Amazon Takes Us Back to Middle Earth

“We are honored [and] thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.” — Sharon Tal Yguado, new Head of Scripted Series at Amazon Studios

This one’s for real, folks! Honest!

Unlike the April Fool’s Day joke announcement of earlier this year, this deal looks to be entirely legit. Specifically, following a “bidding war” between several networks, Amazon has reached an agreement with the Tolkien Estate and the Tolkien Trust, HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, making Amazon Studios “the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings.”

Rivendell by Alan Lee

To clarify, they aren’t actually going to be re-doing the LotR (or Hobbit) material, which I think is a good thing. What exactly they will be doing apparently hasn’t been decided on, yet, which makes it all that more surprising that the Tolkien people agreed to it. What we do know is that the series will focus on events that occur sometime prior to those in The Fellowship of the Ring. Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, publicly expressed confidence in the “exceptional ideas” by Tal Yguado and the rest of the Amazon Studios team.

Shaun Gunner, Chair of The Tolkien Society, speculates:

“[T]here is also a lot of excitement about the possibility of exploring the epic saga that is The Silmarillion, or even a series focussed on Aragorn’s background. Christmas has come early for many of us today.”

No cast or premiere date have been set, but the series will eventually stream on Amazon Prime. If things go well, there is also an option for a spin-off series down the line.

This deal comes on the heels of legal issues and a recent executive shake-up at Amazon Studios, as well as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ new mandate that they shift “away from niche, naturalistic series such as “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle” and toward large-scale genre programming with potential for broad international appeal.” Bezos, who is a big sci-fi/fantasy fan, reportedly even got personally involved in negotiations for the Tolkien property’s TV series rights.

Naturally, fans will be concerned that the sets, writing, acting, etc., will be up to par. And, assuming the storylines are adaptations of existing Tolkien works, it needs to be at least as faithful to the source material as the Peter Jackson movies were — some would say “much more faithful!” Re-creating the various lands and peoples of Middle Earth ain’t gonna be cheap, either. Plus, as Entertainment Weekly‘s James Hibberd asks:

“Can a network find writers who can successfully bootstrap a relatively new-ish story set in these familiar fantasy worlds that capture at least some percentage of the original work’s worldwide appeal?”

I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but I wonder if the talented Robert Kirkman might be a creative resource for the project. If you can’t place the name, Kirkman is the creator/writer of the “Outcast” and “The Walking Dead” comic series, who then went on to work with Tal Yguado (when she was at Fox) on the TV adaptations of those titles. When his special 2-year development deal with Amazon’s Prime Video was announced back in August, Kirkman and Tal Yguado spoke of their mutual admiration and anticipation of working together again. I’m not sure if he can or would work on a licensed property that he hasn’t at least co-created. Don’t know if he’s a Tolkien fan, either. But, if so, that could be an interesting match.

Regardless, all we can do is pray, hope, and wait & see….

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited. Enough so that I may actually, finally re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time in many years, just to get in the mood. Who knows, I might even give The Silmarillion another try and possibly some of the lesser known tales of Middle Earth. I’ve had my hardcover editions of The Hobbit and the LotR trilogy with the amazing Alan Lee paintings on display for awhile, so it’s about time I read ’em!

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The Silmarillion TV/Movie Deal

I (almost) forgot all about this! I mean, I added the tentative Dec. 13, 2018, date for the first movie release to my “Upcoming Movie Release Dates” page back in September. But, I forgot to post about it.

As I may have mentioned before, I am not very knowledgeable regarding The Silmarillion. (In fact, I’m not nearly as big a Tolkien-geek as I’d like to be, and it has been many years since I read The Hobbit and the LotR trilogy. If only I had more time….) I used to have a paperback copy of The Silmarillion (see pic to the right), which sat unread on my shelf for quite awhile, before I finally picked it up. But, I couldn’t get into it and didn’t get very far before being distracting with other stuff, never to return.

For those who don’t know, or can’t remember much more than I can about it, here is a quick Wikipedia summary of the contents of The Silmarillion:

The Silmarillion comprises five parts. The first part, Ainulindalë, tells of the creation of Eä, the ‘world that is‘. Valaquenta, the second part, gives a description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural powers in Eä. The next section, Quenta Silmarillion, which forms the bulk of the collection, chronicles the history of the events before and during the First Age, including the wars over the Silmarils [i.e., three brilliant jewels composed of the unmarred light of the Two Trees of Valinor] that gave the book its title. The fourth part, Akallabêth, relates the history of the Downfall of Númenor and its people, which takes place in the Second Age. The final part, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, is a brief account of the circumstances which led to and were presented in The Lord of the Rings.

The five parts were initially separate works, but it was the elder Tolkien’s express wish that they be published together. Because J.R.R. Tolkien died before he finished revising the various legends, Christopher gathered material from his father’s older writings to fill out the book. In a few cases, this meant that he had to devise completely new material in order to resolve gaps and inconsistencies in the narrative.”

If I remember correctly, it was mostly 3rd-person narrative — which could be filmed in a sort of documentary style — but not much in the way of stories with protagonists following a plot, etc. But, that’s based on a vague memory of a brief exposure to probably just the first part of the book. So, I could very well be wrong. Still, as I said in a previous post, “any attempt to do more Tolkien movies would have to take a lot more creative license to flesh out a complete, movie-length story than even Jackson’s team has done. But, some of it might work as a TV series, or maybe a series of mini-series….”

So, here’s the scoop…

The news originally broke on or slightly before Aug. 1, 2016, on (now-defunct) OneRingtoRule.com, but Moviepilot’s JabberTalky jumped on the story with his own article, announcing,

“New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, MGM and Showtime have officially announced the completion of a deal with the Tolkien Estate to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel, The Silmarillion, in a cross-platform deal that will include a multi-film franchise and premium cable television show to air on Showtime.

Warner Bros. confirms they will be going straight into preproduction, shooting the first two films back-to-back with a release date of December 13th, 2018 for the first installment.”

No director or cast were announced at the time, of course. But, Peter Jackson is set to executive produce and screenwriter Michael Arndt is adapting the first chapter. These are very good signs.

Now, this could be really good! With feature films and a Showtime series, they can cover a lot of ground. It will be very interesting to see how they break it all down, mixing historical narrative with action and romance, etc. I hope they are able to faithfully flesh out the stories and personalities of characters like Morgoth, Sauron, Feanor, Beren & Lúthien, etc. And, of course, they need to maintain the wonderful, visual style of Jackson’s previous Tolkien films, along with the beautiful soundtrack music, all of which captures the depth and tone of Tolkien’s mythology.

 

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P.S.  April Fool! Gotcha! Sorry, but I couldn’t publish this w/o letting you all know it was a joke. Sorry about that. I share your pain. In fact, I wrote this back in January, thinking the announcement was real. I was finishing it up, when I read some of the comments on the Moviepilot article, which were dated April 2014. Dang it!

P.P.S.  According to this piece at iDigitalTimes, Christopher Tolkien didn’t care for Jackson’s take on his father’s material, and he is quite intent on keeping other Tolkien properties away from the award-winning director. Oh, well! Maybe some other worthy will get the Tolkien blessing….

P.P.P.S.  Here’s a more recent article discussing the difficulties of adapting The Silmarillion, while expressing a wish for a “Game of Thrones”-style series by HBO.

UPDATE 11/4/2017:  As far as I can tell, the following article is for real: “‘Lord of the Rings’ TV Series Being Considered By Amazon”.