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By Alastair

Ah, the internet. It's like a glorified game of Chinese whispers, only with more pornography. With no editor to check the facts, any interesting new celebrity gossip will usually circumnavigate the world twice and make it to the tabloid magazines before anybody will bother to check if it's actually true.

We decided to throw a little misinformation of our own into the mix.

Dramatis Personae
John Rhys-Davies is the very awesome actor behind Gimli and Treebeard from Lord of the Rings, Sallah from the Indiana Jones series, and of course, Professor Maximilian Arturo from Sliders. He has a theatrical British accent, a beard, and a Tim Curry-esque knack for maintaining the utmost of dignity in even the worst of films. We suspect he fights crime in his spare time.
Ain't It Cool News is one of the best-known movie rumour websites in existence, and perhaps even outside it. Their reputation for breaking the latest film news is matched only by their reputation for occasionally embarrassing quality control. Despite their many legitimate inside sources, they have an alarming habit of publishing complete rubbish from anonymous emails. It is run by geek icon Harry Knowles, who also has a beard.
General Grievous is the new CGI villain in the upcoming Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. If his name sounds ridiculous, that's because it is. A notorious Jedi killer, this mysterious alien-turned-droid is the military genius behind the Separatist movement. He does not have a beard.

The Experiment: start a false rumour, then see how far it would travel before getting squashed. But what, for the platonic love of God, could we do? Certainly nothing defamatory, out of fear of getting sued, not to mention basic human decency. That ruled out "Sean Connery Prefers Sheep". And nothing too sensationalist, or else it would never take off. "Frank Sinatra Rises From The Grave" was off, then.

Lo and behold! Along came the Supanova science fiction convention in my hometown of Brisbane, Australia. Amongst the guest list was the master dwarf impersonator himself, John Rhys-Davies. At the time I thought nothing of it. The event came and went. But the following day, an idea struck me so hard I might as well have insulted its mother. Rumours at the time suggested Gary Oldman was to voice General Grievous, but couldn't due to his commitment to the Screen Actors' Guild. This left the voice actor unknown.

What if:

  • John Rhys-Davies were to fill this role?
  • He were to hint at this at an out-of-the-way Australian science fiction convention?

    As a wise philosopher once said: "it's so crazy it just might work!" I fired off a quick half-hearted email to Ain't It Cool News to get the ball rolling. This would, of course, need another 600 false reports to sound credible. Right?

    Three hours later, I checked up on AICN to find the following headline in enthusiastic size 32 text:

    Gimli to take over for Beethoven on

    From one email? Surely they couldn't! But sure enough...

    Hey folks, Harry here -- we've been hearing the news of Gary Oldman exiting stage left on George Lucas due to his grievances regarding George's SAG violations, and due to those grevious issues, he felt unable to continue with Grevious.... But one grumpy dwarf later and all is well? We'll see...

    Hey, long time reader, first time (et cetera).

    Sorry to bug you with something you've probably already gotten 60 emails about, but since you haven't published it yet, I thought I should let you know.

    Many residents of Brisbane, Australia (myself included) recently got the chance to meet, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies (Sliders, Lord of the Rings) and Penny Johnson Jerald (24, Star Trek: DS9), amongst others, at the Brisbane Supanova sci-fi convention.

    I (like most people) went to meet Samwise Gangee, but the most interesting thing happened during Rhys-Davies' session. Someone asked if he would be doing any more voice work after playing Treebeard in LotR, or something along those lines. He said:

    "I'm doing some next month, in fact. Let's say the working conditions are ...Grevious."

    Now I'm not sure if that's an exact quote, but he certainly did drop that last word. He seemed to give a little wiggle of the eyebrows too, though it might just be my imagination. Not sure if many others picked up on it, but I heard people talking about it at university this morning. Word travels fast, I guess. And if it means what I think it means.... wow.

    Gary Oldman, eat your heart out ^_^

    Hope this helps,

    -Alastair "HappyBob" Craig

    The damage was done. Hundreds, if not thousands, had already seen the "news". linked to it immediately afterwards, meaning huge chunk of the Star Wars community would read this.

    EP3: Is John Rhys-Davies General Grievous?
    Posted By Scott on September 20, 2004

    AICN reports that John Rhys-Davies may be doing the voice of General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith. Check the link for details! Thanks to "Phillip Newsome" for the alert.

    TFN made one small but fatal flaw: the word "reporting" suggests a well-researched piece of journalism, not an unsubstantiated email from a random fan. A forum thread on the matter was already approaching one hundred posts. (Most loved the idea, or at least considered Rhys-Davies an interesting choice. Others were a bit more sceptical, but comparatively few questioned the actual integrity of the source.) All this in just a few hours over one email from someone who wasn't even entirely sure. I love the internet!

    "Why should this be taken with a grain of salt? It is not confirmed but AICN is as reliable, or even more reliable, than any other spoiler site I've seen. They had the first story about Greivous, they had the opening scenes of the movie first, they had the Christensen replaces Shaw on the dvd first.... Just because people here don't find their attitude towards Lucas too pleasant, doesn't mean they don't know what they are talking about."
    - "Jolt_Cola", TFN's Episode III Spoiler Forum

    With TFN and AICN in the bag, others quickly followed.

