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MORIARTY Visits Hobbiton For New Line's LORD OF THE RINGS DVD Party!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

You know what helps right now?

The soundtracks.

That's what helps me shift gears abruptly as a fan, allowing me to switch my allegiance at the drop of a hat. For example, I spent all morning listening to the soundtrack for ATTACK OF THE CLONES, freaking out at the wonderful way John Williams seems to have woven many of the Original Trilogy themes into this film's score, starting to connect the events more directly now. "Across the Stars" and the phenomenal "Confrontation With Count Dooku" track both had me doing backflips in the Lab, cranked all the way up. The way I figure, it doesn't matter if it's 2:30 AM. My upstairs neighbors are sure to understand just how lucky they are to be hearing the score a full month before it's official release.

When I climbed into my car late Tuesday afternoon, I was on a STAR WARS high, which was all wrong for walking into a New Line/LORD OF THE RINGS event. Slipping Howard Shore's Oscar-winning score into the CD player and cranking it as I made my way out of Hollywood and over the Cahuenga Pass served as a sort of fanboy reset, a palette-cleansing dunk into the proper mindset. As a result, after I made my way through the several security checkpoints and settled into the shuttle that was going to take us to the event, I was well and truly primed to see what New Line had planned to suitably set the stage for the DVD release of the single biggest franchise in their company's history.

The shuttle dropped us a full façade city block away from the Steven J. Ross Theater, and we were told to simply "follow the lights." Easy enough. There was a giant red carpet set up leading into the Ross, and I went to walk around it, along the side. One of the 3,642 New Line employees on display steered me back towards the red carpet, though, telling me to walk down it. "But I'm press," I argued, sure I was being steered in the wrong direction.

I had arrived late on purpose to avoid the red-carpet arrivals, since that's the sort of thing I just don't find interesting. Somehow, though, instead of being able to just avoid the subject entirely, I was suddenly being directed right down the center of things. As I walked down, I looked at the press that was for some reason roped off, waiting for the arrival of pretty much anyone but me, and I sort of shrugged apologetically as I hurried past them.

Inside, trays of finger food and endless glasses of wine and champagne were being circulated as everyone stood and chatted, waiting to be admitted to the theater itself. I've seen fans online lamenting LOTR for "losing" on Sunday at the Oscars, but you'd never know it from the people gathered here. Video retailers, licensers, distributors, reviewers, and others were all mixed together, all of them talking about LORD OF THE RINGS, all of them really digging it. And as they were talking, I wasn't hearing them talk about numbers or grosses or how many Oscars it won. Instead, I heard them talking about characters, about moments they liked in particular, about what they hoped we were going to be seeing. There was no one common age or sex or race in the room, no majority even. It was as diverse a crowd as you could have asked for. But they all sounded the same in their enthusiasm for the films, all of them sounding like genuine fans.

A charming woman from Houghton Mifflin, the company that's published Tolkien in the United States since the very beginning, happened to spot my nametag as she was walking by. "You'll never guess whose book I'm carrying around right now," she said.

"Mr. Knowles?"

"That's right," she said. "Mr. Knowles." We talked for a few minutes about how big the films were in terms of impact on the book world, and how excited they were about the releases still to come. Finally, we were allowed into the theater, and I took a seat four rows back from the front, dead center. I love the Steven J. Ross. It's an incredible room, with remarkably comfortable seating. I found myself so relaxed I was almost asleep as I waited for the theater to fill up.

People filed in around me, and I couldn't help but listen to the guys sitting behind me. One of them talked about working on the ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST DVD for Paramount, and how there's a lot of work that needs to be done on it. Before that work can begin, they are going to have to get certain original elements from the Leone estate, something they're working on right now. He also talked about the brand-new high-def transfer of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK that's just been done, and how he's heard the plan is to do each INDIANA JONES film separately in 2-disc sets, with RAIDERS due as early as fourth quarter of this year, where it would go head-to-head with ATTACK OF THE CLONES, SPIDER-MAN, the FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING extended version, and the BACK TO THE FUTURE box set.

Merry fucking Christmas to all of us, eh?!?

I saw John Rhys Davies and Dominic Monaghan both slip in, just as the lights went down. They were in the front row, but I couldn't see them thanks to the light show that started as a montage of stills scrolled by on the screen. Spotlights swirled, occasionally raking past and blinding me through direct exposure. Galadriel's narration, cut and pasted a bit, played under the images. It was nicely done, and led into a trailer of sorts, a beautifully edited reel of moments from FELLOWSHIP. Nice, if somewhat overwhelming, introduction to things.

Stephen Einhorn, the President and Chief Operating Officer of New Line Home Video, took the stage first to talk about the phenomenon of LORD OF THE RINGS, and how excited he is to be taking over on FELLOWSHIP now as it makes its way from the big screen to the home screen. We saw a clips tape of some of the highlights from Sunday's Oscar broadcast. Einhorn then detailed the "five-month event" that will stretch through the fall into the winter this year, starting in August with the release of the theatrical cut of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS. This is a war, and New Line plans to win it. $65 million worth of promotional spending is going to keep the hype turned up to an extreme high all the way up to and through the release of the second DVD, which I'll detail below.

