A.� It's supposedly the most popular novel of the 20th century (and is Tony Blair's favourite), but there have been problems bringing the JRR Tolkien film to screen. There was a 1970s cartoon of the book but it failed to catch on. In 1957 three Hollywood businesses visited Tolkien in Oxford with a view to producing an animated version of the story. But Tolkien was allegedly unimpressed - the movie-makers had a vision of characters flying everywhere on the backs of eagles, and the hobbits were seen "munching on ridiculously long sandwiches". The author complained "it showed no evident signs of what it is all about".
Bringing the story to screen has been particularly tricky because the tale -�of the destruction of a magical ring by a diminutive hobbit - was seen as too long, and the list of featured creatures too vast to squeeze on screen. Tolkien's�world is populated by�a myriad of races: tall, exotic elves; armies of knobbly orcs; short, sturdy dwarfs; talking trees and, of course,�the hairy-footed hobbits.
Q.� How will the new film manage, then
�It is directed by the New Zealander Peter Jackson, who�has previously worked in schlock horror. This is the first in a trilogy of live-action films based on the novel. Jackson - like Star Wars creator George Lucas - has used his own special effects company Weta, named after a New Zealand grasshopper, his own sound stages in Wellington and has written his own script. Elijah Wood stars as the ringbearer Frodo Baggins, while his wizard�protector�Gandalf (pictured on our home page)�is played by Sir Ian McKellen.
To�visualise the anthropology of Tolkien's Middle-earth�as well as its extraordinary topology and architecture, Jackson retained the help of the artists John Howe and Alan Lee. They have acted as "conceptual artists" to create the creatures and locations for the production designers to follow.
There also had to be battle scenes on a truly epic scale, so Jackson borrowed a battalion of soldiers from the New Zealand Army and trained them in swordplay, and more than 250 horses were brought in as well as droves of stunt men. Weta then developed software, called Massive, to create�virtual �crowds for some scenes.
The film has also been shot in a forced perspective� - an old-fashioned optical illusion with someone in the background looking smaller than the person in the foreground, a technique abetted by motion-controlled cameras.
Q.� When does the film open in the UK
A.� It opens in cinemas across the UK on December 19.
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by Katharine MacColl