A Fan's Tale: Following the LOTR Project
I can't believe it's nearly August of 2003,
and we're mere months away from ROTK. Where has the time gone?
Five or six years ago I would fantasize about
what it would be like to be at the cinema in December of 2003 shedding
tears and watching the trilogy come to a close. And it seemed like the
wait would be eternal.
You can actually say that I started following
the movie project in the late 80's. After reading the books several
times, I became absolutely convinced that one day the film industry
would be rocked by LOTR and Tolkien fanaticism would skyrocket to
levels never seen before. There would be merchandise and conventions
and magazines, and everyone would be talking about Frodo, Gollum, and
Aragorn. I told people this. Frequently. They thought I was crazy. They
were probably right.
At that time I did some research to find out
who owned the LOTR film rights, and that led me to Saul Zaentz. I began
to follow his career. (Zaentz produced "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's
Nest", "Amadeus", "The English Patient", and "The Mosquito Coast" - he
has won multiple Oscars.)
Over the years, Saul heard many pitches for
the rights, but it wasn't until 1996 that someone's idea intrigued him.
And that's when I first heard of some guy named Peter Jackson.
I still have the article:
Tuesday, January 28, 1997
New film for Lord Of The Rings?
NEW YORK - Producer Saul Zaentz, director
Peter Jackson and Miramax Films are negotiating a new film version of
Lord Of The Rings, the fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Zaentz, who received a Golden Globe for producing The English Patient,
will not produce the film, The Hollywood Reporter says.
Zaentz owns the film and merchandising rights to all of Tolkien's work.
The producer confirmed that "serious"
negotiations were under way with Miramax and Jackson, the New Zealander
best-known for his 1994 film, Heavenly Creatures.
Following the project in the early days was
certainly an adventure. One day the it was on, the next day it was off.
We heard there were going to be two movies, then one movie, then no
movies, then three. The internet movie database had LOTR up one day and
down the next.
Of course, when the dust settled, Miramax was out, NLC was in, and
there were three movies with a budget of $270 million.
Today people would think that this decision
was a no brainer. The Lord of the Rings was book of the century with an
incredible and cinematic story. The core fanbase has been gigantic and
building for 40 years. Obviously it's worth pouring money into.
But that was not the mentality in the late
1990's. You could not have said that then. In those days there was much
cynicism. Fans of the book didn't think much of the film industry and
nonfans thought that hobbits were for kiddies and geeks, and the films
would just be a bunch of silly adventures. I remember USA Today openly
questioning New Line Cinema's sanity. (And this questioning was
certainly valid when considering NLC's track record. The studio had
repeatedly gambled and lost before the late 90's. If not for Austin
Powers and the Lord of the Rings, NLC would have probably gone
I think it was in 1998 that
lordoftherings.net debuted. It had nine pencil drawings. And nothing
else! NLC was so worried about giving away too much too early, they
wouldn't even let the finished concept art be seen.
In 1999, like many people I saw The Phantom
Menace. Unlike many people, I was very interested in Jar Jar Binks. I
certainly didn't like his character, but he was the first CG star, and
I knew Gollum would be of a similar nature. I was wondering: how far
has CG come? Can a lead CG character be convincing for two hours? I
came away from the movie rather happy with what I saw. That gave me
hope that a CG Gollum really could work.
About that time the casting for LOTR started
to be announced, and I learned that Ian McKellen would play Gandalf.
Today he's got 4 trillion people trying to get his attention, from the
media to fans to collectors; but back then (before X Men and LOTR) he
was quite easy to contact.
Let me say this: Ian McKellen is just cooler
than cool. All during principle photography we exchanged e-mails. We
talked about what was going at the set, how Gandalf should be played,
as well as Shakespeare, Alec Guinness, and a lot of stuff I don't even
remember. Here he was, a big star, and here I was, nothing. And he
talked to me like I was an equal. After years of thinking of book
Gandalf as a good friend, suddenly movie Gandalf was treating me like
Those early years, 97 to 2000, they seemed to
take forever. So many films were going from greenlight to premier
(including Harry Potter) while LOTR was still working on releasing
their first film. I couldn't help but wonder "Will LOTR ever come?"
(Although I've always been so happy that the movies have been done
To pass the time, and to keep some semblance
of organization, I created a website to use a scrapbook. Back then, I
was writing pieces for TORn, Tolkien Online, Ringbearer, etc, and I
thought it would probably be a good idea to give them (and my
collection of pictures) a home. I even filled out an application asking
to be listed at Yahoo. (Yahoo is the center of the internet world, and
a listing there is so coveted, sites like TORn and lordoftherings.net
pay hundred of dollars to be moved up the waiting list and not be
ignored like most other appliers.)
2001 was a very eventful year of course, and
that's when the time really seemed to speed up. In January, a teaser
trailer for the trilogy was attached to "Thirteen Days", and one for
FOTR was attached to "Pearl Harbor" in May. Neither set the world on
fire, with the first one containing the lame tagline: "You will find
adventure... or adventure will find you." I was wondering if there
would be a bounce at the box office for either film, but that didn't
happen. (That caused some concern for us fans. No one was really
certain how the films would do financially.)
In September, two things happened. FOTR's
theatrical trailer was released, and it was jaw droppingly amazing. It
still gives me chills. Fans worldwide had geekgasms.
And that month, terrorists attacked the United States.
