SPOILER David's Review of the Theatrical Trailer - More Questions Than Answers

To be fair, I should describe my current state-of-mind before giving you my review of the theatrical trailer.

I arrived at the AMC 14 Theaters in Burbank at 11 p.m. last night. It was cold and rainy, but I was warmed by the opportunity to see with Jonathan and Ted, whom I had met in person only one time before (I do my Tolkien Online reporting from home), and meeting Jon Cline, mandos and Joram from Ringbearer for the first time.

Now, I had originally planned to spend a few hours with them, and then go home and see the trailer near my office during my lunch break the next day, since I have to get my kids to school and daycare in the morning. But at the last minute my wife convinced me that I shouldn’t miss this event with all the volunteer work I do for Tolkien Online. (Okay, okay, it didn’t take that much arm twisting. Plus, I was having a blast.). So, I stayed until 3:30 in the morning, drove home, got an hour’s sleep, sent work a message that I wouldn’t be in that day, did my paternal responsibilities, and got back to the preview line by 8:30.

An army of news reporters had also arrived on the scene. Journalists from the Los Angeles Daily news and the Burbank newspaper, and film crews from E! Online and folks shooting documentary footage about the making of the films. It was four hours of waiting, punctuated by the excitement of being interviewed about something I am so passionate about. All that, with free "Frodo Lives" T-shirts and a Krispee Kreme doughnut sugar high, too!.

At 12:30, we saw The Trailer. We then stayed on to watch Thirteen Days (a film that remains unrelentingly tense through its entire length -- I highly recommend it). Afterwards, we saw The Trailer for a second time -- a special arrangement by the theater for our event. So I write with a mixture of exhaustion and elation. Perhaps my view will change in the morning, but here is my impressions of the trailer today.

Note: Jonathan, Ted and I agreed to write three separate reviews of the trailer without consulting each other, so please forgive me if I repeat things you’ve read in other reviews.

The trailer opens with a scene of the fiery inscription being magically etched onto the One Ring. This is similar to the inscription sequence in last year’s internet trailer, except that the sequence is much quicker and the effects more refined – the colors are vivid, the textures are rich, and the writing is ornate.

The narrator intones "One Ring to rule them all., One Ring to bind them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" as the inscribed Ring spins away into an ominous red clouds discharging blue lightning… and lands in an outstretched hand (Frodo’s presumably – one of the shots of Frodo catching the ring described by Beren of Company of the Ring: Tol Galen in his End of Week One Blue Screen Set Report).

Frodo’s clenched hand opens up to reveal the Ring in the center of his palm. The Ring appears to shrink in a couple of violent spasms.

This is followed by a series of brief scenes, none lasting more than a second. Some we’ve seen before in the internet trailer, others are new and thus difficult to make out in the brief instance we see them:

  • Sauron’s army marching across Mordor, rendered even more impressively than we saw in the Internet trailer
  • Black riders thundering down a road
  • Strider throwing his torch towards the camera
  • An armored man thrusting his sword into the ground (Isildur cutting off Sauron’s ring finger, perhaps?
  • An armored man and a hobbit standing upon a platform high above a town
  • A rotating overhead shot of Arwen lying upon a sofa placed on leaf-covered ground. (The scene reminded me somewhat of that shot of the girl covered in rose petals in "American Beauty." What could it be? Well, the Fellowship slept in a similar setting during their stay in Lothlorien. Do we see a flashback of Aragorn meeting Arwen when Frodo catches Aragorn daydreaming about her at the foot of Cerin Amroth?)
  • A white bearded man with his face contorted in horror or anger (Gandalf facing the Balrog?)

After this rapid successions of cuts, we see a rather long scene between Galadriel and Frodo. The camera switches between close-ups on each of their faces as she says, "Even the smallest person can change the course of history." Unless my sleep-deprived brain is playing tricks on me, I do not believe that this line is from the books.

The "Lord of the Rings" logo appears. It does NOT say "J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings" as it did in the internet trailer – it just says "Lord of the Rings."

Next, we see a bird’s eye view of the Fellowship marching across the snow-covered slopes of Caradhras. This scene cuts to a view of a alpine mountain vista. The scenery is majestic and the cinematography gorgeous – this is Middle-earth captured on film! One by one, each member of the Fellowship marches up the slope and passes by our view: Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, the hobbits, Bill the pony, Boromir and Aragorn. The camera lingers on each character for a moment, although the hobbits and Gimli are a bit difficult to see because they are so low in the frame. The titles of each of the films and their release dates, appearing in faint lettering, fade in and out during this scene.

