The recent announcement of the “Middle-earth Limited Collectors Edition Blu-ray Box Set” has stirred up quite a hornets’ nest not only in our message boards, but elsewhere, be it the comment fields of retail sites, or the blogs of people interested in Tolkien, or the home releases of cinematic material in general.
Many are concerned that the reported and rumored price of US$800 for the limited edition is too high, given there is no new cinematic or ‘behind-the-scenes’ material. Some compare the release unfavorably to Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Wizard’s Collection, which provided a bonus disk. Some point out that you could purchase the Blu-rays, a player and a small HDTV for the price of this set. Others point out that one could fly from North America to New Zealand for that amount.
So yes, one feeling is that ‘this is way too much money for nothing new but packaging.’ But for some, there’s more than just a sense of consumer rejection – there’s a sense of disappointment, outrage, frustration, and even sadness. Why? What drives that?
a) Some fans have been hoping for an ‘ultimate edition’ with bloopers, extra bonus material, and whatnot. This release is not that.
b) Some feel that “The Hobbit”, has not been handled properly from the beginning (too many films, or some other complaint). These fans feel this is yet another example of the studio “blowing it with the material, and with the fans.”
c) Some feel that they are being treated as fools. With no new cinematic material, how is it possible that the studio could think that a shelf, nice boxes, some small posters, a notebook, etc. come with such a high markup? Is the shelving made of wood from the white tree at the heart of Minas Tirith? After all, with the US$800 for this release, I could get the extended edition Blu-ray edition of all six films, hardcover copies of the books, along with The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and the History of Middle Earth, a copy of Jens Hansen’s One Ring, a version of Arwen’s Evenstar pendant, Gandalf and Saruman salt and pepper shakers, and more, and still wonder what I will do with the rest of the money I have saved.
The list of possible causes of frustration goes ever on and on… we Tolkien fans are known to get easily excited!
But let’s take a collective deep breath and do two things.
First, let’s challenge ourselves – should we be so angry? Consider: in the non-Tolkien collecting world, similarly high-priced ‘collectibles’ exist. I can go to a local store and pay about $14 for the a copy of Scrabble, or I can go to a specialty retail store and pay $225 for ‘Premiere Edition Scrabble’. It’s the same game. There are no extra tiles, no new letters in the alphabet, no new special rules for the well-heeled logophile. It’s still good old Scrabble, just packaged a different way. Perhaps those premiere edition Scrabble game purchasers are fools – or maybe they just really like Scrabble and want a really cool looking set as a focal point of their family room to reflect their interest in the game. Similarly, the well-heeled and price-unconscious Tolkien fan can indeed decide to spend $800 on this set – and that doesn’t harm those who choose not to do the same. So perhaps anger over the high sticker price needs to be reduced.
Second, let’s see if there’s something deeper going on here. Perhaps the frustration we are expressing is really just a mask covering a deeper emotion. Let’s face it. Almost all of us sense that, at a global level, the heady cinematic, culture-impacting days of Middle-Earth are really, truly, over. We are sad. At the turn of the century, our dear Middle-earth was shown to the world, and they loved it. We felt everyone got ‘it’, and because of it, got us. Now things our different. Our favorite franchise, books that matter so much to us, seem to no longer matter to the world, or even to their film studio, as much as they did just a few short years ago.
But we knew this would happen one day – popular culture cannot stay focused on one thing for any length of time, or it won’t have room to take on anything new.
We’re sad because, instead of things ending with a bang and applause, like Bilbo’s Long-Expected Party, with the last film loved most of all, and a glorious home release acknowledging a track record of success, we just get a repackaging. No new material. The Middle-earth cinematic saga, the wide cultural exposure to all things Tolkien ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
We are sad – even angry – because we simply didn’t think it would end this way.
But perhaps we are wrong to feel that way. Perhaps it’s important to remember someone’s wise words, and paraphrase them to fit our current situation: “End? No the impact of Middle-earth doesn’t end here. The eventual loss of wide cultural exposure is just another path; one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of decades of niche-interest will roll back, and once again, Middle-earth will be on the silver screen. And then you’ll see it. White searchlights; and beyond, a premiere of a new generation of films, screening at night after a swift sunset.”
This is not the end – this is just the simple pause after a cycle of cultural interest, the end of one long inhalation and exhalation. One day, the world will breathe again. Tolkien fandom has been here before: at the end of a heady time in the 1960s and early 1970s, it went quiet for 25 years, until exploding open in 2001.
Therefore, I believe and hope that twenty years, fifty years, a century from now, our children, their children, and beyond, will continue to find hope and meaning in Middle-earth, and produce new interpretations of it for others to enjoy. On the screen, in plays, in forms and delivery mechanisms not imagined by us now, our offspring will be stirred by Theoden’s re-awakening, by Gandalf’s wisdom, by Sam’s loyalty, and by Frodo’s courage. These new interpretations will be worse than Peter Jackson’s vision in some ways, but also much better in others. For that is the way of such things. But whatever successes and flaws these new versions will have, a few things are certain: they will be amazing and inspiring. They will ignite in a new generation a sense of a nobler purpose in life, a joy of simpler living, and an appreciation of works of wonder, because behind all possible interpretations, supporting them, letting them breathe, will be the timeless, unchanging words of the good Professor.
Our job now, as lovers of Middle-earth, is to carry the hope and deeper messages of Tolkien’s work forward and ensure it is not lost and forgotten, so that one day, perhaps a day that I or you might not see, the world can re-experience the joy we have felt these past fifteen years.