This month, Warner Bros. and Amazon made a huge announcement: they are developing a live-action Lord of the Rings TV series. The series is described as a prequel to the film trilogy, although the details of when, exactly, this new Middle-earth adventure will be set have yet to be revealed. There is also no news on if the series will be connected to the Peter Jackson films, or if Jackson himself may get involved with the production.
Response to the news has been mixed, from the fans who are thrilled at the idea of a new series set in their favorite fantasy world, to those who feel that this is an unnecessary attempt to cash in on the popularity of the franchise. Some of the stars of the films have also weighed in on the project; Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee) has said that he is intrigued by the concept, while John Rhys-Davies (aka Gimli) commented that Tolkien must be spinning in his grave. And while we'd love to see a well-made continuation of the franchise (who wouldn't?), this feels more like a money-grab than anything...
Why Amazon And Warner Bros. Are Launching A New Lord Of The Rings
There are some clear reasons why Amazon and Warner Bros. have chosen this moment to launch such an ambitious project... not to mention one that should do well, financially. Part of this is down to the recent retirement of Christopher Tolkien, the son of JRR Tolkien, and the manager of his estate. Tolkien has been known as a purist when it comes to his father's works, and his control over the rights to the books and characters have been a major part of the reason that there have been no further adaptations since the Jackson films. With him stepping down, and the lawsuits between the estate and New Line Cinema (a division of Warner Bros.) have been settled, the path is clear to create new projects within the franchise.
It's not just the availability of the characters that set up the new series, however. Both Warner Bros. and Amazon are in a position where attempting to re-launch a beloved (and lucrative) franchise makes sense. Amazon Studios announced their Netflix-style streaming service last year, and since then they have added an impressive number of original series to their slate. It's clear that they are going big to try and compete with existing services like Netflix and Hulu, including an expansion to a new Hollywood studio. However, the move comes amid turmoil at the executive level, following the resignation of chief Roy Price (following sexual harassment claims), as well as multiple other executives. Warner Bros. is in a similarly complicated position, as one of their biggest franchises (the DCEU) continues to fall short of expectations. Justice League, intended to be one of the biggest movies of the year, may even end up losing the studio money. Both studios need a clear win, and Lord of the Rings could be that.
Is The New Series Just A Cash Grab?
It seems clear that Amazon and Warner Bros. are hoping to cash in on the popularity of Lord of the Rings, but that may not be the only successful franchise that they are hoping to take advantage of. Game of Thrones, HBO's phenomenally successful fantasy adaptation, seems to have inspired multiple new fantasy series as fans look for other shows with a similar aesthetic. Even HBO itself is hoping to continue to make money from the popularity of Westeros, with multiple prequel series announced for when the original wraps up after season eight. The Lord of the Rings movies themselves were also wildly successful, of course, and it seems that Amazon/WB are assuming that the combination of an existing fanbase and an appetite for fantasy TV will make their new project a slam dunk, raking in the revenue and drawing major attention to Amazon's streaming service.
Of course, the Lord of the Rings series is far from a guaranteed success, and it's a costly franchise to gamble on. The production value will need to be extremely high, which means a big budget for special effects and stunning locations... and that means that there isn't a huge margin for error. It's also going to be extremely difficult to create a series that satisfies fans of the original books and films, while still being new and interesting enough to hold the audience's attention.
Although Lord of the Rings is the original fantasy epic, that can also make it a little bit predictable. The magical land of elves, dwarves and hobbits is far from novel at this point, and we all know what happens to Middle-earth. Fans want more than just the same tired re-telling of the classic tale, as the response to the Hobbit trilogy shows. While the adventures of Bilbo Baggins was a financial success, it failed to replicate the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Fans who raved about the originals were less than charmed by another three-movie epic, and the final installment opened to little fanfare and a slightly bored fandom. Warner Bros. may have still turned a tidy profit on this second series of films, but thi critical failure means that fans are less likely to tune into yet another Tolkien tale.
An Alternative Approach For Amazon
While yet another cookie-cutter Lord of the Rings adaptation is likely to be met with more yawns than accolades, that doesn't mean that this project is a guaranteed failure. With the right budget and approach, it could well do everything that Amazon and WB hopes; bring attention to the new streaming service, make everyone a bunch of money, and re-ignite interest in the franchise as a whole. If it fails, however, it would be an extremely expensive and talked-about failure.
The best move for the studios would be to do something a little bit different... and to tackle some of the issues with the franchise so far. One of the biggest criticisms of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is the lack of diversity; something that even the addition of a new female elf didn't entirely help. Telling a story from the perspective of a character who isn't a white guy would be extremely helpful. Fans have also been hoping to see an adaptation of The Silmarillion for years; choosing to make this the focus of the project would be sure to excite fans more than a generic LotR prequel series. At the moment, of course, all of these are possibilities; neither studio has clarified exactly what is in the works for the project.
There is no premiere date yet for The Lord of the Rings TV series.