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Hobbits had no electricity - so why all the plugs?

Published August 29, 2003

[Photo: New Line Productions 2002]
Elijah Wood as Frodo, left, and Sean Astin as Sam travel without benefit of cell phones or batteries in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Like all the way to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.

There may be few things more puzzling than the current TV commercials that hawk Eveready batteries and Verizon Wireless service, tied to the December release of the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on Tolkien's classic novels.

What marketing madman thought Middle-earth and electronics have anything to do with each other? The two towers of Saruman and Sauron (where everyone in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is converging) don't bear television antennas. No one in Middle-earth, not even Gandalf the wizard, has cable (although Gollum does look like something parents warned us we'd turn into if we sat too close to the TV set).

Overall, the Middle-earth so impressively created by director Peter Jackson in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers is decidedly pre-Circuit City. The only businesses that could possibly find a market there are feed stores, cutlery outlets and maybe Men's Wearhouse, since Hobbits aren't snappy dressers.

Middle-earth certainly isn't where one expects to find cellular telephones and batteries. But thanks to an overeager bunch of advertising designers and corporate types, that's exactly what we're seeing, nearly four months before Jackson's concluding chapter, The Return of the King, debuts in theaters Dec. 17.

Jackson has little to do with the commercials pushing Eveready batteries and Verizon Wireless except possibly a pinch of the action, depending on his agent. However, he and millions of fans enthralled by the Lord of the Rings trilogy should pause for a second and consider how brash capitalism cheapens Tolkien's literary vision of purity and goodness.

At least the tie-ins didn't devolve further into actually placing the product within the movie, as we're seeing so often these days.

Actually, that's an interesting idea. If Frodo and Samwise had cell phones, they wouldn't be wandering lost through the hills of Emyn Muil while the other members of the Fellowship are having all the swashbuckling fun. And Jackson might have wrapped up this saga in one flick if everyone had flashlights.

Thankfully, the ad hounds can't push things that far. Jackson filmed all three Lord of the Rings chapters simultaneously three years ago. Nobody expects him to add a scene of hunky Aragorn sending text messages to both Eowyn and the Elf Arwen asking for dates.

But the ads currently running on television make one wonder if Jackson's crew truly did use Eveready batteries exclusively while making the films, as the commercial suggests. If they did, why did it take two movies' mammoth box office returns before Eveready began bragging about it? The situation smacks of New Line Cinema selling out its already lucrative franchise for a few extra bucks and more publicity for a film that doesn't need it.

The Verizon Wireless ad is even sillier, placing that obnoxious guy who keeps asking of the person he's calling, "Can you hear me now?" outside the gates of Sauron's fortress. Almost makes you wish you could hear him making the anguished sounds of being ripped to shreds by evil Uruk-hai warriors.

I sort of understand the Hulk reaching for a Mountain Dew after a long day's demolition in the desert. I can see the connection between Seabiscuit and Buick; the old horse vs. automobile idea, plus Seabiscuit's owner Charles Howard sold Buicks for a while. Lara Croft really did use Panasonic's SV-AV30 digital camera on her way to finding Pandora's box. Those cars tearing up Miami in 2 Fast 2 Furious actually are Mitsubishis.

But you won't convince me that Charlie's Angels bought their crimefighting gadgets at Best Buy, as that commercial partnership hints. Or that Sinbad designed a ghastly looking sundae for Baskin-Robbins before he sailed. Disney couldn't make Happy Meal toys for the PG-13 adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. McDonald's simply trotted out Big Macs as an excuse for film clip ads, although those skeletal pirates didn't appear to have eaten any.

Spy Kids 3D: Game Over should have teamed with VisionWorks to restore everyone's sight after its grating optical effects.

All I'm asking is that studios and advertisers think twice before linking movies and products that have nothing to do with each other. Hobbits don't use cellular telephones. Gandalf has his own tried and true means of providing electrical force, thank you very much. Let Middle-earth remain one place moviegoers can retreat to, where ring tones, chatty callers and dead batteries can't get in the way of a good time.

Can you hear me now? Good.

[Last modified August 28, 2003, 10:15:43]

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