- Overview Description
- Page-by-Page Details
- A Do-It-Yourself Project
- What is the Balrog Folder Worth?
The Balrog Folder/Balrog Gatefold pressbook is one of the oldest, most rare, and most elaborately designed promotional pieces made for Peter Jackson’s film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy in late 2002, and have attempted to learn as much as I could about this piece over the years. Here is a summary description of what I’ve found out.
Oldest. In August 1998, New Line Cinema announced the production of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, with filming to begin in May 1999. (As it turned out, filming actually commenced in October 1999.) The so-called “Balrog Folder” was created for the Cannes Film Festival in May 1999, to generate interest in the forthcoming trilogy among international film distributors who would be there. According to some other early eBay auction descriptions, copies may also have ended up in the hands of executives from other film companies.
Like many of the very earliest LOTR and Fellowship film promos, this folder features the original title wordmark (which uses a very different font from the final version used in the films and licensed products, and also has a diamond in the middle of the “O” in “Lord,” giving the impression of a great eye). It also has the dragon icon above the wordmark, presumably Smaug, with tail curled into a complete circle. This version of image and wordmark appears on such other early promotional materials as the 2001 “The Trilogy Begins” oversized calendar with embossed cover, and the RingWraith bookmark given to guests at the Cannes 2001 Middle-earth promotional party.
Exceptionally Rare. From the earliest attempts of LOTR film memorabilia collectors to find out, there has been no definitive count on the number of Balrog Folders produced. One early eBay auction description from approximately 2002 stated 2,500 were printed. Springlering reports a reliable LOTR/Weta crew member puts the number at 400 printed in English. Other known versions include in German, and a later reprint in English with overleaf pages printed with Japanese translations. (The Japanese edition also includes photos of major cast members – evidence that it was a later reprint, as it was not even announced that Elijah Wood had been cast as Frodo Baggins until six weeks after Cannes 1999.)
Whether the actual count is either of those figures, or more or less, it still is accurate to say that this item rarely appears on eBay. I won a second copy in an eBay auction late in 2009, and that is the last time I can recall seeing one listed. Before that, there were periods where it didn’t show up for many months on end. My best estimate is that I’ve seen only 12 to 15 copies listed since 2002 (and I typically visit eBay many times per week).
Elaborately Designed. The Balrog Folder uses an elegant combination of unusual design and printing techniques, such as a die-cut gatefold cover, translucent insert flyleaf page (vellum), and large folded inner pages of conceptual art. These high-quality printing features are part of what gives this piece its unique appeal to collectors, along with its value.
Cover and Frontpiece
COVER (see at the top of this page for folded view of the pressbooklet). When this booklet is folded, its outer dimensions are 12″ x 16″. It has an interlocking “gatefold” cover printed in black, blue-grey, and cream on heavy cardstock. The cover splits in the middle, with tabs on the left-hand side that insert into “clips” on the back of the right-hand side. There is a die-cut circle in the middle of the cover, surrounding by a circle of words in Dwarvish runes.
FRONT PAGES. The front flyleaf page is a translucent cream vellum paper, printed with a shadow of a Balrog, and the caption, “A long, long time ago, during the Third Age, a shadow fell upon Middle-Earth.” The front page repeats the cover’s circle of words in runes, with a dragon icon above a calligraphied title The Lord of the Rings both in the middle of the circle, and “Trilogy” below the circle.
General Format for Inner Pages
INNER PAGES. Each of the six double-page spreads presents a 32″ x 12″ diorama of some iconic moment from the LOTR trilogy. These concept art illustrations are printed on large flats of heavy cardstock, folded in half, and attached to the cover with two staples in the middle of the booklet. The art style tends toward photorealistic.
Text appears in a 5″ x 9.5″ box on the left-hand side of the page spread. A gold-colored icon of a sword surrounded by lightening flashes appears near the bottom inside of the text box. Artwork appears in a 21.25″ x 9.5″ space overlapping the center and right-hand side. A Celtic-style icon of three interwoven rings in front of a thick triangle appears in the center of the right-hand margin of each spread, just outside the artwork.
Artist Renditions ~ Inside Page Spreads and Texts
1. RingWraith overlooking the Shire.
Text: One of the most renowned books of the 20th century is now the movie event of the 21st.
2. The Fellowship on the snowy pass of Caradhras.
Text: New Line Cinema is proud to present J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the long awaited, sweeping epic that brings three live-action feature films to life.
3. Frodo and Sam watching a huge wave of warriors in armor marching across the barren plains of Mordor.
Text: The imagination of writer/director Pete Jackson and the latest advancements in filmmaking technology from innovative special effects house, WETA Ltd., has finally allowed Tolkien’s monumental vision to be brought to the big screen.
4. Gandalf with lighted staff, standing on the bridge at Khazad-dûm, with the shadow of the Balrog close at hand.
Note: The shadow here is the same one as on the front flyleaf page.
Text: The Oscar-nominated team of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, along with Philippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair, have written three screenplays which are faithful to Tolkien’s vision and reverently breathe life into the magical characters that generations of fans have grown to love.
