Pop Culture

“Too Many Endings, Man”: How ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Conquered the Oscars

“Too many endings, man!” That was Jack Nicholson’s blunt reaction to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—as recounted by Frodo himself. Elijah Wood encountered the legendary actor backstage at the Golden Globes in 2004, when the third film in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic was on the campaign trail for the upcoming Academy Awards. The trio of movies, which began with The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001, continued with The Two Towers in 2002, and concluded with the finale in 2003, had been an unspeakably high-stakes gamble, with a bank-breaking $281 million budget, a back-breaking filming and postproduction pace in New Zealand, and cutting-edge visual effects, like Andy Serkis’s performance capture of Gollum, that had never before been attempted on such a grand scale.

The risk had paid off: ring-a-ding-ding. Not only did the trilogy pull in colossal global box office returns of more than $2.9 billion, but it cleared a path for two decades of episodic epics, from Game of Thrones on television to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in theaters and countless wannabes and imitators. Long before that, however, in early 2004, The Lord of the Rings was on the hunt for the ultimate industry recognition at the Oscars—and the groundbreaking trilogy was getting its chops broken over its perceived litany of crescendos and culminations.

“I was backstage at the Golden Globes, and Jack Nicholson’s backstage, and he starts talking to me about Lord of the Rings,” Wood recounted in an interview for the film’s DVD release. “And he’s like, ‘Did you die?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, I mean, it sort of depends on how you look at it, with him going away to the Undying Lands at the end.’ And he’s like, ‘What are you talking about? I left a half an hour before that…. Too many endings, man! Should have ended it a lot sooner than that.’”

Was this pronouncement by the great Nicholson, the elder statesman of Academy cool, a harbinger of doom for Return of the King’s Oscar hopes? It won best drama that night at the Globes, as well as best director for Jackson, but the studio behind the trilogy, New Line Cinema, feared that sorcery, elves, and the geopolitics of ancient mystical realms might not resonate with the more erudite members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Fellowship had gotten 13 nominations but only won four—cinematography, makeup, score, and visual effects. Towers had received just six nods, winning for sound editing and visual effects. Each had been in contention for best picture, but the honor had so far eluded the franchise. Some feared it was simply out of reach.

“The biggest problem––and this started with Fellowship––was we had the dreaded F-word,” Russell Schwartz, New Line’s president of theatrical marketing at the time, told Vanity Fair in 2014. “We were the fantasy movie, and there was no fantasy movie that ever won for best picture.”

Image may contain Face Head Person Photography Portrait Body Part Finger Hand Adult Accessories and Jewelry

Elijah Wood regards The One Ring.

© New Line Cinema/Everett Collection.

Even before the beginning of awards season, Oscar pundits had been projecting Return as the Oscar front-runner. Then the National Board of Review, which typically kicks off awards season in early December with its best-film announcement, gave its top prize to the Clint Eastwood–directed crime drama Mystic River, which was also racking up acting honors for star Sean Penn and supporting actor Tim Robbins. Return was still favored as the movie to beat, but it was not an unassailable best-picture juggernaut like Schindler’s List or Titanic. Director Peter Weir’s seafaring drama, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe, was also a dark horse contender.

The movie’s ensemble of actors reunited repeatedly for post-screening Q&As to talk about making not only Return, but the whole saga, since production for all three had been combined. New Line and its awards strategists sought to emphasize the Herculean undertaking of the entire enterprise. As for the issue of the endings, the campaign addressed that by emphasizing the deep connection moviegoers had to the saga’s characters. “What we were able to do was have the humanity of the film land. It was very emotional, you know?” says Christina Kounelias, who was then the executive vice president of marketing for New Line. “It’s like, Look at the humanity, the people coming together, the hardship, endurance, perseverance. The symbolism is very rich. It’s challenging in and of itself to wrap up those endings. After three films, I think there was tremendous investment from the fan base, and people were committed to seeing the fates of each of the characters.”

The result was a leading 11 nominations for The Return of the King, out of 17 eligible categories. There were no acting honors for its performers, but it was represented in nearly every other applicable category except for sound editing and cinematography. Right behind it was Master and Commander, with 10 nods. Among the other best-picture hopefuls, Seabiscuit and Cold Mountain were close behind with seven nominations, and Mystic River came up with six.

Carol Marshall, Jackson’s longtime personal publicist, said that even on Oscar day, the filmmaker was still harboring doubts, right up to the moment he entered the Hollywood theater. “The one thing Peter said to me when I left him on the red carpet at the end—he looked at me and goes, ‘You really think this is gonna happen or no?’ I said, ‘I’ll see you backstage—during the show.’ I had more confidence than he did.”

The ribbing Jackson had repeatedly endured about the multitiered conclusion of his film continued during the Oscar telecast itself. “Lord of the Rings, with 11 nominations,” host Billy Crystal said in his opening monologue. “One for each ending.”

The show opened with a montage in which Crystal was digitally added to the biggest hits of the year—riding on the back of Seabiscuit, flirting with Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, and getting kidnapped in Mystic River. Return of the King was spoofed repeatedly, and in the end Nicholson himself turned up for a cameo, wearing his signature black shades and the luminous white robes of the wizard Gandalf.

After Catherine Zeta-Jones presented the first award of the evening to Robbins for his supporting turn in Mystic River, Angelina Jolie took the stage to announce the second category: art direction (now known as production design). “And the Oscar goes to,” she said, opening the envelope, “…The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Originally Published Here.

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Chicago Fire Is Soapy, But In the Best Way
Luke Evans Turns 45 – Shares Steamy Beach Snap
Prince Nikolaos and Princess Tatiana Split After 13 Years of Marriage
Meet the Ghostly Gang Behind Netflix’s ‘Dead Boy Detectives’
Pearl Jam, Neil Young To Headline Eddie Vedder’s Ohana Festival