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Sean Astin is best known to film geeks around the world as Sam Gamgee, the lovable gardener in "Lord of the Rings." But there's a man behind the hobbit, and in "There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale," Astin gives us a glimpse of his life, his work, his family, and his time during the making of the immortal film trilogy.

Astin was born into a Hollywood family -- his mother was Patty Duke, and the guy he thought was his biological father was John Astin. But his early family life was marred by Duke's manic-depressive illness, and the question of who his biological father was (he now calls four men "Dad"). He made his movie debut in "The Goonies" when he was thirteen, and continued acting in various movies including "Rudy," the recent goofy romance "50 First Dates," and even created a sweet short film, "The Long and Short of It."

In 1998, Astin got the role of a lifetime -- Samwise Gamgee, hobbit Frodo Baggins' loyal pal and pillar of strength. So Astin gained weight, packed up his wife and daughter, and went to idyllic New Zealand for eighteen months. In this book, Astin reveals the hardships, the revelations, and the friendships from the vast movie shoot, and what came after.

People just looking for more behind-the-scenes movie dirt may be initially disappointed by "There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale," since it focuses a lot on Astin's non-"Rings" life. But this isn't just a "Rings" story -- it's Astin's story. He focuses not just on the "Rings" trilogy, but on his own struggles and triumphs. And his life story is an interesting read that seems to mirror Astin's own personality: erudite, funny, friendly, sad and family-oriented.

But the "Rings" shoot is pretty fascinating, especially since Astin was right in the middle of it. He gives us a better idea of what his costars were like (Viggo Mortensen likes to "blow through a party handing everybody a copy of three different books that he's read, and then move on"), and how they felt about him. One particularly interesting part is Astin describing the time ex-Aragorn Stuart Townsend spent on the set, and the reasons why Townsend didn't work out in the role.

Astin frank and candid, doesn't whitewash the truth, but also seems quite generous with his costars. Sometimes he comes across as a bit whiny and know-it-all-ish, but he's also the first one to admit it. Everyone has their arrogant moments, but Astin is brave enough to bare his unflattering mistakes before the world, and say he was wrong. And his writing (with Joe Layden as coauthor) is polished and literate -- not something you see in many Hollywood autobios.

Astin also includes a load of personal pics. Most of them have a very laid-back, almost intimate feel -- the hobbits and their costars hanging out, showing off their costumes, bungee jumping, or filming (including Elijah Wood covered in webbing). Not to mention ones like Billy Boyd playing with Sean's daughter, or Sean and his daughter looking over the beautiful landscape of New Zealand.