Robert Shaye, the co-chairman of New Line, was the next to get up to speak. I like Shaye. I like it when he speaks. He's relaxed and funny and damn personable, and he was understandably pleased as he spoke.

It's sort of amazing to see how far New Line has come since their founding. They were the guys who peddled PINK FLAMINGOS to theaters as a midnight film, an underground hit and run act that put them on the map, leading to their reputation as a smart exploitation producer. I remember when NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET hit theaters, and it wasn't like the way films are released now. It wasn't slapped onto 1,700 screens with a $25 million ad buy for the three weeks leading up to the Friday of release. The ad in the paper wasn't even with the other new releases. It was buried, a quarter the size, a bizarre painting with no recognizable names on it. I saw one commercial, and it did the trick. I saw three images in that commercial that seemed really cool, three things that I wanted to see again. I was well under 17 at the time, so my friend and I had to sneak into the theater where it was playing. It was the middle of the day, and there was no one else in the theater. It played to just us, and it blew our minds. Scared the living shit out of us. It still remains one of my all-time favorite afternoons in a theater, just because of how much crazier it seemed than most of what I saw. There was something delicious about having seen it, too. I told everyone I knew about the film, and I noticed that as people went to see it, they started to tell people about it, and people were going back to see it more than once. It was a genuine word of mouth hit. Watching New Line use Freddy to build a mini-major was impressive. They did it through sheer brute force of will. The '90s have been very good to New Line. I think they've hit some remarkable artistic highs with films like BOOGIE NIGHTS and SE7EN and MAGNOLIA, even as they managed to build major studio sized hits like THE MASK and DUMB AND DUMBER and the RUSH HOUR franchise. To see Bob Shaye talking about the success of LORD OF THE RINGS, to hear the numbers they're talking about at this point, it's a bit of an eye-opener. It's been a hell of a ride for the company, and they're going to celebrate this particular milestone by putting out a couple of seriously ass-kicking DVD editions.

He quoted Tolkien from when the first overtures were made to him regarding a film version of his life's work: "Give me art or give me cash." Shaye said the most satisfying thing about the project has been watching Peter Jackson manage both, somehow, making a film that feels personal in every detail, but that has connected with fans on a global scale.

He introduced a number of the New Line executives who were in the theater, all part of New Line's push on the film over the last year or more. Matt Lasorsa, Senior VP of Marketing, was the next executive to take the stage and speak. He really pushed the idea of the two-tiered release, and emphasized how different the two discs are. The consumer's not getting screwed here, since they won't be getting the same thing in November that they get in August in any way. Both discs are going to be worth owning, and combined, they represent a complete record of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING as it stands right now.

August 6th is the day you'll be able to own the theatrical cut of the film, the PG-13 movie you've already seen. The cover for that 2-disc set is the final release one-sheet, a familiar image. They're doing a widescreen and a fullscreen release of the 178 minute movie in full 2.35:1, featuring a DVD-only Dolby EX 5.1 mix, but both will come with the same second disc, packed full of extras. There's a 10-minute behind the scenes preview of THE TWO TOWERS, hosted by Peter Jackson. There's three in-depth programs that show behind-the-scenes footage, including the Fox and the Sci-Fi Channel specials: "Welcome To Middle-Earth," "The Quest For The Ring," and "A Passage To Middle-Earth," all complete. There's also all fifteen featurettes created for Lord Of The, the official site, with interview footage featuring most of the cast and key crew. There's theatrical trailers, TV spots, the Enya "May It Be" video, a preview of the Electronic Arts video game THE TWO TOWERS (set to be released the same day as the Special Extended Version in November), and a preview for the Special Extended DVD version of FELLOWSHIP.


Pam Kelley, New Line's Senior VP of Sales, was up next, and she's the one who got to unveil the specs for the by-now-officially-dubbed Special Extended Version, a four-disc monster that comes in what looks like a thick green hardbound book with a simple embossed cover. It's HUGE. You could assault someone with it. It's not just a DVD box... it's a home security device. And the specs she revealed aren't actually very revealing because, as she explained, it's still in development.

She also showed us a Collector's DVD Box Set that will be out in limited numbers near Christmas. Basically, it's the Special Extended Version, the Nat'l Geographic special that was put out recently on DVD, and a few packs of the collectible game cards. The packaging is designed by Alan Lee, and comes with bookends for this whole set, carved replicas of Argonath.

Kelley took her seat, and my second-favorite speaker of the night got up, Mark Ordesky. Like Shaye, this guy looks not just relieved, but justified. As he pointed out, the biggest film he'd ever supervised for New Line before this cost a total of $6 million. "This was either incredible foresight or dumb luck," he laughed, all based on the fact that Peter Jackson had once crashed on Ordesky's couch while in LA to write a draft of an unproduced NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequel.

