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August 29-September 4, 2007

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'The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood'

The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood
(By Kristin Thompson; UC Press; 400 pages; $29.95 cloth)

It is always more satisfying to follow the art than to follow the money, but in this comprehensive study you can do both. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films are, in Kristin Thompson's view, triumphant in both fields. "The Lord of the Rings is an independent film. A huge, expensive, and extremely successful independent film, to be sure, but independent nonetheless." Thompson proves her argument by tracing the LOR production. Jackson had almost unprecedented leeway working in Wellington, New Zealand. The trilogy's budget was compiled from dozens of international production companies, which received subsequent windfalls. And the boon to New Zealand's economy in jobs and tourism is almost incalculable, though the author tries to calculate it. Frankly, The Frodo Franchise becomes figure-packed when following the money trail. Yes, that trail could be slightly sordid, what with Burger King's tie-in, quickly ridiculed by Internet wits as the "Lord of the Onion Rings." Still, through such deals, Jackson held the means of production at his world-class special-effects house Weta. The computerized effects rose to almost 1,500 by the time of The Return of the King. Thompson notes that Jackson tested every effect on 35 mm film before approving it. When sitting through ugly, murky CGI that must have looked cool on someone's laptop, don't you wish everyone did this? Though Thompson was barred from talking to New Line execs, she delved into the geekworld to detail how the Internet both trumpeted and critiqued the LOR phenomena. Protected from the uproar by distance, Jackson and his friends created what he called "The biggest home movie in the world." The hand-made touches kept people watching and buying tickets. And creature designer Stan Winston says that he blames the sorry state of today's cinema on directors who aren't as tough as Peter Jackson.

Review by Richard von Busack


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