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By the end of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, the elves returned to their forest domains, the dwarves to their underground halls, and this accursed ring was finally burned by Mount Doom.
But the human audience yearned for more. So followed a three-part dramatization of The Hobbit – but even that was not enough. At least that’s what Amazon hopes, which got their hands on J. R. R. Tolkien’s work.
The retail and streaming giant is set to release the most lavish on-screen spin-off of the British author’s fantasy world.
Its new “prequel”, The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, tells the story of Middle-earth thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
It hits our screens on September 2, and the five-episode extravaganza – running up to 50 hours – will be the most expensive television production ever, with a budget of over $1 billion.
Lavish: The retail and streaming giant is about to release the most lavish on-screen spin-off of the British author’s fantasy world.
But the snarls of the enraged orcs may be nothing compared to the furious cries of the tormented Tolkien possessed. They are already afraid of defiling the fairy tales of their favorite writer. Reports of an “intimacy coordinator” on set – a sure sign of sex scenes that weren’t part of Tolkien’s vision – sent alarm bells across Middle-earth.
After three Lord of the Rings films and three more showing The Hobbit on screen, one could forgive the thought that Tolkien’s closet was empty.
But this is not counting the fierce competition for online viewers, the mega-success of the medieval fantasy epic Game of Thrones, and the personal intervention of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the world and a fan of Tolkien since childhood.
Fans: But the snarls of the enraged orcs may be nothing compared to the furious cries of the suffering Tolkien possessed
250 MILLION DEAL WITH THE LORD OF AMAZON
Amazon, which spends lavishly to compete with Netflix and major Hollywood studios, announced in 2017 that it had agreed a $250 million deal with Tolkien’s estate to buy the global rights to make a TV adaptation of his works.
It was a huge amount, but the film versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit grossed nearly $3 billion at the box office and won 15 Oscars.
Meanwhile, the huge success of Game of Thrones has shown that such shows have a huge potential audience.
Amazon also had the enthusiastic backing of Tolkien-obsessed Jeff Bezos (along with much of Silicon Valley) and one of the richest men in the world.
A former Bezos teacher recalled that he was once impressed by a speech by a 12-year-old boy about the magnificence of The Hobbit.
The original Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films were written and directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson, but he is not involved in the new series.
New: The original Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films were written and directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson, but he is not involved in the new series.
However, like his films, the first episodes were filmed in New Zealand, although it was reported last year that subsequent episodes would move to the UK.
After hunting all over Hollywood, Amazon takes a chance by assigning the task to two young and relatively inexperienced American screenwriters, Patrick McKay and former classmate J.D. Payne.
Bezos is also a huge Star Trek fan, and the pair’s involvement in the script for the upcoming Star Trek 4 movie may have helped seal the deal. Not wanting to give Tolkien purists too many sleepless nights, McKay and Payne said, “We feel like Frodo leaving the Shire with a lot of responsibility in our care – this is the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime.”
And the writing duo, who admitted they “were something of a dark horse,” had to pitch their ideas to more than just Amazon executives. . . but also members of the Tolkien family.
Fantasy: After hunting all over Hollywood, Amazon takes a chance by assigning the task to two young and relatively inexperienced American screenwriters, Patrick McKay and former classmate J.D. Payne.
MAKE THE WRITER’S FAMILY HAPPY
After the publication of The Lord of the Rings in the 1950s, Tolkien faced enormous pressure from fans to flesh out the world he created with background information about its history, culture, and languages. In response, he wrote a 150-page postscript that became known as the Appendices and became the basis for a new Amazon series.
They cover the so-called Second Age of Middle-earth, which began 3000 years before the Third Age, the era of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and Aragorn, described in books.
Not just content with demanding dragon gold for the TV rights, the Tolkien estate established a law about what the new series can and cannot do.
The writers described how difficult it was to build a narrative where, to be true to Tolkien, each season would have to be 200 years long and see mortal human characters die.
Tolkien’s heirs have made it clear that while they will allow some immortal characters (such as the elf queen Galadriel) to appear in the new production, the use of mortal characters such as Frodo or Bilbo Baggins was forbidden in the prequel.
The estate also insisted that Amazon ditch Tolkien stalwarts like wizards and hobbits, as neither played a big role in the Second Age. But Amazon was able to satisfy contemporary racial sensitivities by introducing Harfoots, a type of Hobbit that Tolkien mentioned and elaborated on, who had darker skin than their peers.
