We have the nerve to write the above headline and then follow it up with mild freaking out. In case you haven’t heard, Amazon is doing a series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. We’ll let Miss Press Release fill you in:, with some bolding on our part for emphasis:
“Amazon today announced it has acquired the global television rights to The Lord of the Rings, based on the celebrated fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, with a multi-season commitment. The upcoming Amazon Prime Original will be produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
“The Lord of the Rings is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, Head of Scripted Series, Amazon Studios. “We are honored to be working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line on this exciting collaboration for television and are thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.”
“We are delighted that Amazon, with its longstanding commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings,” said Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins. “Sharon and the team at Amazon Studios have exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”
Set in Middle Earth, the television adaptation will explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. The deal includes a potential additional spin-off series.”
Now, we were originally of the opinion that, regardless of whether Peter Jackson did what should be considered the definitive take on this story (something a good deal of hardcore Tolkien fans disagree on), it has simply been too recent an endeavor to attempt another version of these stories when billions of dollars have been spent on (and even more billions generated by) Jackson’s vision of this world in the last two decades. And considering the stories about how badly Amazon wants a hit in the vein of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the news that they were attempting to secure the rights to Tolkien’s works came off unoriginal in its thinking and more than a little tryhard.
But before any fans of the Peter Jackson trilogies erupt into furor, please take a note of that bolded part in the press release. It’s the tell. We could very well be wrong about this, but when the casting announcements start coming down the line, we expect we won’t be hearing names like Frodo or Bilbo. Not right away, anyway. Glorfindel, Feanor, Beren, Luthien, Tom Bombadil… those are names you might expect to hear.
The Jackson trilogies left out a ton of material from the books of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, much to the dismay of some purists. And the Jackson movies didn’t even touch things like The Silmarillion or the vast majority of the Appendices, which is loaded to the rafters with stories and characters never seen on film. We thought any attempt to erase the memories of Elijah Wood’s Frodo or Viggo Mortenson’s Aragorn by recasting them and retelling their stories sounded like a horrible idea. But if these new series can find ways to tell the UNtold stories of this world in a somewhat cohesive manner (which seriously remains to be seen), this might actually be a worthy endeavor.
Our one fear left is that the look of the new adaptation will feel a lot of pressure to distinguish itself from the Jackson films and wind up making some goofy choices or unnecessary changes just to distinguish itself. On the other hand, we do hope they take this opportunity to do something Jackson only lightly attempted in the later films and Game of Thrones only manages intermittently: make Middle Earth a racially diverse world. There’s no reason in the 21st Century to restrict fantasy storytelling to Northern European-inspired cultures and races.
Anyway, this could all go south astonishingly quickly. We can’t make predictions at this point as to its worthiness, but we think if they stay away from the well-trod paths of the story, there may be an opportunity to do something interesting and worth watching. Much of it will come down to the direction they choose, as well as the people they cast.
And on that last note, let’s hear some fantasy casting – and lose the restrictions. If you think Idris Elba needs to play Beren and Fan Bingbing needs to play Luthien, let’s hear it.