By RICK LYMAN
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 13 — Even before the release on Wednesday of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first installment in a trilogy of films based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” New Line Cinema is contemplating a novel distribution plan to lure those who enjoy the film back to see it at least one more time.
As it stands, the 2-hour-58-minute epic fantasy involving a colossal battle between good and evil in a world of elves, dwarfs, wizards, goblins and hairy-footed hobbits ends as Tolkien’s first volume ends, on a cliffhanger note. But there is no notice on screen that the story will continue. Nor are there any scenes from either of the next installments, “The Two Towers,” due in theaters at Christmas 2002, or “The Return of the King,” due Christmas 2003.
“There was some discussion about including some scenes at the end from `The Two Towers,’ but at the end of the day we decided that might be a little tacky,” said Robert Shaye, co-chief executive of New Line Cinema, a unit of AOL Time Warner.
Michael Lynne, the other co-chief executive, said that New Line wanted to avoid, at first viewing, spoiling the experience for people who have eagerly awaited a big-budget screen version of Tolkien’s classic. “We felt it would cheapen the experience of this film, because it was like saying, `Ah, now we got you, we’re going to make you sit through a trailer for the next film.’ It felt wrong.”
Once the film has been in theaters for a while, though, the studio may be less timid about potential tackiness.
“We’re just thinking about it now,” said Rolf Mittweg, president for worldwide distribution and marketing. “But there is a plan that we might do something rather innovative, depending on how the movie performs and how long it runs.”
The plan is that deep in the film’s theatrical run — the studio expects it to be in theaters through March, Mr. Mittweg said — New Line might recall all the last reels and replace them with new ones featuring, after the closing credits, a new teaser- trailer for “The Two Towers.”
“It’s just a question of exchanging the last reel, adding a minute of footage of the new movie that could possibly drive people back into the theaters,” Mr. Mittweg said. New Line is already preparing a teaser- trailer for “The Two Towers.”
It has become increasingly common for film companies with a blockbuster to come up with an extra bell or whistle to get people back into theaters. Several weeks into its theatrical run, the computer-animated “Monsters Inc.” added some fresh “outtakes” of concocted bloopers from the film that appear during the closing credits. In New Line’s case, the novelty is the promotion of the sequel with the original film.
The pattern for the regular release of trailers in 2002 for “The Two Towers” will be the same as the pattern this year for trailers of “The Fellowship of the Ring” — a first teaser early in the year and a longer teaser in late spring. For now, Mr. Mittweg said, New Line plans to release DVD and videocassette versions of “The Fellowship of the Ring” in August. Attached to it will be a full-fledged trailer of “The Two Towers” including dialogue scenes and plot points.
This longer trailer, which will begin running in theaters at the same time, will then become “the workhorse,” Mr. Mittweg said, promoting the second film’s release throughout the fall and early holiday season, leading up to its December release.