What Can We Expect From Amazon's "Lord of The Rings" Series?
The world is changed. I feel it in my bank account. I feel it in my wifi connection. I smell it in my multiple streaming services. Much that once was, is lost, for none now live who remember a cable subscription or shopping in a store...
Alternatively I could call this “Streaming’s Battle For The Series Of The One Ring” and it would also make sense. If you haven’t heard the news, then let me enlighten you -- the company keeping all box-making companies in business, Amazon, will be continuing their adventure into creating television shows for you to stream and binge-watch, like Hulu and Netflix before it. An all out battle that saw Amazon waging a money war against Netflix and HBO (it is unclear if Hulu had the stones to get in on this) for the rights to create a series based on Lord of the Rings. After bidding close to $250 million, Amazon has been declared winner and subsequently made any eBay victory you had in the past seem like you were playing with Monopoly money. Putting that $250 mil to good use, Amazon seems to be ditching their “we make a pilot and you vote if we make more” strateggy by giving this new series a multiple-season commitment. Amazon was riding high on this great news for themselves, but then… then the Internet freaked out.
Comment sections erupted everywhere. People angered that the movies “aren’t that old” or “do we really need to see Tom Bombadil?” or “I hope this fails, you rehashing hacks”... It's gone on for days. Then rumors began that Amazon couldn’t get the rights to all of the characters. Well, things have changed and it looks like if you want to keep Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, then you can keep him because Amazon was never looking to redo the movies as a series. No, they want to make a prequel.
For some time now, there have been rumors that Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien’s final work that he died while writing, The Silmarillion (that book your friend “read” back in middle school and claimed to understand all of when it’s a challenge for some academics), was going to be adapted to film. Always in hushed whispers was this spoken about until Amazon awakened the talk by stating that their series will be a prequel to Fellowship of the Ring. While their statement doesn’t fully legitimize that talk, it does make you think, what else could the company have dropped a crisp $250 mil on? The answer seems apparent when you also factor in that, ever since HBO put “Game of Thrones” into the world, everyone has said to be trying to find their own. With the story of The Silmarillion containing a creation story that results in all out war through out Middle-Earth, a war even bigger and more encompassing than the one going throughout the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then this sounds like the safest bet. Before clueing you in more on what exactly The Silmarillion contains (without spoilers), let me show that you’ve actually already seen a bit of the story:
What’s interesting about this story that plays directly into the Lord of the Rings, and is even shown as a prologue to Fellowship of the Ring, is that it is only a brief section of The Silmarillion. While this book is much shorter than the Lord of the Rings novels, it covers a longer span of time and history when there was more magic in Middle-Earth, but also bigger threats of darkness. The book is also written like a long poem, similar to Homer’s Odyssey (although a Finnish epic I’ve never heard of called Kalevala is cited as the major influence), which makes this Tolkien’s most challenging read of all. It shows you the origins of everyone, from elves, orcs, Balrogs, all of the rings power, Gandalf and the other wizards, and even Sauron himself, who was originally a much different creature although still shrouded in evil. It also gives Middle-Earth its own creation story that is too long and complicated to get into here but let’s just say it deals with a lot of what could be interpreted as angels or Gods, depending on your background. It also delves into Sauron’s rise to power and how he corrupted all different sorts of people, like being the main reason for downfall of the Island of Númenor a.k.a. the Undying Lands (spoiler: it dies). To top it off, The Silmarillion also isn’t even the whole origin story.
Edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and released in 1980 (7 years after his death), Tolkien’s unfinished work was put together in a book called Unfinished Tales. In here are stories and essays all relating to Middle-Earth and a time before the Ring trilogy took place. The stories and essays include more information on the island of Númenor, the Kings of Númenor (three of which became the Nazgul, a.k.a. ringwraiths), and the history of Lady Galadriel, who was played by Cate Blanchett in the movies and was that Elf who gave Frodo and his Fellowship that sweet Elvish swag (as well as an adolescent me weird feelings I didn’t quite understand at the time). There’s a lot of great stuff to pick and prod here, but one thing that has always had fans divided and, of course, is swimming again around the Internet… Tom Bombadil.
Appearing in only two Tolkien novels, Fellowship of the Ring and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (his appearance in Tales from the Perilous Realm is really just The Adventures of Tom Bombadil due to it being out of print), there isn’t much on this guy. What we know is that he could be the oldest thing in Middle-Earth -- his birth is unknown, as he came before the coming of Melkor (which is the main antagonist of The Silmarillion and Sauron’s boss); he is most likely immortal, his involvement in any events taking place during The Silmarillion are completely unknown but speculated; he has extraordinary deadly powers but doesn’t help in fighting Sauron because he doesn’t seem to care what happens with that business and is completely unaffected by the ring; he loves to sing complete nonsense; he claims to remember the first raindrop and acorn ever; and he lives deep in the Old Forest away from any civilization with his wife Goldberry. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a talent for regurgitating eggs.
But the elephant in the room is still that Bombadil has always been quite viciously hated by many fans. The reasons are valid outside of us knowing next to nothing about him. They hate his nonsensical singing. They hate that he could literally wipe out all of the hoards of orcs, the ringwraiths, Sauron, etc. before even remembering he’s supposed to drop that silly, all-powerful, magic ring that does nothing for him in Mt. Doom. But the definitive reason he’s hated amongst fans, it seems, is that his part of Fellowship adds nothing to the table. In a story that’s all about progressing the narrative to the next part, his story is of no consequence. He easily saves the hobbits from Old Man Willow as they journey through the Old Forest to the Prancing Pony in Bree. Then he and Goldberry give them a nice meal and conversation and… that’s it. The Peter Jackson film flows perfectly fine without even a mention of Bombadil or Goldberry because they have nothing to do with the adventure. They’re just a weird pit stop that I enjoy to take a look around and waste too much time at, but many people think it is just another tourist attraction.
