10 Reasons Premium Television is the Perfect Medium for The Lord of the Rings
Late last year, news broke that our eventual overlords at Amazon had scooped up the rights to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for their premium streaming service.
Though headlines at the time focused on the brand recognition associated with Peter Jackson’s famous and game-changing film trilogy, more esteemed (read: nerdy) fans immediately recognized the move as a bid to kick-start a Middle Earth Cinematic Universe rather than a retread of what we’ve already seen, which should quiet a lot of cacophonous—and likely ill-founded—complaints out of the gate.
(And if we’re wrong and Amazon does just remake Fellowship, Towers and Return, we’ll eat a shoe. More specifically, someone other than me, in the Hive … will eat a shoe. I promise.)*
Anyway, here are ten reasons why this could totally be a good thing while simultaneously making a lot of money for people who aren’t you or me.
*(Seriously, Kareem will eat his shoe.)
1. Keyword: Premium
Premium TV has come a long way in a short time, and with Netflix showing just how lucrative the space can be, competitors are starting to crop up, with Amazon being one of the prime examples.
Yup. Leaving that in. (Laura! Leave that damn pun in.)
Anyway, if ABC Family announced that they had bought the television rights to Middle Earth, I wouldn’t exactly be jumping for joy. But, sometimes, corporate greed is good for consumers, and if Amazon wants to do justice to the source material—and not piss off millions of fantasy fans around the globe—they’ll likely be dumping serious money into this thing.
Are we talking Game of Thrones budgets? Probably not at first, but if anyone has the capital to do it, it’s surely Skyne… err, Amazon.
2. Long-form Storytelling
Tolkien spent the better part of his life breathing life into Middle Earth. Hardcore fantasy fans know that the epic trilogy starring Frodo, Gandalf and the Fellowship marks the barest tip of the iceberg that is Middle Earth lore.
Sure, George R.R. Martin has put together an impressive lexicon to go along with his Song of Ice and Fire series, but Tolkien is the granddaddy of worldbuilding. It’s quite possible the term wouldn’t exist without him. This series (or series of series) could help show a wider audience exactly why more of Middle Earth is a good thing, and one unlikely to feel stale for years to come.
This is a vast world with a vast and compelling history, which brings us to our next point.
The Lord of the Rings has a pretty epic scope. A Dark Lord. A small band of ragtag heroes. Warring kingdoms. Retreating nations.
But in the history of Middle Earth (as told in The Silmarillion and assorted and infinitely re-collected encyclopedias of Tolkiendom to follow) the Third Age represents a relatively short period of time and focuses on a relatively small collection of conflicts. Granted, Sauron trying to, like, destroy everything is a pretty big conflict, but in terms of breadth of narrative, the First and Second Ages have him beat by a country mile.
Amazon’s series can span millennia rather than years, and I do mean that quite literally. And where The Lord of the Rings only occasionally involved demigods in the lives of men and elves, the earlier tales of Middle Earth put the Greek Epics to shame.
4. Characters, Characters, Characters
If you thought there were too many characters in The Lord of the Rings… you’re a bad person.
If you thought there was a glorious amount of characters in The Lord of the Rings, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Rest assured, you will need a study guide if and when Amazon gets around to adapting the core epics contained within the dense, sprawling, incredible history of Middle Earth found in the silvered pages of The Silmarillion.
Names like Feanor, Fingolfin, Finrod Felegund, Fingon …. Yeah. Lots of “f” names. But also Turin Turambar, Beleg Strongbow, Ecthelion of the Fountain, Glorfindel (maybe that one but possibly not,) Huan, the Hound of Valinor, Maedhros, Beren and Luthien, etc. etc. etc.
Characters are at the heart of all the best stories, and there are a lot of them in Middle Earth that most audiences have never even heard of yet.
Peter Jackson’s iconic film series might have been a financial risk for studios at the time, but it also meant they weren’t going to do anything completely crazy from a story or character point of view to ensure that (most) audiences ate it all up. Also, the core Lord of the Rings story is pretty straightforward, albeit epic.
Not so in Middle Earth’s more sordid, elf-riddled past. The stories in The Silmarillion range from the awesome—and I do mean that in the Biblical sense—to the awesomely tragic, and while we’re hopeful that this series will have a healthy budget, it’s actually a positive if it isn’t too healthy. Television—especially premium television—is a venue fertile for risk-taking. If one storyline doesn’t work quite as well? Who cares? Queue up the next one.
And if you haven’t delved too deeply into the history of Middle Earth and think it’s all just hobbits and fluff, I really want to introduce you to the aforementioned Turin Turambar.
6. Expand the Universe
A common complaint among critics of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the idea that it chose to shrink rather than expand the universe in which it resides. Some revisited plot devices and archetypes from the original trilogy had fans hungering for more risky and expansive material.
Along the same lines, Middle Earth doesn’t always have to be about a struggle between good and evil. It doesn’t even have to be about elves, dwarves and orcs, and it often isn’t. Premium television will allow fans both casual and supremely nerdy to soak in the vast sea of Tolkien’s imagination without ever touching shore.
Instead of picking and choosing major story arcs for big-screen adaptations, Amazon can take its time developing multiple projects with an eye on the long haul, making sure the big moments—and there are tons of them—feel earned.
7. Different Takes
No doubt Peter Jackson had a talented and influential team around him when putting together his magnum opus. Still, television is a vast realm all its own, and one teeming with creatives of all shapes, sizes and narrative persuasions.
One of the standout—and occasionally frustrating—aspects of Game of Thrones’ production lies in its diverse cast of writers and filmmakers. Can you imagine if Alan Taylor had directed every episode of Game of Thrones? Would we get some good ones? Sure. Would we have had Blackwater, Battle of the Bastards or The Spoils of War the way we had? Probably not.
Having more directors working in Middle Earth is a good thing. We’ll love what some do with the material and hate what others attempt, but out of that chorus of creative voices, we’ll get some special stuff.
8. Enrich What’s Come Before
Contrary to some reactionary fans and pundits, Amazon’s Middle Earth project(s) have real potential to enrich what we’ve seen before by going in bold new directions—probably a few at once—with a familiar setting.
There is a very fine line between retreading and exploring, and with the entirety of Tolkien’s creative library open to them, creators attached to this project really have no excuse not to take us in interesting directions. They’ve got a real opportunity to show us some things we’ve never seen on the small screen… and maybe even on the big.
9. Shades of Gray
As mentioned above, Tolkien is not nearly as black and white in his depictions of good and bad as some would have you believe. Even the Lord of the Rings trilogy is full of morally complex characters, tortured souls and damaged psyches.
In exploring the vast reaches of Middle Earth lore, creators have the opportunity to flesh out some of the best characters in the history of the genre. Hell, the Sons of Feanor could produce a five-season epic all on their own. Even the big bads don’t really start out that way. There’s a lot more of Loki in Sauron in the beginning than Lucifer, and there’s just as much heroism as vanity in Aragorn’s Numenorean ancestors.
Tolkien imitators are called such because their work fails to approach his depth. His prose may not flow for modern audiences quite like it once did, but the stories are there, ripe for translation and begging for interpretation. That’s something everyone should be excited about.
Basically Sauron’s daddy, and the agent of chaotic, catastrophic and truly epic conflicts that put the Battle of Pelennor Fields to shame.
This dude’s likely going to be lurking in the background of every major event in whatever it is Amazon does with the First Age.
And if we ever get an adaptation of The Song of Fingolfin, I’ll consider it a bright day indeed. Bright as a silmaril, even.