London's Sunday Times Endorses Synopsis

The London Sunday Times, in an article about Cate Blanchett's role as Galadriel in Peter Jackson's film version of The Lord of the Rings, demonstrated the high quality of its journalistic standards by choosing the Tolkien Sarcasm Page's synopsis of The Lord of the Rings as one of its primary sources. We at Flying Moose of Nargothrond applaud the Times' high standards of accuracy, journalistic integrity and wisdom.

The following article, written by Ian Markham-Smith, appeared in the
Sunday Times on 26 July 2000.

Playing royal personages is becoming something of a Hobbit for the actress Cate Blanchett, writes Ian Markham-Smith

Tolkien about me, my elf and I - and Middle Earth

Cate Blanchett is feeling decidedly impish about her latest role. The 31-year-old star is in the final throes of wrapping up her most mystic part to date - playing Elf Queen Galadriel in the $120 million film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy - and she has a tall story to tell.

Hidden beneath her demure elfin costume is something quite unexpected. "I've got these glam-disco boots," she explains, laughing. "They're to make me taller - as tall as anyone," she says. Elves, of course, have to be on the lengthy side. They also have pointy silicone ears, or at least this one does, as well as long, blonde hair.

Joining Blanchett in New Zealand for director Peter (Heavenly Creatures) Jackson's trilogy are Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, Elijah Wood, in the lead as Frodo Baggins, and Sean Astin as his sidekick Samwise Gamgee. Others in the cast include Liv Tyler and the New Zealand actor Marton Csokas, who plays Galadriel's husband, Celeborn.

For the uninitiated, Galadriel is the good sister of the evil but beautiful Queen Beruthiel, who imprisons the Fellowship of the Ring in the forest of Lothlorien. In the book, Galadriel frees them from her sister's clutches. It's a small but memorable part, and Blanchett lobbied hard for it. "I heard on the grapevine that Peter and Fran Walsh, his writing partner, were going to do it. I'd long been a fan of their films," says Blanchett, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Elizabeth and recently appeared as a Long Island housewife in Pushing Tin, and as a wealthy heiress in The Talented Mr Ripley.

The last time Tolkien's epic tale made it to celluloid was in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated feature. Based on the first two books and designed to echo the author's original drawings, it failed at the box office and the trilogy was never completed.

The language does not sound like any I've attempted to speak before. It's like speaking Klingon

Audiences still have a year and a half to wait before they will be able to judge this new attempt, in the first of the three Rings movies. But early signs are encouraging: a behind-the scenes preview clip released on the film's website was watched by 1.7 million people on its first day, more even than the number who saw The Phantom Menace's trailer on its hugely popular first day.

Tolkien's books have sold more than 50 million copies in 25 languages. They span the generation gap - and Blanchett herself admits to having become a fan as an adult. "I'd read The Hobbit, but I've only really come to the book since I've been involved in this project," she says. "There are so many people on the movies who have known the books since their childhood, it's interwoven in their fantasies. I've come at it a different way."

She doesn't seem too worried that Tolkien purists may criticise the films because parts of them may differ from the books. "Because you're dealing with so many millions of people who are connected to these stories, you have a responsibility," she says. "But you also need to find a reason to turn it into a film. If you're simply wanting to give every single detail in the books, then go and buy the tapes of someone reading them, or go and read them yourself. It has to be a filmic experience.

"What appeals to me about Peter's vision of this story is that, like any form of magic, the books are incredibly dark. They're primal as well as fantastical, so I think it's important to have a director who has his feet planted in gore and fantasy.

"But when we're doing the scenes, he's constantly saying it has to be real - even though we are playing elves - and grounded in realism, or people won't buy it. They have to be emotionally and psychologically, as well as visually, invested in the story."

Filming of all three parts - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King - is now halfway complete at studios in Wellington. The Fellowship of the Ring will be released at Christmas 2001 and the sequels the following two Decembers. Making the movies all together over such a long period - 18 months of filming - makes this one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken.

What I've connected to in Tolkien's books is the enormous sadness at the passing of time

"It's a city within a city here," Blanchett says. "It's an industry - like Middle Earth, really. You come in and you're walking past people in Orc costumes, and you go to WETA [the company behind the stunning visual effects] and you see the extraordinary things they're doing there - they are geniuses. So, in a lot of ways I've taken the lead from them."

She certainly seems fully immersed in her character. "The spiritual power and the psychic power of the elves is so intense," she says, as if elves were a remote, rather alien, but altogether real, tribe of rainforest folk. "What I've really connected to about the books is that there's an enormous sadness at the passing of time," she continues. "One of the characters, Treebeard, says the world is changing - he feels it in the water, he feels it in the air. I think that's something Galadriel feels. She's able to sense her position in the changing order of the world."

Her character is, Blanchett says, a bit of a grey area, much discussed by Tolkien fans. "What's interesting is the debates about whether Galadriel was forced to stay in Middle Earth, or whether she chose to stay. I hope we keep those ambiguities alive. When you're dealing with a figure like her, you don't want to be prescriptive, you want to be evocative."

Not only will Blanchett look different for this role, she will also sound different. For Galadriel speaks a dialect of Old Elvish, a fictional language used in the films. "Dialogue coaches Roisin Carty and Andrew Jack have been very helpful to us," says Blanchett. "They both speak Elvish beautifully, and they're on-line to becoming Old Elvish experts. And that in itself really spins me out - that there's someone who devotes their time to speaking Elvish. It's like people speaking Klingon.

"It doesn't sound like any language I've tried to speak before. It's familiar because of the Celtic influences, but it's completely unfamiliar at the same time.

When we do these scenes it has to be real - even though we're playing elves - or people won't buy it

"It's very important that it's not bad Shakespearean," she says. "Like, 'My liege. . . the long, pointy-eared elf people have just arrived!' We're trying to avoid that. But it's hard; the language is incredibly formal, as are the relationships and the hierarchy in the community."

Also, there are elements of Galadriel that keep her apart from other characters. "Galadriel doesn't really step down to the others," Blanchett says. "You never truly get to know her - that's part of her allure."

There is ambiguity in Tolkien's story about whether Galadriel's prophetic powers are a gift or a curse. "I think it's a gift," says Blanchett. "Something I've taken from the texts which really informs Galadriel's whole story is a passage where she says, 'I will not counsel you to take . . .' this course or that course. The only way she can prevail is knowing what may come to pass. She doesn't try to pin down her visions and act upon them.

"This community is more of a matriarchy, and we follow the change from a matriarchy into the world of men, where things will be structured differently. So, maybe we're seeing a matriarchy at the point where it's allowing itself to be overtaken by men. I don't know . . ."

Blanchett is now scheduled to return to a more earthly character, starring in the big-screen version of Sebastian Faulks's best-selling novel, Charlotte Gray. She plays the title role of a British Resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. Filming begins in Europe early next year.

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At least I didn't say anything about speaking Klingon...