'Lord of the Rings' Previewed at Cannes

"The best movie at Cannes isn't in competition."

Last year, that quote might have referred to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — which went on to win four Academy Awards — but this year, it applies to New Line Pictures' Lord of the Rings, which thrilled festivalgoers with an exclusive 26-minute preview of its risky, $270 million trilogy.

Robert Shaye, New Line's founder and CEO, introduced the clip to a specially invited global audience of media reporters. "You are literally the first audience [to see] this compilation of footage that is still a work in progress, but [it] offers the real flavor." He then quoted "an expression in law, 'I do believe the thing speaks for itself,'" and introduced writer-director-producer Peter Jackson.

Introducing the Characters

The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, arrives in December, and Jackson, the bearded New Zealander whose credits include Heavenly Creatures and Dead Alive, began by admitting, "It is kind of strange … to show something six months before [it's released] and we thought long and hard [about] what we could screen."

The preview consisted of three parts (echoing Tolkien's trilogy): first, a seven-minute introduction that summarizes the plot and introduces many of the major characters, including Sir Ian McKellan's Gandalf the Wizard; Sir Ian Holm's Bilbo Baggins, the character who first finds the ring in Tolkien's The Hobbit; and Elijah Woods' Frodo Baggins, the humble hobbit hero of the trilogy.

Second was a breathtaking 14-minute sequence in which the nine-member Fellowship of the Ring goes into underground mines that resemble a magnificent stone cathedral. "It's part of the quest of this group," Jackson explained, "that they have to cross mountains and are forced to go through the mines dwarfs created."

Finally, there was a three-minute epilogue comprising images from the second and third films, "To give you an idea of the scope," said Jackson.

Jackson has created Middle-earth, Tolkien's beloved fantasy world, with a haunting, gorgeous style evocative of courtly medieval legends, with images of pointy-hatted wizards, magic, and monsters. Jackson's use of digital effects, action, character, and production design seem at this first glance inspired, with not a misstep on view.

The mine sequence proved to be startlingly scary, with armies of the ugliest, pointy-toothed soldiers anyone's likely ever to have seen — the Orcs — attacking the sturdy band, which is followed by an encounter with a hideous ogre and a chase that leads to a breaking bridge and the appearance of a truly monstrous demon.