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'Ring' exhibition breaks records

By CNN's Donna Werbner

The Hobbit movie set
The Hobbit movie set

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The "Lord of the Rings" movies are well known for smashing box office records at the cinema -- now it is breaking records at a new exhibition.

The first two films in the trilogy, based on the classic novels by children's author J.R.R Tolkein, were phenomenally successful -- bringing in a total $1.8 billion combined.

Now an exhibition at the Science Museum in London based on the films is following the trend, already selling 20,000 tickets in its first week outstripping the combined sales of other popular film-based shows Star Trek and James Bond for the same period.

It depicts the magical realm of Middle Earth, filled with giant Treebeard model creatures, specially-crafted Elvish weapons and hand-made Ringwraith armor.

Standing on the movie set or touching a Rohan warrior sword, visitors experience the fantasy of Tolkein's world as a tactile reality.

"It's Lord of the Rings come to life," said James Rudoni, exhibition manager for the museum.

"I'm sure it will inspire people to re-read the books and watch the films," he added.

The exhibition, which runs until January 11, 2004, is the only one to be held in Europe.

While the powerful magic of the mythical rings remains unattainable, even with today's cutting-edge technology, a hands-on experience of the movie's sorcery is available at the exhibition.

Fans have the chance to see images of themselves transformed from human to a pint-sized hobbit, thanks to a special effects camera that distorts size.

Tolkein specified in his books that hobbits like the trilogy's hero Frodo, played by actor Elijah Wood in the films, were rarely larger than four foot tall and had big, hairy feet.

So artificial hobbit feet, trick camera angles and specially-made furniture were necessary to reduce Wood from a healthy 5 foot 6 inches to a more hobbit-like 4 foot in the film.

The focus of the exhibition and the central icon of the trilogy, the "one ring," stands alone in a dark empty room surrounded by the mythical "Crack of Doom."

For die-hard Lord of the Rings fan Faiza Sandhu, it is an exhibit not to be missed.

"This is the one place I had to come," the science graduate said.

"I'm a fantasy fanatic," she added.

Other exhibits include armor made from beaten plates of steel in a purpose-built medieval forge, and chain-mail which took three years to make.

The attempt by film-makers to turn fantasy into reality impressed exhibition-goers.

Naoise MacSweeney, a 21 year-old student, said: "There's a lot of attention to detail, right down to the stitches on the garments and the etchings on the armor.

"Tolkein also did that in his works with the Elvin language."

Other items on display include the costumes worn by the stars, and models including those of monsters and a life-size replica of Borimor, an anti-hero character played by British actor Sean Bean.

"That particular model (Bean) is quite a hit with the ladies because of his good looks," said Ben Ayers, a spokesperson for the museum.

However, 11 year-old Matthew Nairne was more interested in an enormous, looming model of a giant cave troll created for the battle scenes of the movie. "He's definitely my favorite," he said.

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