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After 17 years immersed in directing The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit films, Peter Jackson's immediate plans for a future without the fantasy series are firmly grounded in reality.

After 17 years immersed in directing The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit films, Peter Jackson's immediate plans for a future without the fantasy series are firmly grounded in reality.

"I can go to the beach now," says the droll 53-year-old Kiwi.

Actually, the decorated director will still be tinkering around in Middle Earth, where the books are set, for "four or five months", working on the extended cut. "Which is going to be fantastic," he notes. "It's going to be fun because there's some good stuff in there."

And with a monstrous war raging in Middle Earth, The Battle Of The Five Armies, is a fitting send off to the trilogy.

"The epic battle at the centre of this film is the climax of three movies' worth of storylines, which all continue to play out, even as armies are clashing on the battlefield," says the director, who read the books as a teenager.

POWERFUL

"There is a lot of suspense and tension, triumph as well as tragedy, as the various agendas and personal conflicts between the characters come to a head. It's the most powerful and emotional of the three Hobbit films, and honours each character with whom we've gone on this journey."

Gripping as this sounds, restrictions mean Jackson is unlikely to make another foray into Tolkien's fantasy world.

"It's a legal thing," explains the director, whose third Lord Of The Rings film The Return Of The King won a whopping 11 Oscars in 2004.

"The Tolkien estate owns the writings of Professor Tolkien. The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings were sold by Professor Tolkien in the Sixties, the film rights.

"They are the only two works of his that have ever been sold, so without the cooperation of the Tolkien estate, there can't be more films."

This may come as sad news to fans, whose festive seasons are punctuated by the annual dose of the fantasy blockbuster - but Jackson and his stars are pleased to "hand off" to them.

"I'm very proud of the films," says British actor Martin Freeman, 43, who has played the titular hobbit and Everyman hero Bilbo Baggins throughout the trilogy.

"I'm proud of my participation in it, and I'm proud on all of our behalves, really. That's why I don't feel sad about this being the third one - I just want people to see it and like it."

Like Freemam, Sir Ian McKellen, 75, who plays wizard Gandalf throughout the "classic" series, feels "bloody lucky" to be part of Tolkien's world - not least because he is one of the few people who has plunged into that magical kingdom for real.

"People ask, 'What is it like to be in Middle Earth?', and it's an understandable question, because I felt it at the premiere; 'Oh I would love to be there...'. Oh - hang about, I was there! But actually, I wasn't, it was the characters who were there, and Middle Earth is actually in our hearts.

"But it's up there on the screen, and aren't we lucky? More than anybody else, more than the director who is watching through a screen, we were actually there. It is snow falling on our boots, it's grass under our feet and the wind blowing in our faces, " adds McKellen, who says that the next development would be for Jackson to create a "cinematic, living museum", so fans can also experience Middle Earth.

With a film that feels so real for those involved, Jackson is keen to know how fans respond to watching all six films in the "right story order" ("It's 24 hours of joy!"), and how the series will influence future generations.

"I hope I inspire children to make films," he says. "I'm sitting here today the result of films and TV I watched as a kid; Thunderbirds, King Kong, the Ray Harryhausen movies... they're the reason why I'm here.

PROUD

"They excited me, they inspired me to become obsessive about making films, so it would be a wonderful, wonderful thing if there were young kids who were getting affected by our films in the same way. I'd be extremely proud if that were the case."

Nodding his agreement, McKellen, one of the few actors to appear in all six films, hopes the series will be loved for generations to come.

"I was impressed at the premiere by the age of the kids who slept out to wish us well," says the veteran actor, who describes New Zealand where the films were shot as "God's own".

"Some of them weren't born in the last century when we started, so our work is part of their lives. And you know, what are we doing it for, other than to have an effect? And the effect could be that crucial to them.

"So it's not the end, it's the beginning now, as people see the film and then want to see the six of them [together]. That will be a whole different experience."


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