Tolkien trilogy lights up Web
By Jackie Loohauis
of The Journal Sentinel staff
The Lord of the Web-rings has reached out his hand and now encircles the world.
The Web site for the forthcoming film treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy Lord of the Rings (www.lordoftherings.net) was relaunched Friday, an event almost as exciting as an eruption of Mount Doom for real Tolkien fans.
This Middle-earth site has been one of the most popular on Modern Earth. In April, when it offered a sneak trailer of the first film, there were more than 1.7 million downloads the first day and 6.6 million the first week, surpassing any other film site.
The relaunch coincided with Friday’s theatrical release of a new Lord of the Rings movie trailer. The Web site’s third incarnation has been reissued globally in 10 languages. And that doesn’t even count Hobbit.
Director Peter Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings film is scheduled for release Dec. 19. The relaunched site is designed to seize the souls of Web-savvy Tolkien buffs. New features include an array of screen savers with images of Dark Riders and the Eye of Sauron.
And although much of the site is a tease (flashes of wizards and great armies), there’s a truly poppin’ 360-degree iPIX picture of the set of Frodo Baggins’ home, which reveals that it will look precisely as Tolkien described it: part English cottage, part rabbit hole.
Audio and visual clips explore Tolkien’s world down to the almost painful minutia that true fans demand: One film clip, for example, explains the process of getting the hair on the hobbits’ woolly feet to look natural.
There’s also a major effort to enlarge the online Lord of the Rings “community,” with links to more than 400 other Tolkien-related sites. Community members are already weighing in on where they would most like to live in Tolkien’s Middle-earth (relocation winner: Rivendell).
But perhaps the niftiest feature of the redesign is the interactive map of Middle-earth. The map will, virtually, allow visitors to follow the route of the Fellowship of the Ring as it progresses across Middle-earth on a quest to save its denizens from the evil Sauron. Click on various portions of the map and you will get insights into various creatures and cultures that inhabit Tolkien’s world, from wizards to elves. The first online anthropological treatise is devoted, of course, to hobbits.
But why have Tolkien fans and the Web entered into this remarkable marriage of media?
“It’s a natural fit,” said Gordon Paddison, New Line Cinema’s senior vice president of interactive marketing and business development. “We’re dealing with a pre-existing 50-year franchise, which is a global community, like the Web. Tolkien is the grandfather of the fantasy genre. Xena and Dungeons and Dragons and everything else have their roots in the foundation Tolkien created.”
Paddison promised that the site will feature almost constant weekly updates on the films, with a timeline extending through the release of the entire trilogy over the next four years.
On Friday, the popularity of the site was already apparent: An overwhelmed server made some features, especially several film and audio clips, inaccessible. With computers, we must remember, there are things even a Ring Lord can’t overcome.