Now that we’ve gotten the potential major plot and character stuff out of the way on what this Amazon show could cover, let’s take a quick look at a rumor I saw around the internet that I cannot confirm nor deny it’s truth -- the character rights issue. Certain people have been posting that they heard that, even after giving the Tolkien estate the insane amount of money they did, Amazon still doesn’t have the rights to all of the characters. While I believe this plays more into The Hobbit and The Rings trilogy characters, I can see this possibly being the case with any of the works that take place before those two since there is crossover. If that is the case, what I present to you is, who cares?
From book to screen, Tolkien amassed a lot of fans through his life and now in his death. What you get are different kinds of fans. I for one saw the first movie when I was in 5th grade. After that, I was obsessed and read all the books I could even if I couldn’t understand them. (Full Disclosure: that middle school friend who lied and said they understood The Silmarillion... was ME.) While the movies made a gateway for me to get into Middle-Earth, it also was a map that gave the world color.
Now, I love Tolkien as much as the next person, but a lot of his characters lack in personality, or simply things to do. The best example out there is Arwin, who was played by Liv Tyler in the movies. After the first movie, her part was cut down, and for better or worse Jackson gave her and Aragorn more to do in their love story, but the best thing he did was in Fellowship where he actually gave her something heroic to do in saving Frodo and using magic to defeat the ringwraiths. Jackson did it with a few characters over the course of his trilogy, and it’s quite common in book-to-film adaptations to do certain character changes. For example, interchaging lesser character arcs for more established ones because of the amount of budget is blown from hiring another actor. A little change is hardly ever the end of the world.
While we’re on the topic of things Jackson did, it should also be mentioned that, while his Rings films were critically-acclaimed and beloved by a whole generation of moviegoers, there are still new and old fans of Tolkien alike who are not satisfied with his adaptation. Much like any bit of nerd rage, the hate for Jackon’s vision could fill a book as long as The Hobbt, which he has been even more heavily criticized over for turning into a trilogy when it is truly a one-off adventure. What seems to be most consistent, however, outside of any changes from page to celluloid is the overall tone and ambiance of the films. While I personally love it, as it made me fall in love with Middle-Earth, and the Shire specifically, every book reader has their own vision of the world in their mind, and for some people it doesn’t line up with this. So… will this be in the Jackson canon? It’s unclear at the moment.
When The Hobbit was announced, Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct but later left citing “creative differences”. Given del Toro’s past with being unsatisfied with the lack of creative control during Hellboy, then making his entirely own film Pan’s Labyrinth and slamming the Oscar he got for it on the table of the Hellboy execs, he was allowed to call the shots for Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, which completely scraps del Toro’s most-hated thing about the first film -- having John Myers (human FBI agent) as the main character. In fact, John Myers isn’t even in The Golden Army. Given that del Toro is a very stylistic director who sees things in his own way, it isn’t hard to see he didn’t want to abide completely with what Jackson did in the Rings trilogy. This is important because it shows that Jackson’s style is his own, and if he is not involved in this Amazon TV series, it could very well be certain that this series will be in a canon all its own.
Lastly, there is speculation about Amazon’s desire for their own “Game of Thrones”. While George R.R. Martin definitely drew inspiration from Lord of the Rings for his A Song of Ice and Fire book series, there is something that sets them both apart… sex. ASOIAF is even often referred to as “Lord of the Rings with sex”. Naturally, what made “Game of Thrones” stand out and shock the uninitiated viewing audience when it first aired was the hyper-violent and hyper-sexual fantasy world it portrayed. With the author at least involved in the beginning few seasons and how closely it followed the novels for a period of time, you can say that, for a while, the show was most certainly the world GRRM envisioned... or at least very close to it. Tolkien, however, has been worm food for longer than many of us have been alive and the oldest Lord of the Rings adaptation was an animated film by Ralph Bakshi in 1978… five years after his death. The best we have to go off visually aside from the picture the words paint for you are the covers of his book (which those in themselves have been done by different artists), the maps he drew of Middle-Earth, and the fact we know he drew ideas for the world from different places in England. That’s really it.
With no idea who will be working creatively on the show, fan or not, some are suspecting that Tolkien fans will be alienated from the series, since Amazon may want to feed more into "GoT"-style hype machine that has been trendy in television for some time now. The most sexual tension in the books and films mainly come from Frodo and Sam, and no matter what the crack-theories say, Sam ends up with an equally furry hobbit lady at the end of the series. They are never canonically depicted as going all the way with each other (slash-fiction will say otherwise, but really, check out the fascinating world of Gollum x Sméagol slash-fiction instead) and outside of them you have different male and female characters hooking up; however, nothing more than a kiss is ever seen or written about. Middle-Earth isn’t a place that most fans want sex to be involved, but violence has certainly always been a staple in the series.
(Side note: Sean Bean will shock the world when he outlives most of the people he’s worked with through out his career!)
So now that you know the good, the bad, and the ugly of what to expect, you should enjoy this time if you’re a Tolkien fan. This is exciting news, and whatever this series will be, it will be more than a remake of the Rings trilogy you may already love. I for one am hoping for the best, and while I don’t watch much on Prime, I don’t see myself getting rid of it anytime soon, what with the great shipping deals and all. Really all any of us can do now is keep our eyes pealed for a release date and a trailer.
If you want to catch up quick on The Fellowship of the Ring novel, then check out this funny video below that surprisingly brings up some good points:
(Image via New Line Cinema/WENN)
- Kevin Donaldson, YH Contributing Writer