NewsWire: Marketing Wizards Use Online Savvy to Tease Tolkien Fans - Chicago Tribunes

This article about the theatrical trailer includes a mention of The Tolkien Guild's Preview Line and a brief quote from our own Jonathan.

by Robert K. Elder
Chicago Tribune Staff Writer

Although it will be a year until Middle Earth comes to the Midwest, New Line Cinema is already hyping its Hobbit odyssey, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, with a trailer before Kevin Costner's "Thirteen Days."

Clocking in at just under 2 minutes, the teaser provides a glimpse of author J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world, Middle Earth, and sets up the release dates for the three films -- "The Fellowship of the Ring" (Christmas 2001), "The Two Towers" (2002) and "Return of the King" (2003).

Director Peter Jackson's ("Heavenly Creatures") budget of $270 million for the trilogy (filmed in New Zealand) and commitment to remain true to the much-loved fantasy series have sparked the attention of fans worldwide -- even though the release of the first film is 11 months away.

Friday audiences were among the first to see Tolkien's characters on the silver screen: orcs marching into battle, an enchanting Cate Blanchett (as elf queen Galadriel) talking to Elijah Wood (as furry-footed Hobbit Frodo Baggins), and a long shot of the nine-member Fellowship walking over a mountain ridge, fronted by Ian McKellen as wizard Gandalf.

Perhaps taking a nod from George Lucas, whose trailer for "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" was seen by fans who paid for tickets to "The Waterboy" and "Meet Joe Black," the "Lord of the Rings" teaser was advertised on the Internet and in print ads (including ones in the Chicago Tribune) next to ads for "Thirteen Days."

In Chicago, the earliest showing at the have the trailer due to shipping error, causing at least four Tolkien fans to walk out and ask for their money back.

For Nancy Melin, 30, who saw "Thirteen Days" at Webster Place Theater on the North Side, the trailer influenced her to see a film she otherwise had no interest in.

"I tried to stay offline today, in case someone posted a review of the trailer," Melin said.

"I really like those books, and I think it'll be intriguing to see movies that go full force and remain true to the books."

In New York and Los Angeles, fans camped overnight in front of theaters to see the first morning showing.

Jonathan Watson, 25, in Burbank, Calif., braved rain and camped outside -- complete with an Internet connection, rain tarp and lawn chairs -- with 25 others Tolkien fans for almost 14 hours. Watson said it wasn't time wasted.

"It's more about people with common interests getting together and having a sidewalk party," said Watson, who runs a "Lord of the Rings" fan Web site, with friends.

In April, New Line premiered an Internet-only trailer -- prompting 1.7 million downloads the first day and 6.6 million by the end of the first week, a record that beat Lucas' Web preview of "The Phantom Menace," which had 1.1 million downloads during its first day.

Ann Donahue, a technology reporter for Variety, has been tracking the online marketing campaign for "Lord of the Rings."

"It's another step in Hollywood figuring out how to market movies in a new way," said Donahue, "and New Line is doing it in a really smart way."

That being said, however, it is still too early to tell how the films will be received. "There is the potential for [the films] to be huge, but it could also be a huge failure," Donahue said.

Of the footage shown in the theaters, Watson said: "I only wished that it could have been longer. They used some of the same music and same footage as they did for the Internet teaser, but overall it looks great on the big screen. "It was definitely a teaser, not a trailer, because I don't know how people who don't know about the mythology will get it. But I think it was enough to spark people's interest."

And that's just what the studio hopes to do, said Joe Nimziki, president of theatrical marketing at New Line.

The advanced release of the teaser also coincides with a countdown to the first film on the trilogy's official Web site:

"Frankly, the interest goes just beyond convincing the fans how true to the books and how wonderful the movies are going to be, it goes to creating a whole new generation of fans," said Nimziki, a Tolkien fan since high school.

"Kids under a certain age haven't read the books, and it's not required in schools anymore. So really, one of the reasons we released this trailer a year early was to create awareness about `Lord of the Rings' and put these books back into the classroom. Hopefully, by Decemeber, we're hoping we'll have a whole new generation of Tolkien fans."

By the time the last film comes out, Nimziki will have spent five years of his life promoting the film -- which thus far has been a joy, he said.

"It's actually great for me. Because I think these films are coming together so wonderfully and Tolkien fans are going to be so excited to see it, it really makes it easy" to work on the project, he said.

Tentatively, Nimziki said New Line plans to release a second mini-trailer closer to summer and follow up with a more traditional, full-length trailer in the fall. Nimziki said New Line will kick off the major press campaign for the trilogy in May at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

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