Sean Astin gives readers a glimpse of his life and work in "There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale." It's not merely for fans of "Lord of the Rings," but also for fans of Astin and the moviemaking experience.
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on 3 October 2004
A better title for this book would have been "Me! Me! Me" or "Poor me!" or "Three years of imaginary slights from fellow cast members revisited".
For fans of the movie franchise this reveals some things that have never been discussed in public before and as such constitutes a 'must have', but when it comes to the real 'meat' of acting in the movies, from Astin or any other cast member, this is very much an offering for vegetarians. Instead what one gets is 'the private diary of Sean Astin, aged 14 3/4' - or at least that's how it reads. Despite the impression that this is a book about LOTR it's over a hundred pages before Astin really gets onto the subject, and then we're into a long barrage of 'damning with faint praise' or long rants about imagined slights from fellow actors. At one point Astin argues that he's not a Hollywood brat, but this book seems to make a very strong case that he is - and an insecure, arrogant, bitter, hypocritical and self-obsessed one at that.
Most of Astin's fellow-actors are criticised over extremely trivial things. So we get complaints about Mortensen's 'trench warfare' in bombarding the writers with suggestions, complaints about Bloom not stopping a conversation with a Hollywood bigwig at Cannes when the obviously-more-important Mr Astin arrives, or complaints about McKellen and Holm (real actors, Sean!) not having the hypocrisy to repay his 'Your acting's fantastic' compliment.
Given that large sections of the book are given over to public apologies to those he's abused in interviews in the past (Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis) you'd think he'd have known better and learnt from past mistakes, but alas not. Repetition is everywhere so that eg we're told he doesn't like John Howe's work as much as Alan Lee's not once, not twice, not three times, and he takes stances on situations where he hasn't even checked his basic facts (for the record Billy Boyd is the oldest of the hobbits, not Sean, and his 9/11 Two Towers speech contains sentences written by Tolkien not written from scratch by Walsh and Boyens).
That being said it's a book that's hard to put down. It's an addictive, if at times unpleasant, read leaving one wondering at the end if Astin means to be deliberately malicious or is just not clever enough to realise the huge gaff he's made in putting his private whines and petty whinges into the public domain.
All that being said, fans of the movie will love the gossip and unique perspective on what it was like to get involved with these movies.
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on 9 October 2004
The book is nicely structured explaining, not just Sean's involvement with Lord Of The Rings, but also his previous movies. How things were different on various movie sets, how Sean was treated, and what other things were going on in his life at the time of certain movies etc.
The main focus on Lord Of The Rings is so honest and striking. Sean doesn't hold back how he was feeling about certain elements of filming or how he interacted with the other actors on set. In some places it paints quite a different picture to how he appeared in public when talking about the movies.
The book also has quite a few surprises from Sean, on how he perceived certain things on LOTR, and very courageously he doesn't hold back from showing his insecurities and fears.
An enjoyable book for any LOTR fan or person that wants to know more about Sean and the day to day hardships of the acting world. The only down point was some of the text is a little repetitive, but it is written in Sean's rambling style, and that's just him; you can almost hear him say the words.
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on 21 September 2004
This book is of two minds. It wants to tell you about this great epic battle in New Zealand that produced this astonishing trilogy going on to conquer the world. And it wants you to tell about the life and times of Sean Astin, the director-actor. It shoud have been a rare opportunity to travel with a fellow director into this epic journey, meeting that other director and actors and getting a first-hand account of the makings of Lord of the Rings. But it didn't quite work out that way.
It is indeed a journey, a bumpy road full of unexpected twists and turns. But the authors (it was co-written by Joe Layden, who'd also written ""The Rock says...") didn't get it quite right. The problem is that a reader may expect indeed a book about the filming of this epic and Sean Astin's role in it or view about it. Instead it has become an (auto)biography of Astin, with Lord of the Rings as background. And that's too much. I think Astin is a gifted director, and his role of Samwise Gamgee in the movies is admirable. But just when you think that you''re packed to enjoy this bumpy ride the author is digressing. A lot. It is really annoying that he can't get a straight story out of it. Time and again we're thrown back to Astin's other endeavours as actor or director, following out-of-sync roads to other journeys including the path of self-realization, marred by a tone of whining and moaning about the bad things in his life.
