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LORD OF THE RINGS

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AN INTRODUCTION
The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of books written by J.R.R. Tolkien about the adventures of a creature called a ‘Hobbit’ who is named Frodo. This all takes place in a world called Middle Earth. Tolkien created detailed descriptions, locations, histories, races and even fully functional languages to inhabit Middle Earth, and though the story of Frodo the Hobbit is the main thread in the narrative, each character’s story is considered just as important.

LONG LIVING
Tolkien began his story in Middle Earth with “The Hobbit”, this was first published in 1937. Soon after, JRR Tolkien set to work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He released the first of the three in July of 1954, the second in the November of 1954, and the third in October 1955. There have been a few attempts to turn The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into a film, but It wasn’t until 2001 with new technological advancements that Peter Jackson really brought the the films into the spotlight. Jackson released the first film in 2001, the second film in 2002 and the third in 2003. Jackson is now also in the process of filming The Hobbit, due for release in 2012.
   
EXPANDABILITY
We can best explain the expandability of Lord of the Rings with this quote from Michael Suen.  “Scattered throughout Middle-earth are numerous doorways: magnificent gates, quaint hobbit-holes, and dilapidated ruins. It is rather fitting, then, that the franchise of The Lord of the Rings itself presents a variety of entrances into its fictive world. The individual reader of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original texts effectively studies a detailed account of Middle-earth’s faux-history.”

  • Films
The natural progression for this brand was from the page to the screen, and after multiple attempts (1978 and 1980), Peter Jackson was able to use recent technological developments to bring the whole trilogy into main stream culture. All three films rank within the top 25 of Worldwide Box Office Successes, with the third film (Return of the King) respectably sitting in the top three, just below Avatar and Titanic. The three films together had between them 30 Academy Award Nominations and won 17, with The Return of the King winning in all categories for which it was nominated.

  • Games
It was only a short time after the first movie was released that the Lord Of the Rings franchise decided to branch into the gaming experience. At first they stuck to the crossmedia way of doing it, allowing players to follow only the main plot line of the films, but as they have gone on, the games have taken more of a transmedia approach. Now players can, in “The Battle for Middle Earth” (first released in 2004) explore many different aspects of Middle Earth from a variety of character perspectives, even ones that are only explored in small ways within the main story.  

  • Cartoons
    Part of the progression to Peter Jackson’s film was the idea to turn The Lord of The Rings into cartoon movies. Originally they were planning on making the whole trilogy, but ended up only making the first, The Fellowship of the Ring. It was enough of a success to make money, and it had its fans, but the next planned film was never completed. Part of the reason for this was the lack of technology, for though they used the fairly new technique of rotoscoping the actors to look like a cartoon, it wasn’t enough to fully envelop the viewers in the world of Middle Earth.

SELF CONTAINED
The Lord of the Rings allows for its branches to remain independant, but they also manage to add depth and detail to the already intricate world of Middle Earth. The Battle for Middle Earth, the game developed for the franchise, does an excellent job of this. The player can explore the conventional storyline, but there are also new things to explore, little things mentioned only in passing in the original novel.

AUDIENCE RECEPTION
The power of Lord of the Rings is the creative idea behind it. Tolkien’s vision and creativity caught the imaginations of millions of people around the globe. It has been estimated that 150 million copies of The Lord of the Rings have been sold, with a third of that number having been sold after the films were released.

ECONOMICS
The Lord of the Rings has been hugely successful economically.  The films have all done extremely well, and this can best be seen visually.







CRITICAL ACCLAIM
Though at first Lord of the Rings didn’t receive much respect from respected publishers at first, it soon overcame those initial criticisms (critics laughed at the notion of a ‘fairy story’ for adults) to become one of the most well loved and influential texts to hit modern culture.

 

ERAGON

AN INTRODUCTION
    Eragon is the first of four books in a series written by Christopher Paolini. The story takes place in a world called Alagaësia, centering around a boy by the name of Eragon. Eragon’s life gets tipped upside down when a dragon egg appears at his feet. When it hatches, he becomes the dragon’s rider and calls her Saphira. Soon of course evil powers desire to capture the dragon, leaving Eragon and Saphira to run for their lives. Paolini began writing the book when he was only 15 years old, and so has been hailed a bit of an early masterpiece.

