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Case Study: Lord of the Packaging
Posted Aug 12, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Forty-six years after the publication of the third and final installment in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson unveiled the first in a trilogy of films that visually re-create Middle-earth and the colorful cast of characters that made Tolkien's extended novel a literary masterpiece. Since its December 2001 theatrical debut, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has set box office records and amassed an impressive collection of awards, including "Best Picture" honors from the American Film Institute and Academy Awards for cinematography, makeup, original score, and visual effects. (Jackson also made history by directing three major feature films simultaneously: The Two Towers and The Return of the King are already in the can and will hit the big screen this month and in December 2003, respectively.)

Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not bestow its "Best Picture" prize on The Fellowship of the Ring, the film was hailed by audiences and critics alike for its masterful adaptation of Tolkien's vision and its stunning special effects. Recognizing the film's tremendous appeal, New Line Home Entertainment has developed three DVD sets offering two different versions of the film and an unparalleled host of bonus features designed to please the franchise's biggest fans.

(The first DVD, released August 6, is the only version to feature the original, PG-13-rated theatrical cut. Packaged in a double Amaray case, the two-disc set also contains a 10-minute preview of The Two Towers; three behind-the-scenes documentaries; and a sneak peak at the Platinum Series Special Extended Edition and Platinum Series Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set, which hit stores November 12.)

These four-disc editions, like their predecessor, offer far more than the digital capture of the original film, as seen in the earliest days of DVD releases. Among other things, they feature an extended version of the film with more than 30 minutes of never-before-seen footage and new music from composer Howard Shore; four audio commentaries by Jackson and various writers, designers, producers, and cast members; and two discs of appendices, including "From Book to Vision," a documentary that explores the process of adapting the novel into a screenplay and the visualization and construction of Middle-earth, and "From Vision to Reality," a documentary that demonstrates the range of visual effects employed in the film. The collector's set also contains a new edition of the National Geographic documentary on the making of the film, Decipher trading cards, and Pillars of Argonath bookends.

"Anybody will look at these sets and say, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool,'" says Marshall Carr, vice president of operations and distribution for New Line Home Entertainment. "The look and feel of it is very much a reflection of the film itself. And that's what we wanted: to keep the themes of the film evident right through to the package."

It's Not the Ring, It's the Box
That package, like several other collector's edition-designated titles, consists of a cardboard DVDigipak tucked within a slightly larger slipcase. Developed by AGI Media Packaging, the DVDigipak may contain as many discs as desired; may be constructed of cardboard or specialist-bespoke materials; may be decorated with an unlimited number of graphics in an array of colors and styles; may include enhanced features such as flashing lights; allows for the inclusion of booklet and poster pockets; and is impact- and break-resistant. Standard packages typically include four, six, or eight panels of printed surface and a choice of black, white, or crystal-clear plastic trays. (Examples include the collector's editions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Seven, and The Sopranos.)

According to Carr, the decision to use the DVDigipak design began with an analysis of what the studio hoped to accomplish with the extended editions. "In the early days, we put everything in Snapper cases," he explains. "As a general rule, we are now migrating to Amaray-style boxes for all of our new releases. However, there are certain films that you want to elevate, from a presentation standpoint, and you just can't do that with an Amaray box. When we looked at all of the different options for putting four discs in a box, there was really nothing that could compete with the DVDigipak."

Visually, New Line's creative team wanted the packaging to mimic the themes of the film in a unique way. "Each of the three films has a base color palette," Carr explains. "The first film is green, the second is brown, and the third is red. We've maintained that throughout both the August and November DVD releases of The Fellowship of the Ring."

