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3.0 out of 5 stars Where 'The Lord of the Rings' Film Trilogy Led, Others ..., 15 Jan 2014
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This review is from: The "Frodo" Franchise: The "Lord of the Rings" and Modern Hollywood (Paperback)
The story that this book tells is not about `The Lord of the Rings' film trilogy (hereafter `TLOTR') itself, but rather it is used as an example - and in some ways the originator - of the dramatic changes in cultural and business models adopted by the major studios. The book's subtitle `The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood' is not for nothing.

The book was published in 2007 and has ten chapters, spread over four sections. There are thirty-nine figures as well as twelve colour plates. In her preface and acknowledgements, Kristin Thompson (Honorary Fellow at the University of Wisconsin) states that she interviewed seventy-seven people from all aspects of the film business.

In her introduction, she points out that significant works of art have always had the potential to create a franchise, citing Shakespeare's Falstaff as a good example. She then explains how `TLOTR' also fits the bill, whatever Tolkien himself might have thought of the consequences of his conception.

The first of the four parts - `The Film' - has three chapters. `Prudent Aggression', the title of the first, is an axiom adopted by film studio New Line Cinema. Thompson explains how New Line used `prudent aggression' in the filming of the trilogy - not the nitty-gritty of the daily shoot, but in terms of film rights, studios, potential directors, and economic returns. In this first part, she also explains why changes were made between the book and the film, and the assessments made of the kind of audience for which it was aiming. She writes, "Fans who might object to some of the liberties taken with the story could be consoled by the fact that the physical world described so extensively in the novel was created in rich detail up on the screen."

Part two, again with three chapters, is titled `Building the Franchise.' Here she addresses how the trilogy was advertised; how it was tied in with other brands; the creation of `making of' special documentaries prior to the films' releases; press kits and press junkets. And here she demonstrates how the nascent power of the internet which was then only starting to have such a profound effect on communications helped spread expectation around the world's Tolkien communities. In two chapters she covers (i) official fansites and their relationship of the film to marketing, and (ii) unofficial websites and spin-offs such as fan-fiction sites over which the studio could have little or no control. There was initially a large degree of friction between New Line and unofficial websites until the former realised the level of suitably-controlled but free publicity that the latter could bring to their product.

Two chapters comprise part three, `Beyond the Movie.' In a chapter titled `Licences to Print Money', she analyses the new merchandising opportunities, most especially through the extended DVDs, another new concept in the market that appeared around the turn of the century to set alongside the power of the Internet in franchise promotion. `TLOTR' led the way in terms of extras on these DVDs. Video games are another feature she explores, writing "The games of the franchise have not simply adapted Tolkien's tale. They have expanded his imagined world into a site for interactive play."

The two final chapters that form part four do not really share a subject. In the first she looks at how New Line cleverly persuaded independent film distributors in their respective national territories to take on some of the debt towards making the trilogy even before the first had been completed. In the second she looks at the effect of the making of `TLOTR' on the country in which it was made: "Perhaps no film has had as much impact on the country in which it was made as `Rings' had on New Zealand. The short-term and long range effects on its national economy, on its film industry, and even on its culture in general are astonishing." There is much here about how the film was made in terms of the physical work required and the locations used.

This book then is geared more towards students of cinema as a business rather then to fans of `TLOTR.' Where `TLOTR' led - such as in terms of the issue of extended DVDs, or the interaction with internet fan-bases, or simply through the profits that can be gained through taking a franchise further - others followed, and to that extent the book is of immense insight. But it is noticeable that some of those franchises she mentions as being in the pipeline in 2007 have not appeared after all. Some might indeed blame `TLOTR' for much of the poor films produced by Hollywood since then.

Nevertheless, Thompson has done her homework, interviewed key players, engaged with wide-ranging sources. It is well-written and communicates easily, not being encumbered with academic or philosophical pretensions that much of cinema writing possesses these days. The book is insightful and has important things to say. So why only three stars? Well, because the subject is not one that really appeals to me. This book is about the nuts and bolts, not the magic; it is about the other culture of cinema, the side we do not really know about, or even wish to know about. That is not to say that I did not enjoy some parts of the book; but I was on the verge of boredom in others. This is not the author's fault: I am a student of life, not of the business of making money out of films. (Btw, I loved the films.)
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Nicholas Casley
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Location: Plymouth, Devon, UK

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