LONG LIVING
    Eragon has only had quite a short lifespan at this point, and already plans for this merchandise have fallen short. The last book is due for release in late 2011, but that is the last release planned. There has been one movie, one PC game, and a few online games, but after that there have been no more plans for expanding this franchise further. So in that sense, Eragon, in the light of transmedia storytelling, doesn’t have a very long life.

EXPANDABILITY
Eragon has expanded from a book into a film and games. Though the initial book has a little bit of room for expandability, the book and the games have chosen to take more of a crossmedia path, rather than a potentially more successful transmedia path.

  • Films
In 2006 the film Eragon was released to not so great reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 16%, saying this about it: “Written by a teenager (and it shows), Eragon presents nothing new to the "hero's journey" story archetype. In movie terms, this movie looks and sounds like Lord of the Rings and plays out like a bad Star Wars rip-off. The movie spins the tale of a peasant boy who is suddenly entrusted with a dragon and must, with the help of a mentor, train, grow strong, and defeat an evil emperor. The way the critics picture it, the makers of Eragon should soon be expecting an annoyed phone call from George Lucas.” Pretty harsh words. Other film reviews gave it similar scores. The only positive feature of the film, according to the reviews, was the CGI work for the dragon, with movie critic William Arnold saying  “The dragon itself (voiced by Rachel Weisz) is a magnificent creation, and the movie is alive whenever she's on screen.” 

  • Games
Eragon the game was a total flop. Gamespot reviewed it, saying “Both as an action adventure game, and a licensed work, Eragon comes across as substandard in just about every way imaginable. It feels like an unfinished game that was rushed through to release in time for the movie to appear in theaters. The combat is repetitive, the presentation is dull and lifeless, and the entire game suffers from an apparent lack of effort.” Part of the reason it failed expectations was that it took a crossmedia approach instead of a transmedia approach. There was nothing new to explore in the game, no new layers of experience. Another reason it failed was the lack of understanding of the platform. The levels were repetitive and lacking in originality, they didn’t explore the full capabilities of the game.
  
  • Online Games
    There are a few small online games on the official Eragon site, listed under “Activities”. These include a simple flash game in how to fight certain bad guys within the universe, and interactive guide to how to pronounce various names, and an interactive map of Alagaësia. These games are quite simple and remain within the main plot of Eragon.

SELF CONTAINED
The various branches of Eragon are almost too self contained. You can play the game and still know everything that happens in the film, without adding anything new.

AUDIENCE RECEPTION
    Eragon remains the strongest in the books, the raw power of words and imagination combined gives it power enough to keep selling copies, listed as the 3rd best selling Children’s book in 2003. The films and games however were less than positive. Eragon has not, however, managed to emerge into popular nerd culture.

ECONOMICS
    Eragon the film has a total worldwide gross of $249,488,115 starting from an initial budget of $100,000,000. So it wasn’t a total box office bomb, but didn’t perform to expectations.
    The book has sold over 2.5 million copies, an impressive performance for something written by a 15 year old.

CRITICAL ACCLAIM
Consistently the books in the series have done better than both the film or the game. The book has won multiple awards including, the 2006 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, a Nene Award, and the Young Readers Choice Award.

CONCLUSION

So what can we, as media practitioners learn from the success's and failures of Lord of the Rings and Eragon?
  • Creating an intricate story does wonders for opening up opportunities for a transmedia approach.
The Lord of the Rings is an incredibly intricate story. There are backstories for nearly every character and location, whole entire histories and even sometimes fictional languages. What this does is creates a whole lot of opportunities for fans to get involved in the story, and whole doorways for game developers to explore, all the while adding depth to the overall storyworld. So adding details and hidden clues or puzzles to the project will really help to give it depth and give it longevity.
  • You need to explore the full capabilities of the platform.
Eragon started out as a successful book, but its journey into expanding the storyworld over different platforms didn't work because it didn't fully explore the capabilities of the platforms. The game Eragon had players repeating the same things over and over, each new level offered pretty much the same thing as the last, and there were no new ideas added to the storyline. The players couldn't really explore anything more than the main storyline, leaving players wondering what this game really had to offer. So what we learn from this is that if you are developing a game to go with your crossmedia project, fully explore what you can do with it. Explore different aspects of the story that aren't touched on very much by the main story. Allow players room to explore your storyworld.