Looking again on the San Diego Comic-Con Lord of the Rings panel from 2001

Looking back on the San Diego Comic-Con Lord of the Rings panel from 2001

“The heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past,” stated Strider…

Neither does Ringer fandom — that gregarious, hyper-creative world collective that places literature and legacy first. Not solely do now we have Oliphaunts in our tales, now we have their reminiscence, too.

From the age of eight, I’ve been on the frontlines of a fan phenomenon that has taken me from the gatefold covers of my brother’s treasured Led Zeppelin albums to distant Kiwi lands the place the celebrities are unusual. But nothing, and I imply nothing, can attain the extent of distinctive fan chaos generated at San Diego Comic-Con.

2021 marks The Lord of the Rings films’ 20th anniversary, and we could not think about exploring the trilogy in only one story. So every Wednesday all year long, we’ll go there and again once more, inspecting how and why the movies have endured as fashionable classics. This is Polygon’s Year of the Ring.

With the exception of those two latest summers affected by COVID-19, I’ve attended SDCC yearly since 2000 as a panelist, emcee, and host for our fandom, and Lor’ bless me, Master Frodo, certainly we’ve witnessed modifications we must always have seen a’ coming; if you happen to’ll forgive my inner-Samwise talking out.

In 2001, the leviathan (and legendary) Hall H was but solely an architect’s fever-dream; so it was the duty of the newly minted Ballroom 20 adjoining the Exhibit Hall to deal with the big-ticket studio shows. These enormous blowouts in a ballroom had been the latest craze. New Line Cinema was able to unspool that Mines of Moria escape footage that they had simply screened on the Cannes Film Festival (incomes pivotal early buzz on this planet press and delight from the studio’s overseas market buyers).

Ringers had been salivating. I used to be match to blow up with eagerness. The Fellowship of the Ring was 5 months from vast launch and probably the most anticipated meal ever was about to be served in that Ballroom. Assuredly we had been all ignoring Gandalf’s well-known recommendation that “those who have laboured to prepare the feast like to keep their secret; for wonder makes the words of praise louder.” It was too late for that.

I needed the crew engaged on these movies to really feel the fan-love, I genuinely did. Giving direct acknowledgment to those intrepid artists was my principal objective. They instructed me how remoted they felt “way down there” other than the bigger equipment of filmmaking in Los Angeles; and it made me need to share extra power with them in order that these great craftspeople might know, of their hearts, we had their backs. Yes, naive and optimistic, however a bit of acknowledgment goes a great distance. Try it someday.

Richard Taylor and Ringer fans in front of the Sideshow Toys booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2001.

WETA president Richard Taylor and followers at SDCC 2001.
Image: TheOneRing.Net

The Lord of the Rings’ Wellington-based filmmakers had been thrilled with the well-known Spy Reports delivered by TheOneRing.net on the time, sparking buzz and hypothesis almost weekly for a manufacturing doing one thing of which they had been already immensely proud. Now at SDCC they had been about to get their first style of untamed honey from a fandom able to embrace all of it, from the highest down, but nonetheless barely cautious of Peter Jackson’s zombie splatter-film previous. Admittedly, interactions with everybody from the WETA Workshop crew signaled to me these artists had been unprepared for the waves of adulation about to crash on their quiet shores. Attending SDCC 2001 was their first step in the direction of receiving worldwide seismic acclaim.

Funny to see the tone I took again then, however I used to be certainly onto one thing after I noticed the needle transferring away from printed matter (illustrated fiction and precise comics) to movie and TV promotions. I and plenty of different pop-culture observers on the time had a foresight, maybe, that Hollywood would fastidiously calibrate their use of SDCC as a blunt advertising instrument for his or her greatest “genre IPs.” At that point being comedian book-related or spun from fantasy, sci-fi, anime, or video video games was the low-bar prerequisite your present wanted to have some studio govt throw cash at such a conference push. All issues being equal, it was billed as “Celebrating the Popular Arts.”

Unfortunately the sample grew and cemented its weed-like maintain on the Con: In eight extra years this metamorphosis would see studios and networks hawking their reveals like several flimsy manufacturing facility product even with out it being style storytelling. By the time the ABC Network dragged Patricia Heaton into the ballroom for a pedestrian sitcom like The Middle (she famously exclaimed onstage “I don’t even know what we are doing here!”) I knew with fallen crest that the Golden Age of Genre Goodness was annihilated ceaselessly from the panorama of San Diego.

A pity, that.

