The New York Times
January 11, 2001

'Lord of the Rings' Taps the Net to Build Excitement for Film
Rick Lyman

HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 10 — At 12:01 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Friday, the official Web site for the forthcoming film trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books is to be simultaneously reinaugurated around the world in 10 languages.

Making their first appearance on will be dozens of features, including video and audio clips, an interactive map of Middle Earth, chat rooms, screen savers, interviews with cast members, links to other Tolkien sites, and probably much more than most people care to know about how the director Peter Jackson and his crew members are creating Tolkien's world of hobbits, elves, wizards, orcs, dwarfs and black riders.

But the people at New Line Cinema are not dealing with most people. They are dealing with Web-savvy, hobbit-obsessed fans of "The Lord of the Rings." And there are millions of them out there.

In April, when New Line offered a trailer about the films on the previous movie Web site, there were 1.7 million downloads the first day and 6.6 million by the end of the first week, surpassing the download fever evoked by other films, including the 1.1 million downloads of the trailer for the most recent "Star Wars" film during its first day on the Web.

Anticipation has been fervid for the official Web site's reintroduction and for the two-minute trilogy trailer that is to be shown in theaters for the first time on Friday at the beginning of New Line's latest release, "13 Days." Some 400 Web sites are dedicated to the movie trilogy and several hundred more focus on other Tolkien-related themes (, for example, ranks Tolkien-related sites by their popularity).

For months, sites have been counting down to the Dec. 19 release of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," the first installment in the film series, and in recent days many sites have added a daily countdown to the reintroduction of the film trilogy's Web site.

"This has taken 30 percent of my time for over a year, and the commitment of materials and resources has been massive," said Gordon Paddison, New Line's senior vice president for worldwide interactive marketing and business development, who is focused on building a relationship with Tolkien fans. ""Not until the movie comes out do we want to ask the audience for anything. Until then, it's all about giving things to them."

Since "The Blair Witch Project" streaked out of nowhere to hit status in the summer of 1999, with its success built partly on a fervent Internet fan base, Hollywood has been wondering how best to market movies on the Web. The challenge has not proved easy, and nothing has matched the viral power of the "Blair Witch" phenomenon.

When a movie is almost magically embraced by the Web — sometimes with the connivance of the distribution company — a strange relationship forms among the cybercommunity of fans, the filmmakers and the studio marketers. The online ferment includes nitpicking about casting choices, complaints about script changes and gossip across the globe about every nuance of the production. However, when everything clicks, a network of eager Internet evangelists evolves to promote and support the film.