founded by the Weinstein brothers, to pitch them The Fellowship of the Ring.

While Weinstein’s ego could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, the film was already teetering on tracks of turmoil. First of all, Jackson endured a lot of developmental drama at Miramax. The nearly two-year production schedule was fraught with ordeals in New Zealand where it was filmed. Though it was as far as you could get from Hollywood, that didn’t seem to matter as bust-ups were plenty both on set and behind the scenes.

In the beginning, the Weinstein brothers were incredibly supportive of Jackson’s vision, but things took a sharp turn after Disney decided to get involved. Disney was Miramax’s corporate owner—meaning they pulled the strings of this puppet show. The House of Mouse refused to greenlight the budget needed for the films, which was by no means a petty change but one that was absolutely necessary. This translated into the Weinsteins giving Jackson and his team an unfathomable task in order to avoid the production company shredding the film to pieces.

On the topic, Jackson’s manager Ken Kamins told The Independent, “Harvey was excited. We found that very encouraging and thought we’d have room to tell the stories, only we weren’t paying attention to the political dynamic between Miramax and Disney. Disney had set a budget cap on Miramax and The Lord of the Rings was well in excess of what they could greenlight on their own. When Disney realised the budget and that we were going to shoot the films back-to-back, […] they made it very clear they were not on board.”

“So then began the very tortured process of Harvey not wanting to admit to the Disney pushback and then at the same time saying to Peter, ‘This is what you have to do’,” he continued. To save their movie, Jackson and his crew had to put up with ridiculous demands made solely to keep Disney happy. Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s brother, reportedly wanted to kill three characters at one point—no harm came to any hobbits though, don’t worry.

It was also said that Weinstein would often direct his anger at Jackson, leading him to threaten the latter to rope in Quentin Tarantino to direct the series if Jackson wasn’t up for the task.

Mark Ordesky, a production manager who worked at New Line Cinema at the time, explained how gruelling this all was, “Eventually, I go to Harvey and say, ‘You have to give us a window to shop it’. A traditional window [to try and sell a property to a different studio] is between six and 12 months. Harvey gave us three weeks. He also wanted a $12 million advance to cover what Miramax had spent and five per cent of the total gross, and to be named as an executive producer. We had three weeks to sell The Lord of the Rings to another studio or the rights were Harvey’s and he’d kick Peter off the project.”

Though Disney controlled the reins mostly, other influences had their sticky fingers in the pie too. In a bid to find the cheapest road to release, the Weinsteins were “pursuing all the major studios and all the indie financiers, including New Line,” noted Ordesky. “So Peter comes in with his presentation, which was a 30-minute video. It answered all the questions a studio would ask: how he was going to use real actors and make them appear three feet tall; how Gollum would manifest; why Peter was the right person to make the films.”

New Line’s founder Robert (also known as Bob) Shaye ignored all the risks and signed off on Jackson, or as Kamins put it to The Independent, “he rolled the dice and he took a shot.” Then, the dreaded three-film trilogy talk started and quickly gained traction. Kamins further revealed that it was actually Shaye’s idea to make it a trilogy instead of the originally planned two films, “Bob goes ‘There’s three books, why are you only making two films?’”

Decisions, decisions and more dreadful decisions put the film in dire distress, but the team managed to come out the other side victorious nonetheless. “[New Line] said yes on Monday and were out of pocket $12 million by Wednesday. Harvey was absolutely stunned. He set us up to fail and expected us to fail. But he got his five per cent,” Kamins concluded.

Oh, and do you want to hear my absolute favourite fact about LOTR? According to Wood, one orc among many was designed to resemble Weinstein as a “sort of fuck you” to the notorious producer, he told the Hollywood podcast Armchair Expert.

The Harry Potter cast is returning to Hogwarts and JK Rowling is not invited

Harry Potter: a staple in the starter pack on how to spot a millennial muggle, the film franchise that brought the fantasy genre back for children and adults alike, remains a mainstay in the festive season. 2021s holiday season is topping the previous yearly Potter marathons with a Harry Potter cast reunion anniversary special taking place on New Year’s Day. It’s been 20 years since the first film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone graced our screens and changed film fandoms forever.

Try not to feel too old though weary youngsters, even though nostalgia is everywhere and social media is catching on to remind us that we’re actually kind of old. The holidays are simply not complete, no matter how old you are, without bingeing the adventures of fresh faced Harry, Ron and Hermione as they traverse the world of dreaded dementors, deathly hallows and you know who.

According to a recent announcement, the special will be released on HBO Max. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is set to stream on 1 January 2022 in the US, with its UK air date and broadcaster yet to be confirmed. The feature will “tell an enchanting making-of story through all-new, in-depth interviews and cast conversations,” as mentioned in its teaser trailer. All eight Harry Potter films are already available to stream on the network.

With a new range of funky new Funko POP toys to mark the anniversary, the star-studded cast will be coming back to where it all began, at the home of Hogwarts (aka Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter). Celebrations appear to be in order as our Gryffindor trio are set to reunite on screen, along with Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets director Chris Columbus, ten years after the last film in the franchise—which was based on JK Rowling’s books and took in some $7.8 billion at the global box office—was released.