Nostalgia is highly effective certainly: Even as Ringers of a brand new era anticipate massive issues from Amazon Studios’ billion-dollar foray right into a Middle-earth adaptation, we nonetheless hearken again. We be taught one thing from such golden-hued reminiscences of a time when the Internet was a bit of extra harmless, rather a lot much less jaded, and joyful to have fun J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in boundless good religion. Over at TheOneRing.net we nonetheless volunteer to maintain these beacons lit, and welcome all generations of followers to hitch in fellowship.

What you’re about to learn is a bit of piece we revealed on TheOneRing.net out of San Diego Comic-Con 2001 (below the web pseudonym Quickbeam, a behavior of ’90s web bloggers). Polygon has given me the pleasant alternative to look again and marvel at a behemoth of standard tradition (noticed from a safer distance) and to giggle at my very own naïveté, maybe. Here’s what we noticed in 2001:

Greetings — Quickbeam right here.

Last 12 months all us Tolkien followers had been simply scratching the floor of the San Diego Comic-Con. In distinction, this 12 months we hit the radar like by no means earlier than!

It’s a mixture of issues that makes this Con such a powerhouse occasion for individuals who love fantasy, illustrated fiction, nice films, video games, and all of the “Popular Arts.” It ain’t simply comedian books anymore, kiddo. In reality, at this time’s Los Angeles Times had an article about how the film business is rather more conscious of how one of these gathering, this Comic-Con particularly, is a singular promotional spring-board for Hollywood’s greatest “event movies.” Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings included.

In this state of affairs you possibly can’t count on a studio to miss its followers, and in San Diego it’s the style movie that reigns supreme. Highlights included sneak previews of Spider Man, Planet of the Apes, the brand new DVD launch of Robert Wise’s accomplished Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Harry Potter, and the crown jewel of all fantasy, LOTR. Lowlights that left a nasty style within the mouth included the painfully trite Smallville quickly to premiere on the WB Network (beware viewers, the one you love Superman has been became Beverly Hills 90210 drivel) and John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, which was ignored by a cold viewers.

The award for “Most Eye-Catching Display” goes to DreamWorks. They impressed many attendees with a large ground exhibit from The Time Machine. The big glass-and-brass equipment was a marvel to see, almost two tales excessive and about 3 tons of {hardware}, by the look of it. My buddy referred to as it, “A giant chandelier that was assimilated by the Borg.” The complete factor seemed like an exhibit from the Smithsonian.

And the place was New Line Cinema? Evidently they selected a low-key strategy, saving their massive weapons for the Saturday night displaying of Fellowship footage. As now we have reported, it was a mind-blowing occasion with so many hundreds of individuals jammed into the large transformed ballroom. Even although they didn’t move out any free items or T-shirts (Tookish and I are fairly keen on mathoms) you possibly can not ask for extra enthusiasm!

Remember final 12 months when Sir Ian McKellen sprung out on stage and stunned the heck out of everybody? This time, because the video footage from Cannes performed on the large screens, you possibly can inform from the look on his face that he needed to be with us all in individual, as soon as extra. You bought the sensation he beloved the fervour behind the filmmakers’ work, and equally the fervour that Tolkien followers have dropped at this new venture — and he stated as a lot in a extra gracious method than I ever might. I recall him saying, “If it weren’t for you, and your love of these books, these films would never have been made.” From the center of the wisest wizard comes an exquisite acknowledgement for all of us.

Frodo smiles like a goof while looking up at Gandalf who is steering the cart and smoking weed in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings

Image: New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Pictures

One shining second throughout the Hobbiton footage made us cease and giggle. There had been tables set with piles of meals, wine, and scrumptious frosted desserts; and because the banners went up and tents had been raised below the Party Tree, a country outdated hobbit was caught on movie addressing somebody off-camera. He defiantly declared, “Say what you like about Mad Baggins, but he sets the most bountiful table in three Farthings,” or one thing near that. Tookish and I each debated this thriller Hobbit, and got here to an early conclusion that it was the Gaffer himself! We shall see, we will see.

Mr. Elijah Wood proved to be glorious and past affected person. After the LOTR footage there have been swarms of followers who piled up on him with flash bulbs, video cams, and pleas of, “Could you sign this for me?” I occurred to be one of many culprits, so I need to deeply apologize to Elijah for instigating the group. I simply couldn’t assist it. How usually does one get the prospect to satisfy the Ringbearer himself!? Later within the night the entire eating firm was in good spirits, as Tookish has already associated. Elijah’s timing is fast and so are his wits; because the night wore on he confirmed his gregarious facet even within the late hours. No doubt it was nice enjoyable working with him in New Zealand for 18 months!

