Sean Astin,
with Joe Layden,
There & Back Again:
An Actor's Tale

(St. Martin's Press, 2004)

I love behind-the scenes information on movies and how they're made. I'm the type of person who will sit through "Making Of" documentaries while happily munching popcorn, absorbing every detail. And yes, I watched nearly all of the appendices on the Lord of the Rings extended edition DVDs. So I was especially happy to find a copy of There & Back Again on the bookstore's remainder table, as I'd been waiting for the price to come down a bit.

The title (borrowed from Bilbo Baggins's memoir of his journey to Lonely Mountain) and back cover copy suggest the book is all about filming the Lord of the Rings movies from an insider's (specifically, Astin's) viewpoint. A reader with that expectation (specifically, me) would be quite surprised to find that the entire first half of the book is devoted to how Astin actually got "there," which is to say, the point where he was even considered for a part in the movies.

Consequently, there is a lot of discussion of other movies Astin has appeared in, including The Goonies, Rudy and Encino Man. He talks about his relationship with his parents, Patty Duke and John Astin, his own aspirations as a filmmaker and the business side of acting -- how movie deals are negotiated. In point of fact, it is not until the beginning of chapter eight, page 139 -- halfway through the book -- that Astin arrives in New Zealand to begin shooting The Fellowship of the Ring.

I wasn't as interested in the first half of the book as I might have been, because honestly, I picked it up to learn about the making of The Lord of the Rings. That attitude is, perhaps, unfair to Astin, because this is his life, after all. Once he reached New Zealand, though, the book was as full of fascinating information about the filming, about the behind-the-scenes hijinks and insights into the movie-making process as I had hoped. Astin also talks about how he believes his colleagues each view the same process.

Astin is quite candid about his own attitudes and shortcomings, and modest about his successes. While his journey "there" might be a bit longer than would interest most folks, what he did while there and what happened after is fascinating. The book includes eight pages of color photos, some obviously promotional stills, but most from Astin's own scrapbook.

by Laurie Thayer
13 January 2007

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