Middle-earth is home to many milestones in the development of fantasy. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien was one of the first modern fantasy epics, a foundational work which has influenced or inspired every work of fantasy literature after it.
The film adaptations by Peter Jackson hold a place of similar importance to the development of fantasy filmmaking, launching a new era of big-budget, large-scale movies. In both formats, the richness of the world-building and the excellence of the storytelling set a high bar for everything which came after.
Without these books and movies, the fantasy genre would look completely different and certainly would not be the force it is today.
The world of Middle-earth is now making its first major small-screen appearance, with Amazon having acquired the rights to produce a television show based on Tolkien’s world. Not much is known about the production, which is still in an early stage of development. But rumors are flying, the internet is speculating and there are a few questions on everyone’s mind.
What is the setting?
Perhaps the biggest question is where and when the story will be set. According to an Amazon press release, “the television adaptation will explore new storylines preceding J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’.”
This leaves an innumerable amount of potential plots to choose from. Tolkien’s other writings cover everything from the earliest days of the Elves to the first defeat of Sauron to events after “The Lord of the Rings.”
With so many stories to work from, and no official word on which one it will be, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the TV show will cover. The first defeat of Sauron is one potential option; the war is referenced in “The Lord of the Rings,” so general audiences will already be somewhat familiar with it.
The show could also serve as a direct prequel to the events of the trilogy, following characters like Aragorn and Gandalf as they prepare for the War of the Ring. Recently released novels such as “The Children of Hurin” or “Beren and Luthien,” which cover earlier periods of Middle Earth history, could also be potential targets of adaptation.
Alternately, Amazon may decide to go the most ambitious route and adapt the entirety of “The Silmarillion,” Tolkien’s seminal work of Middle-earth history. The scope and scale of “The Silmarillion” makes this unlikely, given that it follows dozens of characters across thousands of years, but anything is possible at this stage.
What relation will it have to the films?
The film adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” wasn’t just an excellent series of fantasy movies — it was a defining adaptation of the work. The characters, the setting, the very feel of Middle-earth were established for millions of fans by the way they were presented in the films.
With that in mind, questions are being asked about whether anything from that production will carry over to the Amazon show.
Although little has been confirmed yet, the deal Amazon struck for the rights includes in some capacity New Line Cinema and Warner Bros., the film studios behind the “Lord of the Rings” films. Along with the announcement that the series would be a prequel, this leaves room the possibility that the TV show will be set in the same canonical universe as the films.
Some familiar faces from the films may also be making a return to Middle-earth. There are rumors that Peter Jackson, director of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films, may be brought on board as an executive producer. Although nothing is set in stone, negotiations of some sort have recently begun between Jackson and Amazon.
Ian McKellen, who played the wizard Gandalf in the films, has also indicated that he would be open to returning to Middle-earth. When a reporter questioned him about it, he said “I haven’t said yes because I haven’t been asked. But are you suggesting that someone else is going to play it?”
On the other hand, fellow cast members Andy Serkis and Sean Austin, who played Gollum and Samwise respectively, have taken a different tack, saying they see the new production as a fresh start and that they don’t expect to be involved.
What will the production look like?
All genres include works of varying quality. With its reliance on special effects, and its inherent storylines bent toward melodrama, fantasy has had more failures than most. “The Hobbit” films are a good example of this. Despite having a stellar cast and Peter Jackson as director, they were nowhere near as good as “The Lord of the Rings” movies.
Part of this comes down to the high bar set by the revolutionary filmmaking of “The Lord of the Rings.” Another part stems from behind-the-scene problems, including a mid-production change in director and studio meddling.
Lastly, it all comes down to the subject matter. While “The Hobbit” is a great book, it can’t support a trilogy of movies like “The Lord of the Rings” could. Despite the best of intentions, there’s a chance that the TV show will meet the same issues.
If there are such issues, it won’t be for lack of trying. Amazon has reportedly committed to spending over $1 billion on the show, spread over five seasons; in comparison, the six-episode final season of “Game of Thrones” will cost about $15 million per episode and about $90 million for the whole season, far less than what Amazon is willing to spend.
Additionally, Amazon will be working with the Tolkien Estate throughout the production process, a partnership which was not present for the Peter Jackson movies. The deal should ensure that the show stays fairly close to whatever source material they end up drawing from.
It will also ensure that the show hits screens sometime in the near future. The deal requires Amazon to start production within two years, which means fans won’t have to wait too long for their chance to return to the world of Middle-earth.