Any adaptation of Tolkien is a double-edged sword. While it is to the benefit of the production to have a ready audience of fans, some are quick to resent any radical departure from the Oxford professor’s creation.
Changes: Any Tolkien adaptation is a double-edged sword. While it is to the benefit of the production to have a ready audience of fans, some are quick to resent any radical departure from the Oxford professor’s creation.
MYSTERIES IN THE DARK AND RUINED RUINS
Amazon obsessively withheld information about its new series in the hope that it would generate interest. When dedicated Tolkien scholar British medievalist Tom Shippey gave a reportedly unsanctioned interview to a German Tolkien fansite in 2019 and gave a few hints about what the series might be, he was pulled from the project.
Regardless, the recent trailer provided plenty of clues – and there are Tolkien Apps that can be found for information.
The creators of the series say that the series will have at least 22 main characters with different storylines, which sounds even more complicated than anything Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings. They flesh out a story that was only briefly touched upon in the original films.
During the Second Age, the dark lord Sauron attempts to consolidate his power by forging 19 “rings of power” which he gives to the lords of elves, dwarves, and humans.
What they don’t know is that he has secretly forged another ring (yes, that one) – a ring that rules them all.
Many of the places that in The Lord of the Rings are either shattered ruins or long-lost legends flourish in The Rings of Power.
Among them are Khazad-dum, the cave kingdom of the dwarves under the Misty Mountains; elven fortress Lindon; and the Atlantis-like island of Numenor, the realm of the mighty race of men.
Since the timeline of the series is long before the appearance of the Lord of the Rings books, there is no Frodo, Sam, or Bilbo in it. And while the white-bearded wizard Gandalf could technically be back since he was alive during the Second Age, Sir Ian McKellen, who played the character in the films, has denied rumors that he could return in the role.
“I think this would be the most upsetting headline I’ve ever read if I hadn’t worked elsewhere,” he tweeted.
Differences: Many of the places that in The Lord of the Rings are either broken ruins or long-lost legends flourish in The Rings of Power.
NEW ROLES AND STARS OF THE FUTURE
Peter Jackson’s films not only made the director a star, but also launched the careers of numerous actors, including Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Orlando Bloom (Legolas) and Andy Serkis (Gollum). Many of them were British and largely unknown, and the same can be said for the cast of the new series.
Tolkien included several female characters in his books, and the film adaptation barely changed that. They also didn’t cast many ethnic minority actors, leaving Middle-earth not only very masculine, but also very white.
Amazon solved both problems head-on, perhaps at the risk of running into Tolkien purists.
Amazon executives insist that Tolkien is for everyone, and the author, after all, did not specify the skin color of all his characters.
So, we’ll see Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Cordova playing the elf Arondira, who has a “forbidden” relationship with a human “village healer” played by British-Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi. (The latter briefly made headlines when she dated fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise, and the organization’s leadership reportedly considered her as a possible wife for him.)
Adventure: For many, the Amazon itself is a dark empire worthy of a fantasy story. But time will tell if it finally sided with the forces of good – something Tolkien was proud of.
Black British actress Sophia Nomwete plays the pygmy princess, and Sir Lenny Henry plays the black hobbit, or rather “harfoot” – just 6ft 3in from him.
Sir Lenny recently explained: “We Harfuts are of different cultures; we are a tribe, not a race, so we are black, Asian and brown, even Maori.”
He described making the series over the past two years as “extraordinary”, saying, “Literally a hundred people on the set are looking at you and trying to figure out what you’ll look like at 4 feet tall.”
Multicultural hobbits are one thing, but sex is another. The news that Amazon has hired an “intimate relationship coordinator” has raised fears that, as with the nudity and sex-filled Game of Thrones, the new series will be filled with lascivious scenes, a subject that Tolkien in a tweed suit has always studiously avoided.
Screenwriter McKay insists that his new series will not feature gratuitous sex and violence, although 11- and 12-year-olds at the bottom of the target audience sometimes “might have to pull the covers over their eyes if that’s too scary.” .
For many, the Amazon itself is a dark empire worthy of a fantasy story. But time will tell whether it has finally sided with the forces of good – something Tolkien is proud of.