That reminds me... anyone ever read that? Anyone have a copy of it? I'll trade you a Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh CONCRETE for it if you do...

But I digress; Ordesky noted that August marks the four-year anniversary of New Line's involvement with the LOTR property. By the end of this process, Peter and his crew will have been on the film for a full decade. Astounding.

Ordesky talked about what a huge home video lunatic Peter Jackson is, about the home theater he has and how important it is to him, and about how much he wanted to make the home video release of the LORD OF THE RINGS films something special. This Special Extended Version isn't a "director's cut," since Peter was happy with the theatrical version. This is just a different version of the movie, something bigger, something that adds detail that should please fans enormously. I didn't believe that Howard Shore was actually composing and recording new score for this material until Ordesky confirmed it, but it's pretty cool news. Ordesky said how proud he is of the (*sigh*... one more time) Special Extended Version, and then narrated a slideshow of images from the new footage.

Here's a few of the highlights of what we saw:

The film opens now with Bilbo working on his journal, providing detail about hobbits and their culture.

During that narration, we see Samwise Gamgee working in the garden of Bag End.

We see Sam and Frodo singing together at the Green Dragon Inn. It's a moment of pure and simple joy before the outside world reaches in to ruin it for them.

En route to Bree, Frodo and Sam hide in some bushes and watch as some Elves leave Middle-Earth. There's a real sense that this world is being left to Man, for better or for worse.

As the hobbits sleep, en route to Weathertop, Aragorn sits watch, and he sings to himself, the haunting "Ballad of Beren and Luthien," the love story that mirrors the story of Aragorn and Arwen. Frodo wakes up and listens in, but doesn't interrupt.

Aragorn visits his mother's grave in Rivendell, further establishing his history and showing how he has been hunted by Sauron his whole life. He is, after all, the missing King of Gondor, and he could well be the thing that stops Sauron. This scene and others will help to pay off the third film even more.

There were two different slides from the departure of Rivendell, significantly longer here. There's more of a sense of Arwen and Aragorn saying goodbye to each other, an acknowledgement that anything could happen. Elrond also is there to send them off, and there's a bit of comedy as Frodo realizes he is supposed to lead the Fellowship, but doesn't even know if they go right or left as they leave. Gandalf suggests "right," and they go.

In the Mines of Moria, the sequence is expanded to show just what happened there, and to illustrate how it was the greed of the dwarves that led to their own destruction. Tolkien's work is layered with warnings about how our own nature can destroy us, and this scene re-emphasizes that.

Then there's the gift-giving scene. We saw several slides from this. Legolas gets his bow. Sam gets his elven rope (which Ordesky suggested "just might come in handy against a giant spider later... maybe").

And Gimli asks for and receives several strands of Galadriel's hair. He is smitten by the Lady of Lothlorien, something which suggests the possibility of healing in the relationships between the races. Personally, this is one of the things I am happiest to see PJ restore.

Finally, they showed us a slide of Pippin and Merry fighting orcs at Amon Hen and said that if, indeed, the Special Extended Version is re-rated as an R, it's this sequence that will do it. Ordesky said there was as little as 30 seconds difference here, but it's the difference between shooting eight arrows into someone or two, or showing a sword hit or not. They haven't submitted the film to the MPAA yet, so they aren't sure if they'll be forced to change the rating or not. Sounds like it would be a preposterous decision, but that New Line is willing to accept it without making Peter change his work.

Ordesky concluded his presentation by introducting Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Richard Taylor, Peter Owen, and Ngila Dickson, all of whom were there, filling the front row. They took a moment to wave to the crowd, and then we were treated to Peter Jackson, via video (since he's back in NZ already, hard at work on THE TWO TOWERS), there to introduce the first public screening of the trailer that will be in theaters on Friday, attached to every print of FELLOWSHIP that's still playing.

My reaction to it is no different seeing it a second time. I think it's beautifully cut, and the thing that impresses me most is how the emphasis is placed squarely on character, not spectacle. Instead of giving us nothing but giant battle shots, Peter has chosen to emphasize the way the characters continue to grow and change as these events wear on them. For my money, it's all about Theoden. There's a scene in the trailer as he's dressing for war that is just chilling.

And then we spilled out the back of the theater into a courtyard that had been transformed into Hobbiton, where there was a wicked buffet of prime rib and rosemary potatoes and creamed spinach and endive salad and all sorts of other goodies. I ended up at a table with various licensers, including the guys from Electronic Arts, who are putting together the TWO TOWERS game. We talked about these films, other films, licensing in general. It was a great way to wrap up a great evening.

All in all, I can't wait for both of these DVD editions. This isn't a double-dip so much as it is an embarrassment of riches. Fans are going to have much to rejoice over, no matter what they buy, and here's hoping the (say it with me now) Special Extended Version manages to satisfy the film's harshest critics by fleshing out things that they felt Jackson shortchanged.

I'm going to see if I can go finish my KILL BILL piece now as a birthday present for Quentin, so I'll catch you later. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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