This I could bear if the author(s) had stuck to the idea of a book about the life and times of Astin, but now it is sold on the bandwagon that is called "Lord of the Rings", and that doesn't sound right. I've the feeling that Astin, a director in his own right, never has gotten beyond that part.
Astin has the right to write from his point of view as director-actor. But pride of place should have been Lord of the Rings. Not the other way around, for then you're onto a circular road, narrower than the Ring ever has been.
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Sean Astin is best known to film geeks around the world as Sam Gamgee, the lovable gardener in "Lord of the Rings." But there's a man behind the hobbit, and in "There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale," Astin gives us a glimpse of his life, his work, his family, and his time during the making of the immortal film trilogy.
Astin was born into a Hollywood family -- his mother was Patty Duke, and the guy he thought was his biological father was John Astin. But his early family life was marred by Duke's manic-depressive illness, and the question of who his biological father was (he now calls four men "Dad"). He made his movie debut in "The Goonies" when he was thirteen, and continued acting in various movies including "Rudy," the recent goofy romance "50 First Dates," and even created a sweet short film, "The Long and Short of It."
In 1998, Astin got the role of a lifetime -- Samwise Gamgee, hobbit Frodo Baggins' loyal pal and pillar of strength. So Astin gained weight, packed up his wife and daughter, and went to idyllic New Zealand for eighteen months. In this book, Astin reveals the hardships, the revelations, and the friendships from the vast movie shoot, and what came after.
People just looking for more behind-the-scenes movie dirt may be initially disappointed by "There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale," since it focuses a lot on Astin's non-"Rings" life. But this isn't just a "Rings" story -- it's Astin's story. He focuses not just on the "Rings" trilogy, but on his own struggles and triumphs. And his life story is an interesting read that seems to mirror Astin's own personality: erudite, funny, friendly, sad and family-oriented.
But the "Rings" shoot is pretty fascinating, especially since Astin was right in the middle of it. He gives us a better idea of what his costars were like (Viggo Mortensen likes to "blow through a party handing everybody a copy of three different books that he's read, and then move on"), and how they felt about him. One particularly interesting part is Astin describing the time ex-Aragorn Stuart Townsend spent on the set, and the reasons why Townsend didn't work out in the role.
Astin frank and candid, doesn't whitewash the truth, but also seems quite generous with his costars. Sometimes he comes across as a bit whiny and know-it-all-ish, but he's also the first one to admit it. Everyone has their arrogant moments, but Astin is brave enough to bare his unflattering mistakes before the world, and say he was wrong. And his writing (with Joe Layden as coauthor) is polished and literate -- not something you see in many Hollywood autobios.
Astin also includes a load of personal pics. Most of them have a very laid-back, almost intimate feel -- the hobbits and their costars hanging out, showing off their costumes, bungee jumping, or filming (including Elijah Wood covered in webbing). Not to mention ones like Billy Boyd playing with Sean's daughter, or Sean and his daughter looking over the beautiful landscape of New Zealand.
Sean Astin gives readers a glimpse of his life and work in "There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale." It's not merely for fans of "Lord of the Rings," but also for fans of Astin and the moviemaking experience.
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on 20 October 2004
What struck me about this book was its bravery. Sean Astin is not afraid to voice concerns and frustrations about the Industry and about his colleagues that other actors keep hidden for the sake of contacts, reputations and career advancement. As a result, we see a side of the Industry that we have never been privy to before. Sean Astin lays bare his deepest thoughts and concerns, and his most human vulnerabilities. Although like all of us, he can appear self-absorbed at times, he comes across as a refreshingly honest man, dedicated to his family, and constantly striving to improve himself. As such, 'There and Back Again' makes for a moving and inspirational read.
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on 27 March 2015
I'm not entirely sure how I managed it, but I did read this book in one sitting. However, don't let that mislead you into thinking it's what blurb writers like to call "unputdownable". Far from it. 