Indeed, both the package and the slipcase resemble a green leather-bound book, with the glossy look of a weathered and wrinkled texture that might be found on an old, but treasured, book. "The outside case is a rigid slipcase that was pretty difficult to print because of the look that we were trying to achieve," he says, noting that the paper was selected because it was sturdy and durable. "We wanted it to look like something that could stand alone and fit on a person's bookshelf. The gold foil we embossed on the outside of the slipcase is very pure…it's simply the title treatment of the film. It's a very slick package that retains an old feel and keeps to the themes of the film." (The slipcase was printed by Graphic Alliance, the DVDigipak by Ivy Hill Packaging.)

In the process of developing the interior of the package, New Line's creative team struck proverbial gold when famed Tolkien illustrator Alan Lee volunteered his services. (Lee was recruited by Jackson to provide conceptual designs for all three films.) "We were very fortunate that the illustrator for the film offered to draw the art for the box," Carr adds. "Our own designer had come up with some general ideas and concepts, which we presented to Peter Jackson. When Alan Lee came into the fold, we instantly knew we'd have a beautiful box."

Essential to the interior, and located on an extra panel that holds the set's chapter booklet, is a map of the fellowship's journey from the Shire, home to the novel's protagonist Frodo, to Mordor, an enemy land that covets a magical ring that gives its owner inordinate and dangerous powers. Beneath the four clear trays housing the discs are original, black-and-white illustrations of the film's various locales.

Pillars of Exclusivity
At the heart of the collector's set, meanwhile, is a pair of dark gray bookends that resemble the Pillars of Argonath featured in the film. Created through a partnership between Sideshow and the Weta Workshop, and available only through the purchase of the gift set, the bookends represent the "premium item" that New Line knew it wanted to include in the collector's edition, says Laura Abele, senior manager, marketing. (Sideshow is a Westlake, California-based developer of collectible figurines. The Weta Workshop, a Wellington, New Zealand-based special effects company co-founded by Peter Jackson, is responsible for the design, fabrication, and on-set operation of the visual effects featured throughout the trilogy.)

"When the second teaser poster for the movie came out, the Argonaths almost immediately became a very recognizable figure," Abele explains. "We had considered different kinds of gift sets and add-ons, but realized that the Argonaths were such a strong icon that they should be included in the collector's DVD." Indeed, the inclusion of the bookends in the collector's set represents home entertainment's first attempt to merge collectibles with DVD packaging.

Weighing a pound apiece, the bookends are constructed of polystone, a powdered stone and resin substance that looks and feels like stone, but without the density. "It's fragile, but durable," she says, noting that all of Sideshow's toys and statues are made from the material. "We knew it was a perfect match."

Looking Back, and Looking Forward
While every DVD release requires work, those films that demand an elevated treatment are especially challenging. "I first started hearing that New Line was going to do a box set with bookends in October 2001—before the film even hit theaters," Carr recalls.

"Every time we start this kind of project, we always look first at what kind of packaging is available, where we can get it, and how much it will cost to produce and then assemble at a replicator," he explains. "We find samples and start weighing all of those factors from a creative and financial standpoint. In this case, we ultimately decided on the DVDigipak. From there, we turned to the slipcase, asking ourselves, ‘Do we want it to be stiffer? If yes, what will that cost and how will we do it?' Then you look at more paper samples and determine what kind of gloss you want. As we get the artwork together, we'll have the printer make up sample boxes that look and feel like what we'd do in the production run. Then you get marketing and sales together for their input.

"Once we had put these samples together for The Fellowship of the Ring, we sent it all down to New Zealand for Peter's input," Carr continues. "Peter was involved every step of the way and was completely positive about what we were doing. All of the parties involved were continually presenting things and revising them. It was a long, collaborative process."

Looking ahead, Carr concedes that New Line will most likely give the second and third films similar treatments. "All of that depends on many factors, and we haven't yet made any real decisions," he says. Whether New Line will ultimately repackage the three films into a single set "is an assumption that anybody could make," he adds. "At the end of all this, the films might be something that, taken together, could be unique. It's pretty early to be guessing on that, though."

AGI Media Packaging; Ivy Hill Packaging

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