One Web Ring To Bind Them - Lord of the Rings fans connect online's Greg Knauss writes that the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy won't be out until December 2001, but hordes of fans are already dissecting it online.

Here is a brief excerpt:

Tom Bombadil is dead. Some people are not happy about this.

Bombadil is a character from J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings, and according to the director of the upcoming movie adaptation of the trilogy, he's been cut from the story. To anybody outside the community of devout fans that Tolkien and his stories have amassed online, this can't possibly mean much. But inside...inside it's a whole different story.

When director Peter Jackson (Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures) announced that Bombadil was gone, on the notorious Ain't It Cool News in August 1998, an explosion of conversation -- much of it contentious -- erupted across dozens of websites. Was Jackson toying with the story too much? Would Bombadil really be missed? Could everybody's favorite all-singing, all-dancing adventurer have even been translated to film without joining The Phantom Menace's Jar Jar Binks as a model of failed comic relief? The argument still rages to this day -- as do hundreds of others, great and small, over casting choices and accents, over elf princess Arwen and the funeral of Theodred.

These are not trivial matters. The fate of The Lord of the Rings -- a $180 million live-action epic spread across three movies and three years -- could very well be riding on details such as these. The Internet has become one of the primary resources for both building and sustaining that much sought-after movie biz intangible known as buzz, and the bedrock of Internet-spawned buzz is the fans. If the fans think you've gotten it right -- if they agree that Bombadil belongs on the cutting-room floor, for instance -- then you've probably gotten it right. If the fans think you've gotten it wrong, well.... Good luck, pal.

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