Sean Astin seems like a nice guy on camera. In this book... hmm. Maybe not quite so much. That said, I get the feeling that a lot of his overly-critical, insecure and self-analytical mien has to do with depression that he apparently refuses to acknowledge. His mother, actress Patty Duke, notoriously struggled with bipolar disorder, and as Astin has political ambitions, he claims to want to keep away from the idea of being "labelled". It's a pity. I think some therapy would do this guy a lot of good.

His wife sounds like a genuinely nice person, and the anecdotes about his work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy are especially interesting for someone who may never have had the patience to watch all those hours of extra footage on the extended edition DVDs. 

However, those are just the highlights of this book, and they don't comprise so much as half of it. I know an e-book is dragging when I find myself glancing at how far I have yet to go to finish it, and I did that at least twice with this one. It meanders, talking about subjects twenty years apart before revisiting scenes abandoned 30 pages ago in the middle of something completely different and going off at tangents when you least expect them. 

In all honesty, this book made me feel sorry for Astin more than anything else. He's over-privileged and doesn't seem to realise that, and doesn't appear to get on with other people very easily or know why he doesn't. As I've said before - this guy needs some therapy. And a better ghostwriter (or co-writer).

2.5 stars (rounded down), the extra .5 for the pity factor and the inclusion of a few semi-awesome set photos from the filming of LotR (I laughed aloud at the one of Astin and Elijah Wood taken just after Sam's defeat of Shelob - Elijah's facial expression in his cocoon of spider-silk is a picture all by itself). I'd probably have rounded it up to 3 stars if I hadn't had to pay for it. I wish I'd started reading it in enough time after my purchase to be able to get a refund - for £4.50 it's an overpriced waste. Don't bother.
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on 16 April 2014
I really enjoyed this book. Having read other feedback I didn't approach it solely as a behind the scenes LOTR story, though when Sean finally got to that bit it was fascinating and knowing his acting and family background helped to understand the angle he was coming from. I found his earnestness sometimes a bit painful and wished for his sake he could have just enjoyed his experiences (and the opportunity of working on such a brilliant production) more but that is probably true of most of us, hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Funnily enough, when I saw the extended version and documentaries of LOTR I had similar misgivings about the safety of the actors, often just seeing the sheer volume of people that must have been on set working all those gruelling hours in that terrain, but thought that there must be some magical movie 'thing' that happened to ensure no-one really got hurt, apparently not.
He loses the plot in a few places and meanders off on a tangent but on the whole it made entertaining reading.
He seems to have had the idea that Sam could have had a more prominent role from the beginning but I bet most of the main actors had ideas of stardom even if they didn't voice it, a certain amount of ego must just come with the territory. I thought he portrayed Sam brilliantly as did all the actors with their respective roles, the casting was a stroke of genius right down to the last orc as far as I could see and there seems to have been far less in-house wrangling than you would expect! He made some good and genuine friends and you get the impression he speaks honestly and from the heart - with naturally a bit of whinging thrown in. Perhaps this far on a few more young members of the cast could look back at their time on the set of LOTR and write a bio from their view...please.
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on 1 March 2008
I wouldn't recommend you read this book! Why? let me explain. I loved Sean Astin's as Sam in the LOTR, like every other actor he gave a stellar performance and was frankly brilliant. I also loved him in the Goonies, in my mind a childhood classic!! In this book (to be fair to him) he gives a open, honest and frank account of his career and the whole LOTR film process. However if your a fan of the trilogy this book doesn't add a great deal, a lot of this is covered in the DVD extended editions! Only a third of the book is devoted to the LOTR, the rest is about Sean's few other films and personal feelings. If your a fan of Sean Astin I think you will be bitterly disappointed. After reading this book I didn't warm to him. The moment I finally lost patience was when he dreamed of having a dinner/meeting with Peter Jackson, stating 'the two us discussing ideas like two titans of the film industry!'. Peter Jackson a titan, yes of course, Sean Astin.....sorry no!
Sean's writing style I also found frustrating, when he finally started to talk about the LOTR, he would go of on a tangent about his other films, Rudy being the main one, before coming back to the original story.
For me this is a classic case of wishing I hadn't been tempted in the first place. The vision that you had of someone, completely shattered by reality. Sometimes it best to leave some things alone!!
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VINE VOICEon 11 February 2007
I was deeply disappointed by this as I was expecting to learn more about The Lord of The Rings films from someone who had been on the 'inside'. Instead what I got was a lot about Sean and then a lot more about Sean with only little bits of other stuff thrown in amongst yet more stuff about Sean!

A word of warning to the potential reader - Beware - because you may find that you run the risk of beginning to dislike Mr Astin and what could be (and has been) described by some as his whingeing. I decided to cut short my reading before I reached this point as I wanted to continue to have a regard and esteem for a man who is an actor of worth.

If you want to learn LOTS about Sean Astin and his life experiences so far, along with his views of 'the craft' then this is for you. If like me you wanted to learn about the movie stay well clear as you will not learn much about Peter Jackson's fabulous cinematic trilogy from this book.
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