Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Wizards’ work

Just a few short days left, and I’m practically giddy. About a movie, I mean.

I’m speaking, of course, of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which opens in most of the world on December 19. It has already been rated the No. 1 movie in Rolling Stone magazine’s top ten movie list for 2001, which I think is a neat feat, especially considering that 2001 isn’t even over with yet. I mean, what if some really fantastic film that absolutely no one was expecting suddenly got released on December 31 and everyone knew it was the best film in the world ever and Rolling Stone couldn’t even put it on their top ten list because they had already published it? How embarrassing would that be? That’s why I keep working on my top ten list for weeks, months, sometimes even years after the year is actually over because sometimes I don’t see all the movies from a year until well after the year is over. I’d rather have my list be right than have it be punctual.

Anyway, I truly hope that LofR deserves the top spot that Rolling Stone gave it. Unfortunately, unlike Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, I haven’t seen it yet. Heck, I probably won’t even see it on December 19 since this will certainly be one of the most mobbed film openings in history (eat your heart out, George Lucas), and in any event I have a wife, I mean, a life, so I have my priorities straight. After all, it’s only a movie. (Sigh.) But I’m determined to see it before New Year’s, come hell or Orc hordes.

My optimism for the film hinges on director Jackson’s track record as well as the impressive cast he has assembled. The acting linchpin, in my opinion, even more than the crucial role of Frodo (Elijah Wood) is that of the wizard Gandalf. I feel very good about the fact this pivotal character is portrayed by the estimable Ian McKellen. His casting in the films has already given me much joy by his refreshing attitude toward the whole business. The Wired magazine article that I mentioned three weeks ago amusingly recounted how McKellen was always quite willing to respond to questions about the movie (in which there has been intense interest, to say the least) on his web page but always with cryptic and confounding answers worthy of the Grey One himself.

Even better was an interview McKellen gave to The New York Times Magazine, which appeared two Sundays ago. His responses to sometimes inane questions were extremely entertaining. At one point he was asked about the prospect of “playing a craggy old guy to a theater of overstimulated 10-year-olds” in LotR. I won’t embarrass the interviewer by naming her (okay, it was Amy Barrett), but she obviously wasn’t very familiar with the book, the movie or the people already queuing up for it. McKellen politely set her straight.

The interview concluded with a question about whether McKellen would wind up like Alec Guinness, i.e. resenting the fact that he could be remembered more for playing Gandalf than for, say, Richard III (the way Guinness was put off by the attention given to his Obi-Wan role in Star Wars). McKellen replied very matter-of-factly, “I’m not perhaps as much a snob as Alec Guinness, and I have perhaps more catholic tastes in entertainment than he had. I don’t make any distinction between what I do and what a hoofer on Broadway does. We are all in the business of keeping an audience quiet for two and a half hours.”

You can’t help but like an actor who says something like that. And I am very much looking forward to being kept quiet during all of the Lord of the Rings movies.

* * *

Speaking of happy film events, I was very pleased to hear recently from director Jevon O’Neill. He has made only one film so far, but it was a pretty darn good one. It is called Bob’s Weekend, and I was lucky enough to see it at the 1997 Seattle International Film Festival. Strangely, it never got a release. Until now. It has gone straight to DVD and VHS in the UK. According to O’Neill, DVDs are available for sale from HMV, and VHS tapes can be rented from Blockbuster and other outlets. It is also slated for a television screening on BBC, and Paramount Pictures has picked it up worldwide television sales.

Bob’s Weekend is one of those movies that is very hard to describe, but I can say that it is well worth seeing. The BBC called it “Britain’s answer to It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is close to what I came up with when I saw it. I called it “After Hours meets It’s a Wonderful Life.”

-S.L., 13 December 2001

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