January 21, 2001

Teasing Australians Into a Hobbit Hole
Catherine Keenan

When the trailer for the film The Lord of the Rings was released in the United States last Friday, hard-core J.R.R.Tolkien fans queued in the pouring rain for up to 12 hours to see just one minute and 46 seconds of footage.

The same trailer will be released in Australia today, almost a year before the film's scheduled release on December 26, but no-one's expecting a similar response.

"Australians don't go in for that sort of thing so much," said Dr Cath Filmer-Davies, an academic at the University of Queensland who has taught Tolkien's work and is a member of the Mythopoeic Society for the study of fantasy literature. "We didn't get the queues for Harry Potter, or for Star Wars, and I don't think we'll get them for this, either."

The early release of the trailer, to be shown before the films Bring It On and Little Nicky on almost 300 screens across Australia, follows the pattern set by Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, which generated enormous publicity worldwide.

The Lord of the Rings has already broken one of the records set by the Star Wars publicity juggernaut. When another trailer, little more than an announcement of the director and cast, was released on the Internet last year, there were 1.7 million downloads on the first day, almost a 50 per cent increase on the previous record of 1.1 million achieved by The Phantom Menace.

Ian Sands, managing director of Roadshow Film Distributors, the Australian representative for Lord of the Rings, said interest in the film would be maintained over the coming year by the release of more information. "[Today's trailer] is what we refer to as a 'teaser trailer', so it's very short by its nature," he said. "It doesn't tell you too much, and there'll be a number of other trailers during the year."

The film is directed by Peter Jackson, who has spent part of his $US270 million ($490 million) budget on computerised special effects to create the hobbits, which Tolkien specified were between two and four feet (about 60 to 120 centimetres) tall. But Jackson has also lured plenty of full-sized stars, including Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving and Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf.

Subtitled The Fellowship of the Ring, the film is the first in a trilogy, all three of which have been shot in New Zealand. The Two Towers is due out next year and Return of the King in 2003.

When filming began in 1999, there was outrage from diehard Tolkien fans, some of whom started petitions on the Internet. Of particular concern was the plan to update Tolkien for a 21st-century audience by fleshing out the female characters and beefing up a romance between Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Arwen (Liv Tyler).

The 400 or so dedicated Tolkien Web sites bristled with heated arguments about whether such changes would destroy the 1,200-page trilogy, which took Tolkien, twice Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford, 14 years to write.

When they were published in 1954-1955, W.H.Auden and C.S.Lewis raved, but critics and English literature academics generally dismissed Tolkien's efforts. They were, however, an instant success with the public (total sales of 50 million copies in 25 languages), turning the retiring academic into a cult figure.