Rings Party Brings Middle-earth to Cannes

(CANNES, France) — Who knew Cannes was the way to Middle-earth? Certainly the thousand or so partygoers invited to New Line's Lord of the Rings celebration Sunday night did.

Transported by bus from the city to a private castle nearly a half-hour's drive away, visitors were greeted by fearsome, black-clad riders on black steeds who silently trod along a candlelit path a quarter mile up a hill to the castle. There, Saruman's winged soldiers stood guard. Nearby was hobbit Bilbo Baggins' house, imported, along with everything else, from the film's New Zealand set.

Guests were invited to crawl or crouch through the small-scale house and then visit the throne room, complete with costumed guards and a case of the most authentic-looking fake swords around. The castle pool had been transformed into a scene out of the Elf-realm of Lothlorien, complete with the Lady Galadriel's swan boat and plenty of atmospheric smoke. Long-haired elves wandered around, as did hobbits outfitted with the hairy feet described in J.R.R. Tolkien's books.

This party was a fitting climax for New Line Pictures' Cannes Film Festival hoopla. It topped off a weekend of press interviews and meetings with the theater distributors around the world who will be showing the Lord of the Rings trilogy over the next three years, starting with The Fellowship of the Ring on Dec. 19.

Many of the trilogy's stars showed up for the festivities, including Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, the two English Sirs Ian — Holm and McKellen — as well as Frodo himself, Elijah Wood. Guests boogied to soul music, ate a feast that included roast pig, roast lamb, and a massive white birthday cake sparkling with hundred of candles. It was for Bilbo, of course!

The party — whose price tag was guessed by several guests to be above the $2 million mark — drew a crowd that included The Sopranos' Drea de Matteo, in Cannes as the star of the Abel Ferrara drama R-Xmas; Driven director Renny Harlin; and Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein.

Rings writer-director-producer Peter Jackson noted that the Rings books have sold millions of copies in 40 languages since they were first published in the 1950s by Tolkien, an Oxford professor. "Everybody who reads [them] is going to have a different vision of the characters and I'm lucky to be the person who gets their vision onto film, which is all I've really done. If it's not what other people imagine, hopefully it will be what people want to look at."

Jackson, a New Zealander, made all three films simultaneously, for $270 million, according to New Line. Although unrecognizable, the New Zealand army will appear as well, in the film's battle scenes. "[The filming] was significant to the country, and the prime minister came to visit early on," Jackson recounted, "and she said, 'What can we do to help?' And we said, 'Do you have any soldiers?' We trained them to use swords and shields and spears, which, with current defense cutbacks, may be well for them in the future."

Jackson's approach — a kind of heightened realism — seems inspired, but he gives credit wholly to the author. "Tolkien loved the mythology of Greece and Scandinavia and mourned that England didn't have one," the filmmaker said. "He spent his entire life creating a myth and we treated it as a historical film, much less as a fantasy. You come to believe in it so much it feels real. That was the tone of the movie. Not a fantasy movie but like a piece of prehistory when giants and trolls and elves used to exist. It directed every design and style decision we did."

Jackson is proud that readers will now hear for the first time the languages Tolkien created. As if to bear this out, Liv Tyler, who plays the 3,000-year-old elf Arwen, sweetly recited a line in Elvish which, truth be told, sounded fairly close to Gaelic.

Concluded Jackson, "I love films to take you somewhere you'd normally never go. Alfred Hitchcock once said, 'Some people's movies are slices of life, mine are slices of cake.' Rings is the ultimate cinematic trip."