Strange report today that Amazon and Warner Bros are considering, for their next big project, collaborating on a new TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
Got to say, this seems like a less than stellar idea to me, given that the highly regarded movie trilogy is not that far in the past, being close enough that any new attempt to adapt the trilogy is invariably going to be starting out under a very large shadow, and comparisons will be inevitable. I can certainly understand that the allure of such a widely recognised name has to be appealing to executives, but I can’t help but think that they’re going to run into some fairly sizeable issues in winning over audiences if they try to go ahead with it.
I’m not against the idea of remaking, or, in this case, re-adapting an existing property, but I think that, when considering such a venture, the first thing that should be considered is the simple question of “what can our version bring to the table that’s new?” It’s hard to imagine what that could be in this case. The Peter Jackson trilogy was a pretty good adaptation of the material – not 100% faithful, certainly, but what changes were made were generally done so for what most people seemed to consider acceptably solid reasons. It’s difficult to picture what Amazon intend to add as the selling point for their TV version. Putting back in all the elf songs, possibly? Now with added Tom Bombadil?
Other remakes or reboots have, I think, suffered because of this sort of thing. The Andrew Garfield starring Amazing Spider-Man pair of movies weren’t particularly bad, but they didn’t really bring anything new that the Tobey Maguire trilogy hadn’t already done. Audiences were left wondering what the point was. Conversely, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy set out to do something very different to the Burton / Schumacher movies that pre-dated it by setting their story in a world reasonably close to the one we actually live in, rather than the heavily stylised world of the earlier films, resulting in healthy critical acclaim and huge box office returns. And the most recent Spider-Man appearances, with Tom Holland in the role, have done well, because they’ve been able to bring Spider-Man in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Audiences are willing to pay money to see him interact with the established popular heroes of that universe. It’s something new, and that’s appealing.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t some mileage in a Middle Earth-set TV show. The history as described by Tolkien covers a period of several thousand years, with plenty of possibilities for stories to be told, with individual seasons focusing on different significant events. Given the extended time frames involved, we’d likely have to look at a situation where, for the most part, individual cast members would only be involved in, at most, a single series, but the presence of the very long-lived elves would give them the ability to have certain characters (Galadriel would be a good example) recurring throughout.
Mostly off the top of my head, the first season could cover the creation of the world (probably in a brief prologue), the awakening of the elves and the attempt by Melkor, the original dark lord, to destroy them, the summoning of the elves to Valinor and their subsequent departure after Melkor escaped captivity and tore the place apart.
Season two could cover the awakening of Men, the rise and fall of the elven city of Gondolin and the eventual banishment of Melkor after his final defeat at the climax of the War of Wrath.
Season three could cover the founding of Numenor, the great kingdom of Men, the rise of Sauron, his influencing the elves to forge the Great Rings and subsequent forging of the One Ring and his forces sweeping across Middle Earth, finishing with the Numenorean counter-attack driving him back into Mordor.
Season four could deal with the final days of the Second Age, starting with Sauron’s surrender to the King of Numenor and his subsequent corruption, with a B-plot covering Elendil and his sons realising the danger and planning their escape, the Fall of Numenor and the founding of Arnor and Gondor, ending with the formation of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves and the eventual defeat of Sauron (and the loss of the One Ring).
Season five could relate early aspects of the Third Age, such as the Fall of Arnor, eventually leading to the creation of the Dunedain Rangers, the reappearance of the Nazgul (and whispers of the return of their master), culminating with the death of the last King of Gondor.
Just for any Tolkien purists who might stumble upon this, I am aware that most of those season plans still cover extended periods of at least several hundred years, so, to be honest, there would need to be a fair amount of tinkering with the exact timelines here and there, just to keep characters around for more than one episode, but, done with a degree of care, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work.
If they could get through all that, and each season there would provide enough hugely epic moments to satisfy most viewers, then at that point, for a final sixth season, they could do their adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. And I think people would look upon it much more favourably, having stuck with the show through five seasons of world-building, epic battles and so forth. There’d be more of a feeling, having done effectively the entire history of Middle Earth, that they’d earned the right to do their own take on the story.
We’ll see what, if anything, eventually comes of all this – my guess is that it probably won’t come to much. Which is fine by me. We already have a perfectly serviceable adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and, with many great fantasy series out there that could make really good TV series, I kinda hope that Amazon could get nudged in that sort of direction instead.