5. The battle at Helm’s Deep.
Text: The Lord of the Rings has sold an estimated 50 million copies in 25 languages and has been lauded as “the book of the century” around the world.
6. The three boats of the Fellowship approach the Argonath.
Text: With this unprecedented production in size and scope, New Line Cinema will make history by filming three epic motion pictures consecutively over the course of one year. Featuring an international cast, 20,000 extras and over 1,200 state-of-the-art computer generated effect shots, The Lord of the Rings will be one of the most anticipated cinematic experiences of the new millennium.
Inside Back Cover and Back Cover
BACK PAGES. The back inside cover on the left-hand side has gold-colored printing on black cardstock. It lists the three film titles, and then gives a bullet-least of features:
- A history-making production with three epic films being shot back-to-back over the course of one year.
- An international cast with more than 20,000 extras.
- Groundbreaking visual effects by WETA Digital.
- A PG-13 rating will assure maximum audience appeal.
- An extensive global merchandising campaign will augment the theatrical release of the films.
- Launching May 1999, http://www.lordoftherings.net, the films’ “official website,” will follow the films from production through release and drive anticipation for the entertainment event of the decade.
The back inside cover on the right-hand side is a half-sheet of cardstock, attached in such a way as to create a folder, presumably to hold additional press materials. It has white printing atop a gold ring: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
A Do-It-Yourself Project
It would be intriguing to see if versions of these conceptual art illustrations/artists’ renderings appear in the any of the many special feature galleries on the Special Extended Edition DVDs, or elsewhere among the many behind-the-scenes resources available on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
What is the Balrog Folder Worth?
I have recently (late 2010) received several inquiries about how to figure out the value of the Balrog Folder, and thought it would be helpful to post this information.
I have been watching the Balrog Folder sales on eBay fairly consistently for 10 years now. It is indeed hard to find. I am fairly certain that I have seen only about 15 to 20 total on eBay in 10 years.
In the early 2000s, as best I can recall, the price range on eBay was consistently between $60 and $125. I bought my first one in something like 2002, for about $60. (I’ve had about three or four over the years.) The highest I can remember these selling for on eBay was $150+. That was probably mid-2000s, after Return of the King had been out a while and there was still more of a craze – and more of an economy going! The lowest price I can recall was about $15-20. Someone apparently had a small stack of them – I wondered if they’d worked with the original printer or a distributor who’d handled the original send-out of the promo – and they kept popping up off and on with a starting price of either $9.99 or $19.99 – I can’t recall which, but I do recall ending up with one. In fact, it probably is the one shown on the website, and it sold in July 2010 for $55 on eBay. I had listed it two or three times before it sold, and started with a list price of $120, I think. This eBay posting had lots of “views,” but no bidders until later and then only the one bidder.
That’s as much history as I can recall at the moment. But the history of prices at different times, plus some thoughts about shifts in the economy plus fan demand, help set some parameters on pricing. Based on selling prices as an indicator, plus the obvious rarity of the item (I haven’t even seen one one eBay since I sold one in July 2010), my best guess for a current base price valuation in 2010 is that it is at least $100. I’d suggest its intrinsic value is more, in the range of $125 for a fine to very fine example, to $175 for a mint/pristine copy. The more I study the development of the film trilogy, it’s more clear that there are very very few promotional items that (1) had film trilogy concept art, (2) used the initial style wordmark logo, such as appears on the Cannes film festival items from before the first film’s release and a few early T-shirts, film tie-in LOTR books, etc., and is a marker of the earliest promo items. (For a few more details on the wordmark logo, see the section on Title Treatments.)
The Balrog Folder is an early example of the level of artisanship that would eventually exemplify the entire trilogy, in interpreting and creating the physical culture artifacts for the LOTR films. And, in my opinion, the Balrog Folder, plus the series of three Cannes “linen” cover pressbooks, plus the set of “gift bag items” from the Cannes castle party, are THE premium printed promotional items for the whole universe of LOTR film trilogy rarities.
The value of this piece also may go up in the future, given those uncontrollable factors of demand based on what happens with The Hobbit films, the strength of the economy, etc. But it really has intrinsic value for its high level of artistic design and quality execution, has historical value as a premium promotional piece preceding the film trilogy, and has speculative value due to its extreme rarity/scarcity along with the continuing interest in Professor Tolkien, Peter Jackson, the LOTR films, and The Hobbit films.
Addendum #1: It is now September 2012, and I do not recall seeing a Balrog Folder on eBay for at least two full years. Because of the interest in the upcoming trilogy of movies for The Hobbit, I suspect this means the historical and speculative value for the Balrog Folder could push the price to over $200, perhaps even far more.
Addendum #2: I’s May 2014, and I’ve only seen perhaps 2 or 3 eBay listings of a Balrog Folder since last time I estimated it. So, now my overall estimate is 20 to 25 times I’ve seen one listed.
As I went through my notes from as far back as 2002 on this piece, it occurs to me that I’ve never seen photos of or read references to any promotional materials that were in the back pouch section. A few printed materials about licensees have been available on eBay rarely, but those I’ve seen were from at least a year or more later when a significant number of companies had already contracted to license products to tie in with The Fellowship of the Ring.