Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings television series is a major change of pace for its streaming service. Better known for smaller comedies like Mozart in the Jungle and heady work like The Man in the High Castle, the intention to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to television and mobile screens signaled the company’s plans to go bigger in the years ahead.
And according to The Hollywood Reporter, it cost them $250 million just to get the TV rights from Tolkien’s estate and access to the world as it looked in Peter Jackson’s LoTR and Hobbit trilogies: the de facto visual canon developed by acclaimed Tolkien artists Alan Lee and John Howe. As the report mentions, Amazon could have gone into making the project without New Line and Warner Bros. as they never had control of the TV rights to begin with. Tolkien sold the film rights in 1968 (after getting them back from animation producer William Snyder), which proceeded to trade hands over the course of the next 35 years until they ended up at The Weinstein Company and, later, New Line Cinema; which became a division of Warner Bros’ after the success of Rings. But as television was considered a lesser format in the 1960s, the TV rights remained with the Tolkien estate.
By including New Line and Warner Bros. in the deal, it seems Amazon wants to make the series visually consistent with the film franchise. According to previous reports, the series will dramatize events not seen in the films. THR’s new report also indicates Amazon has committed to five years of LoTR and must be in production within two years. Using the designs from the Jackson films eliminates a lot of preproduction work as the aesthetics of the Elves, Dwarves, Men, Orcs and Wizards are already established.
The report also suggests a relationship between Amazon and Jackson may eventually emerge. If nothing else, a “dialogue” has begun. But considering the physical and emotional toll making six Middle-Earth movies took on Jackson, it would be quite surprising to see him assume any sort of active role in the series.
Within the complicated deal structure between the Tolkien estate and Amazon is an option to develop a spinoff series. The mind reels at what a LoTR spinoff would look like. As a fan, I would love to see the Fall of Numenor dramatized while others would enjoy the Adventures of Strider. Some fans always hope to see First Age tales adapted, but the rights to material in The Silmarillion — which technically includes Tolkien’s depiction of the Fall of Numenor — would have to be hammered out separately and would be explicitly mentioned in reports like these.
That’s not to say it is impossible. Perhaps the relationship between rights holder and streaming service will eventually yield a proper First Age series.