    IGN Filmforce - "Wookiees and the Voice of Grievous"
    "John Rhys-Davies, whose notable resume includes the Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings films, is strongly rumored to be the new voice of the half-alien, half-robotic Grievous. Davies himself hinted at the part during his appearance at a science fiction convention in Brisbane, Australia this week. (Source: TFN)"

    Empire Online - "First Pic Of Episode III's General Grievous Online"
    "The character was originally intended to be voiced by Gary Oldman, but the actor pulled out when he realised he couldn’t work within Lucasfilm’s non-union policy. Although a replacement hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, John Rhys-Davies has been dropping Jabba-sized hints that he’s been lined up for the job."

    The Guardian (!) - "In brief: John Rhys-Davies hints at General Grievous role"
    "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith could see John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, play the part Gary Oldman turned down for its infringement of acting union rules.
    "Rhys-Davies told a sci-fi convention that he was about to start work on a "Grievous new role" - a possible reference to the part of General Grievous a half-alien, half-robot villain. He has already worked for George Lucas in the Indiana Jones series."

    The Movie Insider - "Previews: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith"
    "Cast: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, James Earl Jones, Jay Laga'aia, Peter Mayhew, Jimmy Smits, Tux Akindoyeni, Dave Bowers, Mimi Daraphet, Paul Davies, Sandi Finlay, Nalini Krishan, Kenji Oates, Mary Oyaya, Matt Rowan, Orli Shoshan, Sandy Thompson, Marty Wetherill, Keisha Castle-Hughes, John Rhys-Davies, and Graeme Blundell."

    This triggered a predictable domino effect. Later reports listed IGN and The Guardian - yes, the god damned Guardian - as sources, which effectively meant the news progressively got more reliable. Barely 48 hours after the original announcement, many were already discussing Rhys-Davies' role as if it were confirmed. The rumour turned out to be surprisingly foolproof, if only through luck. Firstly, the nature of the event meant only a handful of fans might have heard the news. Secondly, the fictional quote was quite easy to believe. It was only a vague hint, and something a theatrical actor like Rhys-Davies could feasibly have dropped. Only an official confirmation or denial would put the reports to rest.

    To solidify the rumour, I sent a confirmation email to TheForce.Net.

    EP3: More on Grievous' Voice
    Posted By Joshua on September 22, 2004

    Cynical_Dog writes in to TFN with more on the Gary Oldeman/John Rhys-Davies switch over General Grievous. The story first broke yesterday.

    I can confirm that John Rhys-Davies dropped the word "Grievous" at the Brisbane sci-fi con last Sunday. Believe me, it wasn't just a throwaway comment. He put a lot of emphasis on the word, complete with a fantastic dramatic pause. "The conditions are, shall we say ...Grievous". Pure genius.

    At a very rough guess, I'd say about 20-30 people would have heard the comment. How many picked up on the subtext is anyone's guess, but by the end of the day it seemed like the news had travelled all around the showgrounds. I'm surprised it took more than 3 hours to find its way online.

    Anyway, I really, really hope this is true and he wasn't just messing with the fans' minds. I was kind of hoping Mark Hammil would get the gig, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of Gimli playing the melodramatic villain role. It's not like this would be his first appearance in a George Lucas film...

    The information stewed about the Star Wars community for another week before being thrown into doubt, when those strapping young folks at TFN published another email:

    EP3: Is John Rhys-Davies Voicing Grievous?
    Posted By Joshua on September 28, 2004

    Ken Benoki sends in this report:

    I just met John Rhys-Davies at a comic con down here in Wellington, New Zealand. I should really say I bundle him into a corner and asked him directly 'bout voicing Grevious in EPI 3. The conversation went something like this...

    'Hi Mr. Davies, how are you?' We shake hands. He replies 'good good'. I then asked him directly when he's going to the Ranch to record the lines for General Grevious, he went blank and turned to his minder who stared back at him just as shocked... 'Ah, Star Wars? Star Wars? I'm not the voice of Darth Vader!' I replied 'Of course not, you're the General aren't you?' He then pretty much just moved on to his other engagements.

    I felt bad for doing it as he's a really nice guy, who had answered alot of questions about a whole lot of stuff. (Including Indy IV) In NZ, he's looked upon as an adopted son, so I chose to do it in private rather than the open mike Q & A.

    So it's really going either way with him voicing Grevious, but after the line he dropped in Australia last week, Lucasfilm has probaly hushed him up a bit... IF he is voicing the General!?!

    Luckily, Rhys-Davies didn't confirm or deny anything. This didn't stop the rumour spreading... or seeing print.

    Months later, major science fiction magazines SFX and Dreamwatch both published the rumour.

    SFX (Issue #124, December 2004)

    Dreamwatch (Issue #123, January 2005)

    While SFX wisely took the Rhys-Davies' words with a grain of salt, even they never considered the entire quote might be fictitious.

    George Harrison once said all things must pass. Bob Dylan told us the times were a-changin'. The Royal Teens informed us that they, indeed, liked short shorts. And so the story inevitably draws to a close. As expected, the whole charade finally ended with an official announcement of the real Grievous voice actor. Matthew Wood, a sound designer for the prequels, was selected after anonymously entering his audition tape into the mix. Hooray, huzzah, let's have a pint.

    With the rumour now debunked, it's easy to forget that for four months, a very considerate portion of the Star Wars community believed John Rhys-Davies was General Grievous. The prank became a spectacular showcase of how far misinformation will travel online when journalists don't properly research their sources. Even Mr. Rhys-Davies got some good publicity out of it. All, for the better part, from a single email.

    I'll say it again: I love the internet.

    Apologies to TFN, "Ken Benoki" and of course, John Rhys-Davies.
    (Who, we're sure, would appreciate the funny side. Please don't sue!)

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