Let’s start things on the right foot here…I love Lord of the Rings. Since I was a young teenager I’ve been obsessed with Lord of the Rings history, lore, characters, and places. Tolkien’s works have served as a constant source of inspiration, comfort, and endless hours of entertainment for me. The highly successful film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson have been and always will be my favorite films of all time. In fact, I listed The Return of the King as the second greatest movie of all time behind The Godfather and honestly I could easily have made it number one (I just didn’t want to appear too biased).
Having seen both of Peter Jackson’s acclaimed Tolkien trilogies multiple times and getting my hands on just about every little bit of LOTR inspired media and memorabilia that I possibly can grasp including video games, weapons, books, and even toys, I myself find it odd that I’m not all that enthused about Amazon’s announcement to begin production on a ‘multi-season Lord of the Rings based television show’ with the goal in mind of being as big of a show as the wildly successful Game of Thrones. With a healthy level of caution and skeptcism in mind, here are 5 reasons why a Lord of the Rings television show may turn out to be a horrible idea.
1. The New Timeline Sounds Less Than Inspiring
According to Amazon executives the series will have multiple seasons and will explore new storylines sandwiched between The Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring which sounds not only uninteresting but also seems like an easy avenue to stray from Tolkien’s original work as long as the timeline of Fellowship is not adversely affected. The only spot that I can think of that would be an even less inspiring timeline would be post Return of the King–because for heaven’s sake what more of the story could possibly be told? Nevertheless a story-line crammed into a little crawlspace between two streamlined franchise monoliths carries a vague whiff of underwhelming fluff. Do we really care about what goes on after the Hobbit when we know that nothing will happen with the Ring that is tucked away in Bilbo’s humble abode until his 111th birthday? When you take the ring out of Lord of the Rings you miss out on a large chunk or source material that provides orginality and distinction from stories of the same genre. Chances are the plot will revolve around an obscure corner of lore that will have flexibility of being expounded upon or a drawn out tidbit of little significance that will be magnified to fit a new storyline–a mountain out a molehill, if you will. It has the vast potential to be campy and cheaply manufactured–cut from the same cloth but a different texture altogether. There’s other pitfalls to this choice in timeline structure but I’ll address that in a later point.
2. An All Original Cast Could Spell Trouble for the Beloved Franchise…
It’s no secret that a very significant portion of the LOTR film trilogy’s success can be attributed to the absolutely stellar casting that formed what I consider to be the “perfect cast.” Looking at back at the actors and actresses and seeing how perfectly they enveloped their characters and developed such an incredible onscreen chemistry lends to the doubts that such magnificent camaraderie could ever be replicated. And while Amazon obviously has made no mention of possible actors that are being considered (they haven’t even released a production date yet) I think it’s highly unlikely that any of the original cast will be present for this ambitious project. At the very most I can see them snagging Andy Serkis to reprise Gollum and maybe…maybe Ian McKellen to once again fill the shoes of the White Wizard but being where the timeline is set we most likely are in store for a brand new cast. Maybe I’m being snobbish but the idea of a troupe of guests trouncing all over my beloved Middle Earth is a tough pill to swallow. I mean let’s face it…did the cast of the Hobbit movies really grip you and give you a sense of immersive involvement into their motivations and objectives? I can’t say that it did for me. My old drama coach used to tell me that casting is 70% of a production’s success and I’ve always found that to be true. If this cast has even half of the chemistry of the original the show just may be destined for success…but it’s highly unlikely.
3. Two Words: Quality Control…
This kind of goes back to the timeline issue addressed in the first point but the problem with a multi-season show wedged so firmly in between two defining storylines means that either the original source material will have to manipulated in order to drag out a familiar LOTR theme or the LOTR theme will have to be abandoned for lack of source material to stretch…both being highly unpleasant alternatives. Obviously for big fans like myself the Tolkien timeline is highly important which is why the original trilogy was met with so much success. You can never go wrong by staying as close to the source material as possible especially when the source material is so successful in its own right. To me it’s a no-brainer…why reinvent the wheel when the formula for success is right under your nose? Unfortunately I forsee this television show being forced to at least modify the wheel–especially after three or four seasons. Don’t think for a second that just because the show will explore “uncharted territory” that you won’t see elements of the original story altered or changed altogether. Word has reached my ears that in gaining the rights Amazon was given stipulations as to what they could and couldn’t tamper with but still I’m skeptical. If the seasons are structured like Game of Thrones with approximately seven episodes per season you’re looking at potentially 35+ hours of content stuffed into a streamlined sequence. Call me a “Debbie Downer” if you want but that sounds like a recipe for disaster when it comes to hardcore fans and our “precious” timeline.
4. Things That Are Different Are Not The Same…
The other alternative presented in a multi-season show based on an established plotline is to stray so far away from LOTR in order to create original content that doesn’t infringe on the timeline that the show will end up becoming something different altogether. With Amazon’s goal being stated as creating a show similar to Game of Thrones in scope and scale it’s not unlikely that they will become so ambitious that the Lord of the Rings platform will become a tree with roots that extend so far beyond the source material it becomes a different creation altogether with an occasional bone being tossed to hardcore fans every now and then. This is a very probable outcome in my opinion and really isn’t a much more favorable option.
5. Bigger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better…
Amazon acquired the rights to The Lord of the Rings–just the rights, mind you–for $250 million. The estimated budget for this series is speculated as being one of the largest in television history. This is obviously a big push by Amazon to receive the same kind of notoriety achieved by Netflix, Hulu, and HBO by bringing hours of content back home to one of the most successful franchises of all time. While the initial response by most is an appreciation for LOTR getting the proper treatment it deserves but there’s an evil twin in the midst that could make this monstrous budget a nail in the coffin for the global phenomenon. To me it seems likely that this elaborate cash grab could bring the kind of content that mass audiences will enjoy such as graphic violence, exploitative depictions of sex and nudity, and action driven plot-lines with little depth or conviction. Part of the appeal of Lord of the Rings was its story driven sequence of events and the strong moral conscience that accompanied them. The huge appeal of the franchise is its ironic relateability despite it being in the fantasy genre. My fear is that with such a large budget accompanied by the need to attract audiences of all sorts of appetites that LOTR will become a prostitute for thrill seekers and hedonists rather than those seeking a truly meaningful and inspirational experience that only Tolkien in his infinite wisdom and love for the source could provide. This may prove to be an irrational fear of mine but it’s worth nothing nonetheless.
Let me go on record by saying that I hope that I’m wrong on every single one of these counts. I wish Amazon the best of luck in its efforts and I truly do hope that it creates a television empire worthy of the epic nature of the timeless phenomenon that millions have come to love and cherish. It’s that same love that I feel for the beloved tale that instills a foreboding sense of caution in my mind with a lot of little red flags popping up in the wake of this announcement. To Amazon I say this:
“View Middle Earth not a playground but rather as a hallowed ground. Tread boldly and ambitiously, yes, but with the respect that Tolkien and his works deserve.”
“It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” –Gandalf the Grey.