Last 12 months we had lunch with Gandalf. This time it was dinner with Frodo. Who is aware of what may occur in 2002? The thoughts boggles.

But severely, no star shined brighter than Richard Taylor, President of WETA, and his good crew of designers from New Zealand (and not less than one in every of them from Australia, or else I’m a ninny-hammer!). All folks round them are touched by their generosity. All discussions flip to quiet listening and wide-eyed marvel after they converse of LOTR. All doubts about these movies wash away whenever you hear Daniel or David or Richard discuss. We had been thrilled to be a part of their firm and doubly fortunate that Richard took half in our presentation. Here is a transcript of Richard Taylor’s eloquent phrases earlier than a packed home, all Tolkien followers desperate to be taught extra of WETA’s position within the filmmaking course of:

“Hullo and that is clearly an ideal pleasure to even have come to San Diego and are available to the Comic-Con, however ah a couple of of our guys from the workshop have simply been invited and had the chance to have a fast phrase to you. We began on the movie 5 years in the past now; we’ve been within the movie business for 14 years so it’s over a 3rd of our working careers have been dedicated to bringing the world of Tolkien to the audiences of the world. We selected on the very starting to take care of the 5 departments below the one roof of our Weta workshop. We’ve taken care of the particular make-up results, the creatures, the armor, the weapons, and the miniatures, and in impact taken care of the entire struggle and harm rigs as properly. To take care of the design, fabrication, and onset operation of so many departments on one movie is clearly an unenviable job—however to be silly sufficient to recommend that we might take care of all three movies was sheer insanity. But there actually might be not a greater viewers on this planet then these sitting earlier than me now who will admire likewise (applause) what I say about this.

74th Annual Academy Awards - Pressroom

Richard Taylor, lower than a 12 months later, with WETA’s two Oscar statuettes for Makeup and Visual Effects for The Fellowship of the Ring.
Photo: Getty Images

Tolkien – any particular person writer — writes a singular imaginative and prescient of their creativity; likewise did Tolkien, and once we got here to make this movie and Peter (Jackson) supplied us the choice on what departments we needed to take care of we knew that if we didn’t tackle as a lot as we presumably might and got here to the world of Middle-earth with our personal singular Tolkienesque brushstroke there was the chance that the venture would turn out to be fragmented. There is not any extra vital factor to this movie venture than an integrity and a realism to the imaginative and prescient of his writings.

At no time did we take into account we had been making a fantasy. We thought of this a chunk of English folklore; we believed we had been attempting to convey the writings of Tolkien in the way in which he tried to convey fashionable folklore to the world of England and our world to the display screen. So to that finish we’ve invested an outstanding quantity of our time — our preproduction time — growing the cultures that you just’ll come to find within the filmmaking. We’ve entered an enormous quantity of effort to create the graphic design of Middle-earth so that each tradition has its personal iconic realization. We had been fanatical at quite a lot of ranges. At all occasions I stated to the blokes within the workshop — we had 148 folks working within the facility and one other 38 on set — and I used to be completely adamant always that this wasn’t film-making, this was legacy-making and if all of us weren’t within the psychological place that we’d need our grandchildren to take a seat on our laps and keep in mind this venture with them then we weren’t worthy of the venture. (applause) At all occasions we needed to strategy this with a stage of fanaticism some folks convey to the Christian religions. (viewers laughs) Yes!

Alongside Peter Jackson clearly we’ve had probably the most unimaginable 5 years of our lives. We’ve been blessed to have been given the chance to do that. We have been touched at a stage that we might by no means have thought of at first. We knew it was going to be particular but it surely has been particular past our wildest imaginations. I hope you all watch these three movies that you just likewise shall be touched once more after studying the books for therefore a few years: You’ll be touched once more by the visible imagery, the wealth and richness that we hope we’ve dropped at your Middle-earth.

Thank you very a lot.” (loud raucous applause)

Again, we lengthen our gratitude to Sideshow Toys, WETA, and Decipher Games for giving us an opportunity to share our Tolkien fanaticism. Congrats to all on a superb four-day displaying.

It was a protracted journey. It was additionally satisfying. Beyond the many individuals and occasions we skilled (or collided with) throughout the Con, we had been impressed above all else with one grand, unavoidable factor: the constructing wave of pleasure! The Eyes of World will quickly be turning to LOTR, and thru the prism of our shared media J.R.R. Tolkien will come below a brighter highlight than ever earlier than. This is the simply the overture, because the sweeping arms of popular culture embrace the Professor and his works.

And with that, we convey the 2001 Comic-Con to a detailed. See you all subsequent 12 months.

Much too hasty,

Quickbeam & Tookish

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