Before reviewing this book it is worth noting two things. Firstly this is an official tie-in book, and therefore paints the rosy, conflict free version of events usual to such publications. Second, it is not a definitive, day by day account of the making of Peter Jackson's film trilogy. As the author says in his acknowledgements, "… as I started writing, I quickly realized that it would take a book considerably longer than this one - several volumes, maybe - to fully tell the biography of this extraordinary cinematic achievement. So, it is, perhaps, better to think of it as a series of 'Scenes from the life of…', or, maybe. 'Conversations with Close Friends and Associates of…'"
This is exactly right. After perhaps too much preamble - an introduction by Sir Ian (Gandalf) McKellen, chapters on the world premiere of The Fellowship of the Ring and the Canne Festival preview in May 2001 - Sibley settles down to a series of guided tours with various key personnel involved in the making of the three films. As all three movies were shot together he is able to cover the entire trilogy even though the final film, The Return of the King, is still a year away from release. It is an engaging read, as he meets conceptual artists, costume designers, model makers, make-up and special effects artists, model builders, location managers, fight co-ordinators, horse wranglers and many more. Silbey is treated to behind-the-scenes access to the various departments and conveys the enthusiasm of cast and crew for what was a truly epic undertaking. The book is filled with 'gosh', 'wow' detail concerning the logistics of the production, the co-ordination, the sheer amount of amour, wigs, hobbits feet (1600 for the four main hobbit actors alone) and clothing which needed to be created. Illustrated with high quality colour photos, and elegantly designed, the book is a pleasure to read. One minor quibble is that there are no captions for the illustrations, though many - yet far from all - are referenced in the text. Although there is no specific interview with Peter Jackson there are various comments from the director scattered throughout the chapters such that it is clear the author met and spoke with him on several occasions.
From a film music point of view there is a surprisingly extensive section on composer Howard Shore, comprising partly interview material, partly an account of one of the London scoring sessions. Including photos, this chapter runs to 11 pages, and includes several well-presented stills of the recording. One must doubt Sibley's musical judgement in writing that Shore's scoring of Gandalf's arrival in Hobbiton "has an English pastoral sound that nods courteously to Elgar and Vaughan Williams, with a hint of the Celtic…" This section of the score should, but does not, nod to Elgar and Vaughan Williams, with Shore's Hobbit theme most inappropriately mired in Hollywood's clichéd post-Braveheart / Titanic cod-'Orish mode. Perhaps little wonder when one learns - though not in this book - that James Horner was the original composer of choice for the project. One can only wonder what marvellous score might have emerged had the music been placed in the hands of a composer with a truly British sensibility; Patrick Doyle, George Fenton, Christopher Gordon, Christopher Gunning, Mark Thomas… But then, one can only wish that the trilogy had been brought to the screen in authentic North European locations by a director with a truly British sensibility; imagine the masterpiece John Boorman could have made from The Lord of the Rings.
Finally, one further thing not to be found in this book. There is no mention of the extended versions of the films being created for DVD and video, nor any of the inevitably controversial discussion as to why the films aren't shown in completed form theatrically. They would still be shorter than Gone With the Wind and no longer than Ben-Hur.
So, an interesting, but as the author says, incomplete, account of the making of a remarkable trilogy. The complete, presumably unofficial account, will doubtless be even more enjoyable.