PRECIOUS TIMES, PRECIOUS MEMORIES
For the characters, and the audience, The Return Of The King marks the end of a journey. For director Peter Jackson, who spent seven years transforming the books into films, the fruits of his labour have only just begun to sink in. Until two weeks ago, Jackson hadn't even seen the finished product. He left it until he was surrounded by family and colleagues, at the world premiere in Wellington, New Zealand.
'I'd finished it reel by reel, and sent it off to New Line Pictures,' he says. 'Then at the end of it I decided not to watch it at that point. I decided to save it.'
Ahead of the premiere, a crowd of some 100,000 lined the streets for a parade through the city that played host to the cast and crew during principal shooting. Fans, many in costume, travelled from all over the world to see their favourite stars, taking up every possible vantage point, from rooftops to lamp posts.
As the director, cast and crew make their way along the route, signing autographs, some admit they've never seen anything like it - not even in Hollywood.
'It's just incredible,' says Orlando Bloom, who plays Legolas. 'It feels like the whole of New Zealand has descended to support Peter and the film and I'm just ... it's incredible. It's quite sort of breathtaking to be honest. I'm trying to enjoy each moment so I don't forget it.'
Veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen says he doesn't mind if this is the only body of work he's remembered for. 'I think if I was to stop acting today and never work again, when I died there'd be some newspaper somewhere saying 'Gandalf dies'. But, of course Gandalf doesn't die; he's immortal,' he says.
After shooting - all three were done in New Zealand over three-and-a-half years - Jackson gave each actor a gift. Elijah Wood, who played Frodo, got to keep the prized ring. As for Sean Astin, who was cast as his friend Sam: 'I was asked what was the most important to me for my character and I liked Sam's bag. I carried that stupid bag for a year. And it wasn't like an ergonomically designed bag with all the latest in outrigger equipment. It was sort of an old-fashioned bag, and they wanted it to look heavy so they put rocks and pots and other things in it - so I have that.'
Viggo Mortensen sums up the experience: 'Like everyone, I got a sword, or a prop that seemed to be most appropriate for their character. But if that prop doesn't get through customs or gets stolen or lost or damaged or something, in the end it's not that big a deal. The thing that I know I take with me is something that's inside. It's the memory of the experience of making these movies and of going to Tolkien school for four years. That's the thing that I value the most.'