The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood
by Kristin Thompson
Review by jan howard finder (The Wombat)
University of California Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780520247741
Date: 27 August 2007 List Price $29.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Ms. Thompson is a full-time writer based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison [UW]. She received her master's degree in film studies at the University of Iowa in 1973 and her Ph.D. in film studies University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently based in the Department of Communication Arts at the UW, as an Honorary Fellowship.
Being a fan of The Lord of the Rings [TLOTR] since I first read the books in 1964 and a fan of the films made by Peter Jackson, I did make two tours of Middle-earth, I was intrigued by both the title and the concept.
When I finally got to read The Frodo Franchise [TFF], I wasn't disappointed. It is an excellent book. It gives film goers and makers from the neophyte to the professional a fascinating look at not only how films get made, but also some of the financial and promotional aspects are involved. It is doubly interesting to me, as for the past 4-5 years I have been involved with the local indie film scene, being both cast (an extra) and crew (production assistant) on several of the films made in the New York Capitol District. It is fun, interesting, tedious, boring, but never exciting or something is going very, very wrong!
Ms. Thompson breaks the book into four parts.
Part One: The Film
Chapter 1: Prudent Aggression. This is the telling of the several paths leading to the making of the film. How New Line took the huge gamble of making three films with a mostly unknown director. Then there is the sales of the rights, the costs involved and the initial promotion of the film. How being off in the corner of the South Pacific helped in the making of the film.
Chapter 2: Not Your Father's Tolkien. Looks at how the translation of the book into the movie was handled by Jackson. How this was a movie aimed at teens that could and was enjoyed by adults. It notes the many homages Jackson made to genre films in the making of TLOTR. It also discusses the changes Jackson made in the telling of the story.
Chapter 3: Handcrafting a Blockbuster. Here we get a look at the work that went into creating the film's version of Middle-earth and the care that was taken. How so many items were done in both "human" and "Hobbit" sizes. The world was created in detail and with loving care. Shabbiness was not an option. [In '04 I handled the "hero" swords from the movie. Yes, you could do battle with them and win! These were of fighting quality.] Ms. Thompson notes how the success of TLOTR allowed for the development of better CGI and many more special effects.
Part Two: Building the Franchise
Chapter 4: Flying Billboards and FAQs. How does a studio sell a film? Some of what you wish to know is set out for you in this chapter. Getting corporations to promote your film is one way. Getting an Airline to fly around the world with characters from your film is another. [I didn't fly on one of the decaled, but did see them. Cool!]
Chapter 5: Click to View Trailer. How much to control? How much to let out for the public? These are the questions facing studios. Their problems with security and secrecy are not easily dealt with in this age of the internet. New Line found this out. Fans wanted to know EVERYTHING! TLOTR spawned many a web site. Not only were there "official" sites, but unofficial fan sites. The most important of these are TheOneRing.net, TORn. At the same time "Ain't It Cool News," [AICN] was coming into its own as a source of news and information about films. AICN has developed into a web site that can definitely effect the outcome of a film. Fan sites had developed into a major force.
Chapter 6: Fans on the Margins, Pervy Hobbit Fanciers, and Partygoers. Fans are crazy. Hey, everyone knows this. How else can you describe the phenomenon of "Figwit," "The Lord of the Peeps & Figpeep," literally thousands of pages of fan fiction, including the inevitable Het and Slash fiction. Then again, would you stand in line for hours, maybe days, for the first showing of a film? I didn't think, I'd ever do it, but there I was in line for 8 hours for the first showing of "Ringers." [Note: I'm listed in the credits as an Archivist for material I provided for the film.] Hey, a good party is a good party!
Part Three: Beyond the Movie.
Chapter 7. Licenses to print money. Saul Zaentz sold the production and distribution rights to TLOTR. However, he retained Tolkien related trademarks. This resulted in huge profits for him. New Line sold licenses for games, DVDs, RPGs, books, etc. In each case Mr. Zaentz got a share. Well done museum exhibits were booked solid. [I went to one in Wellington, Toronto and Boston.] Fans and professionals ran LOTR conventions around the world. This generated some money for the studio, but more for the actors. Digital technology brought the films into your home. You could buy the DVDs, in all their various incarnations and additions, and watch it at home. The availability of reasonably priced DVDs heavily cut into rental sales. One finds here details on the fascinating back story of how additional material was produced. The future is DVDs or their various future counterparts.
Chapter 8. Interactive Middle-earth. Game it or watch it? You can do both as is detailed here. The interactive relationship to movies has grown hugely over the past decade or so. It is expected to grow even more in the coming years. Here is some of the story of how TLOTR went from the screen/DVD to the game. It is noted how actors, at first hesitant, reprised their film roles in the games and earned more money. The several differences between film and game are explored. It explored how Jackson helped move the game beyond one's home game station and onto your phone.
Part Four: The Lasting Power of the Rings.
Chapter 9. Fantasy Come True. What is an independent film? TLOTR is one. We learn the details here about this. Learn how New Line offset the cost of a $330 million film. This resulted in the stimulation of film making around the world with the profits distributors earned. This led to a jump of independent film making around the world. With TLOTR fantasy no longer was a dirty word in Hollywood or the Oscars. "Real" directors became interested in making fantasy films. While some of the technology was in place at the beginning of the making of TLOTR, much had to be developed during the filming. Perhaps one of the least known of these is the use of digital intermediates or DI. This has become very important in many films.
Chapter 10. Right in Your Own Backyard. While films have been shot around the world for years, other aspects of filmmaking has been Hollywood's domain. Here we learn how almost all of the making of TLOTR was done in New Zealand or "Wellywood" far from California. Learn how Jackson developed both a studio far from Hollywood and created a world class talent base. Further spinoff led to tours of Middle-earth with tourism becoming a major factor in the NZ economy. [I went on one tour and led another. I dream of going back for a reunion tour in conjunction with the premiere of The Hobbit.] New Zealand became Middle-earth to many people. The success of TLOTR also encouraged other countries to develop their film resources and compete for the filmmaking dollars or Euros.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I highly recommend it to the student of film making as well as any Ringers out there. Fans of the movies and the books will want to give this book a read. Hey, "Come to Middle-earth" with me in a few years and see it for yourself.