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THE MORNING BUZZ: Long Live the King!

27 Mar, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Much was revealed at last night's video coming out party for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Much, but not everything.

It started when a Warner shuttle dropped our crew off across the street from a round door that obviously belonged to a hobbit hole. By all accounts such fetes have become a rarity even in Hollywood in recent months -- lavish elfin goodies served in a Middle-earth environment that got everyone in the spirit of the event, if anyone wasn't yet by the time we got that far.

Getting that far was really what it was all about. Like the books that inspired the movie franchise, it's all about the journey.

This quest wandered from J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy to director/writer/producer Peter Jackson's cinematic vision to New Line's faith and eventually to box office victory. Reaching for the Ring has been a long road for those who traveled it and, like the movie, it's just the first volume. The Rings have brought the industry a couple of firsts and the video trek seems natural against that backdrop.

"We're positioning The Fellowship of the Ring release as a five-month event," gushed Stephen Einhorn, president and CEO of New Line Home Entertainment.

The retail journey starts Aug. 6 with the release of the theatrical version with a 10-minute teaser of The Two Towers, plus an extra disc of special features.

Then comes a carefully crafted, four-disc Special Extended Edition Nov. 12. This one will include 30 minutes of scenes that were cut for theatrical audiences -- not as displaced deleted scenes, but recut into their proper places in the story to add detail about the relationships. I expect it's another first to have the orchestra (in this case the London Philharmonic) recording the cues that were dropped in the cuts to make the soundtrack as seamless as the extended movie, which is expected to get an 'R' rating.

Finally it's the holiday grail of a set that will include the extended edition, collectable game cards, bookends designed by the film's artists, documentaries and the National Geographic 'Beyond the Movie' DVD, all boxed in the artwork of Alan Lee, who illustrated J.R.R. Tolkien's books.

It's a brilliant marketing strategy. The video releases are structured to hit the widest possible audience first, then hold the attention of more mature audiences and die-hard fans of the trilogy.

Never before could a studio plan a video release so tightly around the release of theatrical sequels, mainly because nobody has ever had a three-flick series in the can before the first movie screened in theaters. That reality lets New Line map a strategy using the video releases as signposts to the theater just in time for The Two Towers (Dec. 18) with absolutely no fear that bad weather, temperamental stars or funding issues might delay the next step.

Add to that the music, toys and other merchandise, the Rings will be top of mind for the next two years at least.

Going in, some people speculated that other wizard might work the biggest video magic this year. Coming out, they weren't so sure.

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