Key Points:

By TIM WATKIN

November 1995: Peter Jackson, in between Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners, calls his Los Angeles agent Ken Cameron and asks who has the rights to The Lord of the Rings.

December 1996: It's announced that Jackson is to remake King Kong. However, the project is soon put into turnaround and later canned.

January 1997: Studio Miramax acquires the rights to The Lord of the Rings for Peter Jackson. Director and studio agree to make two three-hour films, called The Fellowship of the Ring and The War of the Ring.

July 1998: Miramax gets cold feet, saying it wants a single movie of no more than three hours duration. Jackson refuses. Miramax's Harvey Weinstein gets "a bit angry" and threatens to hire another director. Cameron fast-talks and Weinstein gives Jackson four weeks "to find someone to make the film that you want to make".

August 1998: With time running out, Jackson approaches New Line boss Bob Shaye. After a 45-minute presentation he gets what he wants and more. Shaye says if there are three books, there should be three films and on the 24th announces plans to make them all at once - a first in Hollywood history.

April 1999: Casting for more than 15,000 extra roles begins. Very tall and very short people please apply.

June 1999: The official The Lord of the Rings website - launched absurdly early - begins to drip a steady diet of pictures, interviews and information to its favourite 40 fan-generated sites. The official site offers such insights as make-up artists' techniques of gluing hair to hobbits' prosthetic feet.

July 1999: After more than 150 actors audition to play Frodo, Elijah Wood gets the part. Sean Astin is confirmed as Sam Gamgee shortly after. The most common response to these much-debated announcements is: "Who?"

August 1999: Two actor knights - Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Ian Holm - take the most unwarrior-like roles of Gandalf and Bilbo. Christopher Lee and Liv Tyler also join the cast. Fans get quite upset about suggestions Tyler's character Arwen might be a Xena-like sword-broad.

October 1999: The 274 days of shooting begin in Wellington on October 11. The capital begins its 15-month love affair with the new celebrities-around-town. A week into shooting and Stuart Townsend, the original Aragorn, is dropped (too young, lacking gravitas) and Viggo Mortensen (14 years older) is brought in. In the following months, cast and crew (more than 2500 strong) move around the country, shooting in swamps and snowdrifts, on mountain tops and by southern lakes.

March 2000: Rumours and eye-witness accounts abound after New Line releases its first six-minute trailer to industry folk. Rings fanatics debate and drool over every scrap of hearsay.

April 2000: An internet preview is shown and is viewed by a world record 1.67 million people in the first 24 hours.

June 2000: Rings spin-offs start appearing. New Line signs up Marvel-based Toy Biz to make the action figures and watches.

December 2000: Production wraps up on December 22 and Jackson heads into the Weta studios to add all the clever computer bits.

January 2001: The first theatrical trailer appears before the film Thirteen Days.

May 2001: LOTR folk go to Cannes and hold a party. The hard-sell starts here.

October 2001: The LOTR fan club is launched as Jackson promises to list in the credits on the DVD the names of the first fans to join. The first club member is one Elijah Wood.

November 2001: Movie tickets go on sale and a small fellowship of obsessives queue up the night before to ensure they get into the first session.

December 2001: The world premiere is to take place in London on December 10, the US premiere on December 13, followed by worldwide release on December 19 and 20.

December 2002: The Two Towers is due for release

December 2003: The Return of the King is due for release.

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Feature: Lord of the Rings

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