Andy Serkis, Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic (Harper Collins, 2003)

Let's face it, the movie version of Gollum could have been a disaster. Computer generated characters have a distinct tendency to be irritating in inverse proportion to their technical cleverness. I have to say that when I first heard that a computer generated Gollum was to play a major role in The Two Towers my heart sank. I had visions of a sort of Jar-Jar-Binks-with-fish.

In fact, Gollum is not just clever computing with a human voice dubbed in. The character is a stunning piece of acting. Gollum's physical shape may be significantly different from that of the actor, Andy Serkis. All the same, when Gollum is on screen, there can be no doubt that we are seeing Andy Serkis's performance. Gollum's movements, his facial expressions, his reactions to other characters and his voice — one moment pathetically wheedling, the next moment hissing with rage — are all Andy Serkis.

Some of the technical wizardry that transformed Andy into Gollum was revealed on the extended DVD of The Two Towers. In Gollum: How We made Movie Magic, Andy Serkis fills in the human dimension of the character.

In a little over 120 pages, this book takes us through the entire history of Andy's involvement with the Gollum character, from the auditions right through to the release of The Two Towers. While the fairly large format of this book (9.5 in by 7 in) and its lavish colour illustrations may make it look like no more than a glossy souvenir for Lord Of the Rings fans, it is much more than that. It is very much an actor's personal account of his involvement in a ludicrously ambitious technical and artistic experiment.

There are little box-outs of information and commentary from various technical specialists and designers throughout the book but the main text is provided by Serkis himself. There are some great little stories here — everything from the important role of Andy Serkis's cat (whose sicking-up-furball noises were the inspiration for the voice of Gollum) to the little known art of eviscerating artificial rabbits with your teeth. Towards the end of the book, Andy recalls the set being visited by some movie industry people: ‘"Hey, Andy," (they said) "This is like cinema history being made." I would politely agree, then crawl back onto my rock ready for the next take and think nothing of it.'

This book provides a few glimpses of the curious blend of technical and artistic skill combined with sheer hard work that went into producing that remarkable piece of cinema history.

[Huw Collingbourne]