For us fans, there was a concern over what
effect this would have on the LOTR movies. (If FOTR would have been
scheduled to be released in the shadow of September 11, the whole
trilogy would have been sunk. Every movie released at that time bombed.
People did not want to see movies that month.)
As it turned out, three months was enough
time for people to return to their normal routines, and the event
didn't hurt the box office. In fact, I think it may have helped.
September 11 was such a landmark event, I believe it changed our
popular culture in North America. We became a less cynical and mocking
society and one more willing to embrace something hopeful. Also, when
something bad happens, something good is treasured more. People often
forget or don't realize that the Beatles appeared on Sullivan less than
three months after Kennedy was assassinated. This gave their appearance
added impact and helped propel them to new heights in America.
Before the December release, there was an
event which had all of us fans of the project on the edge of our seats:
Howard Shore's score was released in November. And it was officially
available for free online.
Most of us were really surprised when Howard
was announced as LOTR's composer, as he wasn't a "big" name, and we
were very very concerned over the music. Take a look at the top
grossing films sometime and you'll notice something: they all have
killer scores. You simply can't have a good film without a good score.
In LOTR's situation, if FOTR had a bad score, it would be triply
crippling. TTT and ROTK would be sunk as well.
I'll never forget listening to the score for FOTR and getting tears in
Around this time, the question of FOTR's
length came into play. Everybody today takes for granted that the
theatrical cuts are three hours apiece, and the Extended Editions are 3
1/2 to 4 hours each. That is not what was originally intended.
Until November, the idea was for the three
films to have a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes each. In fact,
Peter Jackson was contractually bound to deliver films no longer than
that. But after cutting the films down to three hours, it became
apparent that nothing more could be edited. New Line Cinema made their
decision: FOTR would be three hours. And if people thought it was too
long, TTT and ROTK would be 2 hours apiece. This almost surely cost NLC
money in the short run, but it was a thrilling decision for those of us
following the project.
And so the stage was set. December arrived.
And on the 17th of that month, I got a surprise e-mail. Yahoo approved
my application, and my website was being listed under their "Lord of
the Rings" directory. Their policy at that time was to display the new
sites first to people engaging in a search. For the week of December 17
to December 24, 2001, whenever someone searched Yahoo for "Lord of the
Rings", my site was at the top of the resulting list.
Let me tell you: people were searching for
"Lord of the Rings" that week. My traffic went through the roof, and I
was getting e-mails from advertisers, newspapers, professors, people
from the LOTR project, and many, many fans. And my website wasn't even
all that good. I really started to work hard after that and pretty much
reinvented the entire site. (I'm not going to plug the site, by the
way, because that's not what this essay is for.)
You know, for years I knew LOTR was going to be a big deal. But I never
thought I'd be part of it!
Obviously I was in at the cinema on December
19, 2001. It was a day I had waited years for. And it was a day I had
envisioned for over a decade and will remember for the rest of my life.
And I knew that then. It was very emotional. It was also just like I
always imagined it.
Over the last few years my website has proven
to be a double edged sword. It's been a great fun to talk with so many
fans over the years. It's also been so enriching to talk to so many
people associated with LOTR. But it's been a lot of hard work and very
time consuming. And sometimes the work and time nobody even sees!
Here's a funny story. I asked Jasmine Watson,
LOTR's jeweller, if she'd do an interview for my site. She said, "Oh,
I'd love to! But first you should get a Press Kit." And she gave me
some contact info. After jumping through a few hoops, with people
passing me onto other people, I ended up talking to some sort of public
relations director for New Line Cinema. She told me, "I'm sorry. Press
Kits are for the real media. And only they can interview LOTR
personel." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I'd been
interviewing LOTR personel for over a year.
It's been interesting seeing my stuff talked
about on message boards, making headlines on the Tolkien News sites,
and getting e-mails from friends at Weta saying, "just to let you know,
your site was the talk of the shop today". It's been overwhelming to
talk to people like Ralph Bakshi, Peter Jackson, Warwick Davis, and Dan
Madsen. I'm just this little guy Wisconsin who has never been on an
But it's also meant a lot of sacrifices. I
don't have a staff, I do have job, and I do have many other
responsibilities. Working 50 hours a week on a website is rather
difficult when you're doing it on your free time! It has meant giving
up nights out, days off, vacations, and Christmas. But with tens of
thousands of readers and the LOTR project being so incredible, it's
certainly all been worth it, even if I've never gotten a cent for it
(though a number of people have sent me gifts.)
Of course, I'm looking forward to just being
a normal fan again. And living a normal life. Hopefully I can get
married and have children someday. LOTR will always be a part of my
life, and the website will remain online. But it will certainly be a
relief, albeit bittersweet, when the journey comes to an end.
What a joyride it has been the last six
years. We're going to end up with 12 hours of LOTR now? It's amazing. I
think back to when I assumed it all would happen, that it was all mean
to be; and I don't think, "I told you so." I think, "I was so stupid."
This wasn't meant to be at all. This was a decision by Peter Jackson.
This was an incredible effort by many. And yet even that would not have
been enough for my vision to become reality. Peter and company have
been lucky. You can't do a project like LOTR without many things
falling into place (such as internet and DVD technology appearing at
just the right time) or without the support and faith of the suits with
It's absolutely ridiculous that everything
has turned out the way it has! And yet my vision has turned out to be
right. Go figure.