The trailer ends with actor credits identical to what we saw in the Internet trailer, a tag line: "You will find adventure or adventure will find you," and the URL for the Official Site.

Was it a good trailer?

Well, it was quite different from the one we saw last year. It was much shorter overall, had a much less even pacing by sandwiching a sequence of extremely quick shots between several lengthy scenes, and contained no behind-the-scenes info.

Here is what it seemed to be telling the audience about the films: this is a story about an evil and powerful ring that falls into the possession of a relatively insignificant person, who then embarks on an exciting and dangerous adventure and must change the course of events by embarking on a journey across beautiful landscapes with some odd-looking companions. Period. End of story description.

There is no reference to who made the Ring, what makes it so dangerous and powerful, or what must be done with it. There is no reference to magic or magical being – we can’t really see the pointed ears on the elves or any other evidence of the fantastic; the world that the movie takes place in might easily be mistaken for a medieval one. There is no reference to who the characters are or what is special about any of them, other than that the main character is "little" in some way. In his scene with Galadriel, Frodo looked like a teenager because the camera shot down at him and Elijah Wood has a youthful face, but the teaser didn't reveal that the hobbit characters were a little folk and not just children. And there is no absolutely no reference to the books.

The trailer seemed designed to avoid turning off people who don’t like fantasy by avoiding any indications of fantasy whatsoever. However, that left it with nothing to say about what makes this story special or interesting.

If the trailer made little effort to tell the storyline or make the characters seem interesting (other than their unusual costumes) what was there of interest for the average movie-goer?

Well, the opening ring sequence was pretty, as well as the two landscape shots at the end. Most of the scenes in the middle were really too quick to make out, although it looked like there is some action in the films with shots of armies and swords and riders and torches, but no battle scenes or violence was shown. Cate Blanchett has a speaking role in it, and she’s a relatively popular movie star. And Elijah Wood appears in a scene with her.

Doesn’t sound too interesting for the average movie-goer, does it?

Well, forget the average movie-goer. We Tolkien fans know a lot about what is going to be (or ought to be) in the films.

Was the trailer interesting for us fans?

I was primarily looking forward to two things in the trailer.

First, I wanted to hear members of the Fellowship speak this time around. I didn’t get what I wanted. It was nice to hear Galadriel speak, but she has a small role in the film.

Second, I wanted to see scenes of hobbits in scenes with "big folk." Unfortunately, Frodo and Galadriel’s scene did not show a single shot of the two of them together, and it was difficult to tell the relative size of the hobbits in the two Fellowship scenes. Don’t get me wrong -- it’s a good thing that the hobbit scenes didn’t scream out "SHRINKING EFFECTS," but these weren’t good examples to judge the film by.

Well, the upside is that New Line still has a lot to tease us with over the next year until we see the actual films.

There was a third thing – seeing more of Legolas than I did in the internet trailer. The theatrical trailer did deliver on that one, but the calendar photo of him did the trick for me first!

But I thought the trailer did give us some interesting messages, whether they were intentional or not.

The theatrical trailer made no mention of Tolkien or the books. Many purists were upset that last year’s internet trailer described the films as "J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings" when the film storyline apparently made many deviations from Tolkien’s storyline. Is the marketing finally acknowledging Peter Jackson’s assertion that these films are "only his interpretation"? Or is New Line just concerned that fantasy or literature is a turn-off for the average movie-goer?

There was only one shot of Arwen. It was too brief to tell that she was played by Liv Tyler if you didn’t know it already, and she wasn’t doing anything inconsistent with the books (assuming she appears in the Lothlorien flashback sequence hyposthesized above). She certainly isn't being portrayed as the female STAR of these films, as some of you have feared -- not in this trailer, anyway.

Could Philippa Boyens been correct when she was recently quoted in E! Online and Ain’t It Cool News – that Arwen’s character in the films is the same as that of the books, including Appendix A (except for replacing Glorfindel at the Flight to the Ford)? What happened to all the months Liv Tyler spent filming Helm’s Deep battle scenes? Will they really wind up on the cutting room floor?

This trailer raises more questions than it answers. I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE!

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