March 17, 2001
Trilogy Draws Fans to the Web
Just call it "The Lord of the Web."
The first of the three long-awaited Lord of the Rings films doesn't even open until Dec. 19, but the Internet buzz has already reached heights unheard of, even in the bloated world of Hollywood hype.
Part of the ballyhoo, of course, is due to New Line Cinema's official movie site, www.lordoftherings.net, but this isn't just a case of Tinseltown tub-thumping.
Freaks for J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy have created dozens of sites that feature daily debates about the film versions' expected merits and flaws, juicy info-nuggets allegedly based on scuttlebutt from production insiders, and even photographs pirated (or purposely leaked) from the sets in New Zealand, where the three movies are being filmed.
It's not uncommon for movies to have Web sites these days, but it is unusual for grass-roots sites to sprout as fast as - well, as fast as a hobbit can scurry into a hobbit hole. Only the Star Trek and Star Wars films seem to have generated this kind of fanaticism.
New Line officials realized they had a tiger by the tail last April when the then-fledgling Web site offered a few seconds of teaser footage from the film.
"We had more than 1.7 million downloads in the first 24 hours," said Gordon Paddison, New Line's senior vice president for interactive marketing and business development. "I won't say we've been stunned because we always knew how popular the books are; there have been 90 million copies sold in 50 languages. But we're grateful that the fan base has remained so involved."
But then, these films by director Peter Jackson have been a half-century in coming. Tolkien published the three Lord of the Rings volumes in the 1950s, and yet these are the first live-action versions of The Fellowship of the Ring (opening Dec. 19), The Two Towers (holiday season 2002) and The Return of the King (holiday season 2003).
Thus, several generations of Tolkien fans are waiting to see how Jackson will bring to the screen the author's imaginative Middle-earth, populated by diminutive hobbits, sturdy dwarves, magical elves and humans whose hearts range from noble to nasty.
"I don't find this surprising at all," said Kansas City fantasy and science-fiction writer Robin Wayne Bailey. "Gosh, The Lord of the Rings has been the cornerstone of modern fantasy since it appeared (in the 1950s). Almost no work of modern fantasy has been published that wasn't in some way a dialogue with The Lord of the Rings. It's a template for the genre."
And now it's a target for Webmania.