Almost ten years after the release of The Return of the King, Tolkien fans will finally be able to celebrate the release of The Hobbit in less than three weeks. Well, Part One of it, anyway. Director/Producer Peter Jackson’s decision to split the Lord of the Rings prequel first into two and then three films has caused much controversy among fans. An understandable concern is that Jackson is just selling out for a huge payoff—how could there possibly be enough material for three films from just one 320-page book? Personally, I’m withholding judgment until I actually see the movies. Although Warner Brothers undoubtedly had the billions of dollars the LOTR trilogy grossed in mind when they green-lit the third film, I really want to trust Peter Jackson, and I really want to believe that these three films are going to be incredible.
Alas, the splitting of the films is not the only thing that has fans running scared. In anticipation of the release of the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, there has been a string of seemingly questionable promotion deals, including the entire country of New Zealand and Microsoft. A lot of people are worried about some of these deals are compromising the integrity of Tolkien’s work, and I’m sure that the man himself would agree—I don’t even want to think about what his opinion would be of all this. Still, part of me is going, “THIS IS AWESOME.” And so in an attempt to resolve my mixed feelings about the marketing strategy for The Hobbit, I investigated another puzzling promotional partnership: a Denny’s Hobbit tie-in.
This promotion is designed for people like me: they have a colorful menu with graphics from the movie and dishes with names like “Bilbo’s Berry Smoothie” and “Shire Sausage Skillet” AND you get trading cards with your entrée. The concept is both painfully cheesy and devilishy clever—if I’m in the mood for quasi-diner food, I would probably choose the Waffle House over Denny’s if they didn’t have Hobbit-themed food. I went with a friend and we ordered “The Ring Burger” and “Gandalf’s Gobble Melt,” respectively. And the food was pretty much what you would expect from a Denny’s—greasy and mediocre.
Nevertheless, I still find myself greatly in favor of the whole Denny’s debacle, just because it’s so much fun. It’s fun because I love Tolkien and I get a kick out of seeing this menu printed up, it’s fun because I get to try and collect a set of trading cards, it’s fun because most of the diners neither know or care what a “Radagast” is, it’s fun because the manager clearly wishes he didn’t have people asking about trading cards as they pay their check, and it’s fun because you can sit with your friends and bask in the ridiculousness of it all. In my opinion, Warner Brothers definitely loses a lot of street-cred for allowing this deal to go through, but fans still come out winners. I mean, if you’re going to be going out for mid-grade restaurant food anyway, why not make the trip just a little more magical?