Tolkien Fans on the Web - Entertainment Weekly's Article on the 'Net and the New Movies
Tolkien fans hit the Web over Lord of the Rings movies-two years early
by Gillian Flynn
First of all, Frodo is the coolest, and Elijah Wood is the best-the best-to play him. Second, if Christopher Lee doesn't rule as Saruman, I will not see the movie. Third, they won't get any big actresses-the women's roles are too small. Eeeil Meej cen el Kate Winslet. That's Elvish for "I totally love Kate Winslet." Who won't be in the movie. Which kills me.
There's talk on the Internet, lots of talk, about the trio of live-action Lord of the Rings films, which director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners) is filming back-to-back-to-back over the next 18 months for New Line Cinema. Now some facts: There are several hundred websites devoted to J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpieces. Already half a dozen Ring hubs are scuffling to be the top providers of scoop on the films. And in May, New Line launched its official www.lordoftherings.net-thought to be the earliest film-site debut ever-as the tip of a savvy online marketing plan for the movies.
The first of which won't be released until the end of 2001. The first of which won't even begin filming until October.
Why the big rush? As Gordon Paddison, director of interactive marketing for New Line, puts it: "Lord of the Rings is a slam dunk for the Net." Translation: It has the frenzied fan base of a Star Wars, the branding possibilities of an Austin Powers, and the mythological richness of a Blair Witch Project. All of which, it will be noted, were Internet marketing juggernauts.
And all of which New Line now plans to run Rings around. The studio is on an online mission to spread good news of Middle-earth to the masses, as well as getting the converted really Shired up. The main studio site(www.newline.com) offers a special edition of the trilogy, along with a note from Jackson explaining his vision for the films. Other tie-ins (Pippin Pops? Gollum Goggles?) are in the works. Eventually, goods from the movies themselves will hit New Line's Internet auction block: Prop masters have been instructed to save everything from random sketches to the One Ring itself. The official lordoftherings.net will soon become a nerve center for the films, featuring a customized, downloadable browser, production diaries, breaking video, chats, in-depth guides to Tolkien mythology, and-wise move-highlights from hot fan sites, which the studio acknowledges will be crucial to good buzz.
The question remains, of course, whether New Line can profitably exploit a fan base that has both contrarian arms and a whole lot of time to kill before the movie opens. In fact, the studio has already had to quell a July Internet uprising that began when fans gathered at the Rings-friendly Ain't It Cool News started howling like a pack of rabid hobbits over New Line's refusal to dish.
A little discord is to be expected. These are passionate folks, after all, with opinions and criticism-galore-of plot and casting choices. "There is a pro-and-con even split for almost every name being put out," says Mike De Luca, president of production for New Line. And those names are put out early: Although the studio has been playing coy, the Internet broke the news that Wood is Frodo, Sean Astin is Sam Gamgee, Ian Holm is Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen is (who else?) Gandalf.
Most of the buzz can be tracked back to the fan sites. In Liverpool, Laurence Moss, webmaster for the unofficial Peter Jackson Online (welcome.to/pj-online), posted Holm's casting after "sources" e-mailed that they'd seen the actor in New Zealand, where filming is based. Michael Regina, webmaster for the Montreal-based site TheOneRing.net (theonering.net), has a section packed with spy reports, including Leonardo DiCaprio Rings rumors ("End of Middle-earth as we know it"). And Joram Manka, who heads the lavish Ringbearer.org (ringbearer.org) from North Prairie, Minn., has started an online petition to restore the mysterious, beloved character Tom Bombadil (think of him as the Rings' Boba Fett)-rumored to be scratched from the movie. Manka has 3,500 signatures so far, and upwards of 125,000 hits a week. Despite such potential trouble spots, New Line looks as though it might be able to play nice with fan sites. Director Jackson has already submitted to two Ain't It Cool Q&A's to soothe RTFs (Rabid Tolkien Fanatics) worried about the adaptation. And studio exec De Luca wrote AICN a mea culpa of sorts, offering his e-mail address for fans with questions. He now receives more than 150 queries a week-and fan sites are, so far, actually listening to his answers. As for the grousing and gossip, he's not concerned that the early buzz will turn ugly. "The Internet is all good. These people love the books so much they can't not go see the movie," he says.
Manka agrees. "I can see this as big as or bigger than Star Wars," he says. "I totally expect people dressed up as Gandalf at the premiere." Advice: Get your long wooden staff early, and avoid the 2001 rush.