J. R. R. Tolkien's epic narrative The Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved franchises of all time. With over 150 million copies sold, the trilogy is among the best-selling novel series of all time. Between 2001 and 2003, Peter Jackson recreated the story for the big screen in spectacular style, earning 17 Academy Awards — a record for any film trilogy.
Now, it seems the franchise could be relaunched once again. According to Variety, Amazon and Warner Bros. are in early talks for a TV adaptation.
A Tremendous Opportunity For Amazon
The Lord of the Rings franchise has hit troubled times since 2012, with Warner Bros. and the Tolkien Estate caught up in a messy rights dispute. That was finally resolved in July of this year, and they've clearly wasted no time in trying to breathe new life into this unforgettable franchise.
According to Variety, an intense competition between a number of networks and content producers has led to Amazon emerging as the frontrunner. Unusually, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — known to be a fan of fantasy and science-fiction — is described as "personally involved in the negotiations."
Fans will be delighted at the news. The success of Game of Thrones has proved that fantasy series can stand among the best-loved and most critically-acclaimed TV series of all time. Right now, Thrones has earned 38 Primetime Emmy Awards, 5 Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Peabody Award. Season 8 is set to bring Thrones to a close in either 2018 or 2019, and there'll be a massive gap in the market as a result. Lord of the Rings is perfectly suited to exploit that gap.
The discussion comes at a perfect time for Amazon. Bezos has refocused Amazon's in-house studio, seeking more ambitious "event" shows like Thrones, Preacher and American Gods. Lord of the Rings would be the ultimate example.
There will be risks. Peter Jackson's adaptations are breathtakingly beautiful, and he used the stunning visuals of New Zealand to create a profound sense of place. Middle Earth itself is as much a character in the films as Frodo Baggins, and as a result it will be difficult to recreate that in a fresh location. At the same time, using New Zealand again would simply make the series feel derivative. Casting choices will be likewise challenging.
Thankfully, the risks can be mitigated by skillful directing and wise decision-making, and they're clearly worth it. If Amazon can get this right, they would have a show that's every bit as culturally significant as Game of Thrones.
The reality is that fantasy novels are rarely suited to big-screen adaptations. They're all about world-building, taking the characters on journeys of discovery and exploration, allowing the writers to revel in their creative gifts. Tolkien's novels are no exception, and as a result Jackson edited the plot liberally. Entire characters and locations are omitted from the films, and several much-loved moments are actually reserved for the deleted scenes.
A TV series, however, has room to breathe that a movie doesn't. In cumulative terms, the extended editions of the three films exceed 11 hours in length. As staggering as that may be, it could be exceeded by a single season of a TV series. That makes this the natural medium for a modern adaptation.
This is thrilling news for all fantasy fans. The Lord of the Rings franchise is a juggernaut of the fantasy world, and it's already given us some of the most popular fantasy films of all time. With the right cast and crew, this series could be every bit as magical as those movies.
Do you think the time is right for a Lord of the Rings TV series? Let me know in the comments!