The tribute to the first film will debut with the premiere of the bracket-style quiz competition Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses on 28 November on both TBS and Cartoon Network, according to Variety. Oddly enough though, there seems to be no mention of the writer that made one of the greatest—and thankfully fictional—villains in history, Rowling. In fact, in all mention of this wonderful occasion, it’s only been revealed that the writer will not feature in the special at all. Hmm, we wonder why…

“It has been an incredible journey since the debut of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone film, and witnessing how it has evolved into this remarkable interconnected universe has been magical to say the least,” Warner Bros’ president of global kids, young adults and classics Tom Aschiem said in a statement.

“This retrospective is a tribute to everyone whose lives were touched by this cultural phenomenon—from the talented cast and crew who poured their heart and soul into this extraordinary film franchise to the passionate fans who continue to keep the Wizarding World spirit alive 20 years later,” Aschiem continued.

The special will bring back famous faces from all eight films with a discussion of the monumental Potter legacy. There are even talks of this nostalgic stroll down memory lane including never before seen clips and behind the scenes said to be part of the retrospective. Back in the boarding school sets, we will see our original darling leads Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, which is all the rage since the three have never reunited in an official capacity since the franchise ended in 2011.

Other fan favourites said to appear include the marvellous Bellatrix Lestrange herself (Helena Bonham Carter), shaggy-haired Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and the terrifying he who shall not be named (Ralph Fiennes). Other cavalry cast members on the list are Sirius Black’s Gary Oldman, Draco Malfoy’s Tom Felton, Dolores Umbridge’s Imelda Staunton and Neville Longbottom’s Matthew Lewis. Even the Weasleys—Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Mark Williams and Bonnie Wright—have managed to weasel their way into this grand get-together. On the sets are also the iconic (and my favourite character) Luna Lovegood played by Evanna Lynch and Dean Thomas played by Alfred Enoch. However, Rowling—the mind behind all of these characters—won’t be there.

R​​owling isn’t set to make a personal appearance, which may make some of us jump for joy. While the best-selling author won’t be present in the reunion festivities, she is expected to feature in archival footage—alas, it seems we can’t get rid of her entirely as she did create Harry Potter in the end. Sources have told Hollywood Reporter that the special will focus on the creation of the film and the “central” team behind it. But, isn’t Rowling (unfortunately) part of that? Well, it seems Hollywood is finally taking a stand against transphobic comments, and not asking fans to push past their valid feelings against the writer for the sake of the franchise they oh-so-dearly know and love. About damn time.

I think it’s pretty obvious why Rowling is going to be a no-show at this celebratory special. Her absence is a result of many controversies surrounding her views on gender identity and comments she has previously made about the transgender community. All of which sparked rightful backlash from fans and even the film’s cast members. Rowling’s transphobia is not just poorly worded Twitter musings either, they were deliberate and insulting. The writer did even more damage by knuckling under in a series of tweets—one read: “It isn’t hate to speak the truth”—to defend her horrible points against the trans community.

This debacle included Rowling taking a stance on the definition of what it means to be a woman, particularly relating to menstruation, tweeting that she had issues with the phrase ‘people who menstruate’. When the writer came under fire for her comments on sexuality, she didn’t back down, stating, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”

She kept digging her hole deeper by continuing, “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women—ie, to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is nonsense.”

Rowling has stated that she “respects every trans person’s right to live in a way that feels authentic and comfortable to them,” but added that it’s not “hateful” for her to discuss that her life “has been shaped by being female.” In further defence of her harmful tweets, she released an essay in 2020, where she stated that her trans issues stemmed from being a survivor of abuse, which gave her concerns about single sex spaces. Still way too hung up on other people’s bodily functions, Rowling shared the article online and wrote, “‘People who menstruate’. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Numerous outlets like The Cut, Glamour and Deadline have since dissected this piece and the willfully ignorant transphobia it continues to push.

“I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces,” Rowling wrote.

Radcliffe was among the first to slam Rowling’s vocabulary choices in an article for The Trevor Project. In response to her tweets he said that “transgender women are women.” The actor gave a heartfelt apology to those whose experiences with the Harry Potter books were tarnished by Rowling’s words. Watson—UN Women Goodwill Ambassador—wrote a series of tweets to her 29.1 million Twitter followers quickly after Rowling came under fire: “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.” Grint joined his fellow castmates by choosing to release his own statement on the furore in 2020, where he stated: “I firmly stand with the trans community.” He went on to tell The Times: “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgment.” In a separate interview with the publication, he also addressed why he waited so long to stand up against Rowling’s hate speech.

Even Eddie Redmayne, who starred in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, chimed in to make it “absolutely clear” that he did not agree with Rowling in a lengthy statement to Variety.

Regardless of Rowling’s controversial commentary, this train to Hogwarts is chugging on without her. The TV special is one of several 20th anniversary events planned by Warner Bros, including a TV quiz contest for Potter fans hosted by Helen Mirren. “The excitement is palpable as they prepare to take their fans on a very special and personal journey, through the making of these incredible films,” Ascheim stated about the upcoming celebration.

So dust off your wands and grab your capes because the wizarding world we missed so much is opening its doors for fun all round, and luckily, without JK Rowling trailing right behind.