One Web Site To Rule Them All
The hobbits and the elves have pointed ears. The ring wraiths' horses are
brown, not black. Arwen is played by the daughter of an Aerosmith member and
travels with the Fellowship?! Tom Bombadil has been eliminated!
If this means nothing to you, then you're not a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's
trilogy The Lord Of The Rings. If you are a fan and have visited any
of the Web sites monitoring the progress of the film version of the first
book in the trilogy, The Fellowship Of The Ring, due in theaters
Wednesday, December 19th, you'll understand that these are a sampling of the
types of concerns that have been expressed in editorials and on message
boards related to the film.
By my casual count today, I saw 32 Web sites, many dating back as far as
1998, dedicated to both the print works of Tolkien and the upcoming films.
Most of them contain areas in which fans of the books and film buffs can
discuss news and photos that have been released about the film. Today, much
of the discussion centers around the critics' reviews, which are trickling
in little by little during these, the preceding days of the film's opening.
One of the most visible of such Web sites has been TheOneRing.net,
a professional-looking site tended as a labor of love by a dedicated and
international staff of Tolkien fans. The site contains over 800 pages, which
is a clue as to the breadth of the challenges the filmmakers have faced
under the scrutiny of an enormous and multigenerational fan base. It
includes resources for information about the films and Tolkien's books, chat
and discussion, gaming, fan clubs, trivia, news and archives.
The challenge film director Peter Jackson, a New Zealander, tackled in
getting the books on screen ten years ago would have been significant (the
trilogy will be covered in three movies, Fellowship this year, with The
Two Towers in 2002 and The Return Of The King in 2003). The
challenges Jackson faces today are at least twofold. The Internet has made
it so. When the first trailer for the film appeared on the Internet last
year, it was downloaded 1.7 million times in the first 24 hours of its
Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings, one of the greatest and most beloved
books of the twentieth century (British polls, and many American ones,
consistently vote it to the top spot), has a fan base that makes Trekkers
seem only vaguely interested in all things Star Trek. (Though Tolkien
fans are not generally known for dressing up as hobbits and elves and
parading around convention centers.) The trilogy, published in 1954-1955,
essentially gave birth to the fantasy genre and nearly all fantasy written
thereafter contains liberal sprinklings of its influence. Director Peter
Jackson himself expressed both "the joy and the curse" of filming
a book that is both one of the premiere cultural icons of English language
literature and that fans consider something bordering on a religion.
In addition to TheOneRing, a Web site Jackson could hardly have failed to
pay attention to is that of The
Tolkien Society, a British non-profit group founded in 1969. The group's
Web site is more sedate than others that cover all things Tolkien, but it
does contain information and updates regarding the films, as well as
opinions by members. One concern expressed by Tolkien Society members was
that the elves in the story should speak "Elvish" (Tolkien, having
been a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, created complex
languages for his books). Though I have not yet seen the film, word on the
street is that the filmmakers did remain true to the books on this note,
supplying the accompanying English subtitles.
The massive fan response on the Internet, while probably daunting to a
filmmaker, surely has an upside to it, however. In the days of old, film
studios would, and likely still do, organize and pay for focus groups. What
are such Web-based discussion sites but massive, unsolicited virtual focus
groups that filmmakers can tap in to as a means of ensuring they are staying
in synch with the wishes of fans and filmgoers? Ask director Chris Columbus
why he was so faithful to the book Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
during the filmmaking of that project, and he'll likely tell you that he was
afraid of being chased down the street by irate fans for the rest of his
natural life. (There were a number of Web sites created by fans, most of
them young, to keep in touch with developments during the filmmaking process
of that movie.) Though it is unlikely a director will ever admit to changing
his plans due to fan response, it seems impossible that Jackson and others
like him have been able to ignore the voices of millions of a book's
adherents. "Tehanu," a member of TheOneRing.net family, expressed
to me that she believes that fan outcry provoked by the beefed up and
altered role of the character Arwen in the film (played by actress Liv
Tyler) led in part to the filmmakers' eventual toning down of the character.
The lessons learned in filming The Lord Of The Rings are likely to
resonate in the future. News reports indicate that a film version of C.S.
Lewis' The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the first book in the
author's universally beloved Narnia series, is due to begin filming soon,
for a planned release in 2004. Controversy is likely to arise in the fact
that Lewis (who was a friend and fellow Oxford professor of Tolkien's) often
incorporated religious imagery into his books. A brouhaha arose earlier in
the year when HarperCollins, which owns the rights to the Narnia books,
announced plans to "rewrite" them for a modern audience. This
alteration allegedly involves excising Lewis' original religious themes from
the books. The plans to tamper with Lewis' work stirred up such horror among
fans and literature scholars that any directors and script writers who take
on the film project will no doubt find themselves walking a minefield of
issues. Rumor has it that first-draft plans to set the film in modern-day
Los Angeles during a series of earthquakes, instead of WWII-era Britain
during the Blitz, were ditched when C.S. Lewis fans collectively began
howling with displeasure (rightfully so, I might opine).
As the Internet and the film industry form a more comfortable
partnership, the results will be fun to watch. The Web is already becoming a
premium marketing vehicle for the film industry. Anyone who doubts that
should recall the brilliant use of the Web by the producers of The Blair
Witch Projectby the time they were finished reaping the rewards of
the nearly-free marketing accomplished for them by Internet surfers (what
some call "viral marketing"), they hardly need have bothered
buying expensive TV air time or newspaper ads. The public was already
clamoring for the film. It's also interesting to watch the Internet become
the actual delivery vehicle for short films by aspiring filmmakers who would
otherwise never be able to distribute their work to such a large audience.
Finally, in case any of my readers are looking forward to the film as
much as I am, the Web designer and co-Webmaster of TheOneRing.net ("Calisuri")
has had the benefit of a pre-screening and referred to it "mindblowing."
The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.