Amazon has shared the premiere date for Prime Video’s Lord of The Rings-themed TV series, along with the first image. Excitement has never been greater, but in my opinion recapturing the Tolkien magic will be even harder than getting the ring to Mount Doom.
We’re heading back to Middle-earth at long last, aptly arriving within the Second Age on September 2, 2022. It’s the most ambitious and expensive TV show since Game of Thrones and carries the greatest of expectations.
As much as there’s hope and excitement, there’s also justified trepidation about whether it’s even possible for Amazon to hit the heights of the Peter Jackson movie trilogy, which is the greatest trilogy of all time (please @ me @ByChrisSmith, I’ll go all day on this).
Fellowship of the films
Without exhaustive source material from one of the greatest stories ever told, minus fully established characters with pre-defined arcs, absent of the all-star cast to bring them to life and without the visionary director who made LOTR his life’s work, there are legitimate concerns over whether Amazon Prime’s Lord of the Rings television series can be a worthy addition to the mythology.
Fans are protective of the Jackson movies, they’re protective of the Tolkien books and wider Middle-earth universe. Justly, they are suspicious of a company that, in some areas of its business, places profit above everything. Fans are also aware that Tolkien-on-screen doesn’t always equal magic, even when the story is all laid out on the page. The Hobbit movies were a mess. They were bloated, a lazy CGI-fest and precisely two entire three-hour movies too long.
Stretching the source material too thinly and filling in the gaps with new characters and plot lines didn’t work for The Hobbit – essentially a short children’s book that would have made a good 90-minute film. Even the presence of beloved and established characters like Gandalf, Legolas, Gollum and Bilbo, along with being a direct prequel to The Lord of the Rings, couldn’t save those films.
The Amazon show-runners have even less to go on when building their multi-season, billion dollar epic franchise. Unfortunately, Tolkien didn’t leave behind the full story covering the Second Age of Middle-earth, let alone anything approaching the exhaustive Lord of the Rings novels set in the latter days of the Third Age, which culminates in Sauron’s final defeat.
We have The Appendices published in the Return of the King that gives us the chronology of the Second Age, which begins thousands of years before the War of the Ring we’re all familiar with.
The Peoples of Middle-earth was compiled by Tolkien’s son Christopher from his dad’s notes, essays and letters and will also be important. Amazon will be able to work with elements of The Silmarillion novel and Unfinished Tales, the latter again edited by Christopher.
It’s a tall order for show-runners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay to recreate the magic, filling in the cavernous gaps left by arguably, the greatest fiction author of all time. They have a relatively bare framework and only some of the characters exist in Tolkien lore. The addition of new characters didn’t work out too well for The Hobbit movies, after all.
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While the storylines are still deeply secretive (Amazon has the rights to the Second Age, which covers almost 3,500 years), it is known the series will at least partially be set in the ancient island kingdom of Numenor (as well as spanning the entire Middle-earth map) and could eventually cover the rise of Sauron and the forging of infamous rings of power.
All we know from Amazon’s official synopsis is that characters will “confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth” following the vanquishing of Morgoth (Sauron’s gaffer) at the end of the First Age. We’ll meet elves like Galadriel too (one of the only existing characters confirmed to be in the series), played by a new actor. However, so much remains unknown and that fear of the unknown is contributing to my anxiety surrounding the show.
Game of Thrones syndrome
Game of Thrones fans know only too well that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss did a masterful job while they had the full source material (and George R.R. Martin as a consultant) at their disposal. Once they got in front of the books, the result was one of the most anti-climatic, ridiculed endings in the history of television. Thanks to that final disastrous series, Game of Thrones has completely dropped off the pop-culture landscape after dominating it for a decade.
Game of Thrones is an important frame of reference in several ways. The LOTR series is Amazon’s GoT… or at least the attempt to replicate its success.
Thus far, Prime Video doesn’t have that calling card show; the transcendent “event TV” hit that’s synonymous with the platform and keeps people coming back year after year. Some would suggest The Boys (I love that show!), but it’s not quite a mainstream phenomenon yet.
HBO has GoT and before that The Sopranos, Band of Brothers and The Wire. Netflix has Stranger Things, AMC had Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Hulu has The Handmaid’s Tale. Disney Plus has The Mandalorian. See where I’m going with this? Amazon needs that quality hallmark and attempting it via one of the most popular, enduring franchises in entertainment with a built-in obsessive fan base is smart, but also incredibly ballsy.
Prime Video needs this to be a hit. It is investing unthinkable amounts of money in ensuring it’s a hit. It knows the wrath from LOTR fans will be vicious and unrelenting as an Uruk-hai at Helm’s Deep if the show is not a hit.
This is part of what gives me hope. Amazon just won’t allow this to disappoint. It is too competent and proud and has invested too much for the show to be a ‘cash-in’. If Amazon gets the show right, the rewards will follow.
The task still feels as insurmountable as Frodo and Sam’s quest. Gandalf would say say “there never was much hope, just a fool’s hope,” but we all know how that (eventually) ended. I’m choosing to hope Amazon can do the improbable.
While source material may be more sparse, Bilbo always said “not all those who wander are lost.” Amazon’s adaptation can and must find the right path.