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Middle-earth Returns to the Multiplex
Is Warner Brothers Abandoning Reason for Madness?
But they were, all of them, deceived, for another LOTR movie was made.
Last Thursday news broke that Warner Bros. had reached a deal with Embracer Group, who recently acquired Middle-earth Enterprises, to partner in making new The Lord of the Rings movies. Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens have been kept in the loop and Warner Bros. reportedly wants them involved.
The fandom immediately erupted into delirious celebration, anxiety, and speculation, as this news immediately led to a host of questions. Does this mean a new live-action version of The Lord of the Rings coming our way? An adaptation of something else from Tolkien’s legendarium? Or completely new stories set in Middle-earth but not based on any particular source?
Comments from the Warner Bros. bosses seem to suggest that these movies won’t cover the exact same ground as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies:
“Twenty years ago, New Line took an unprecedented leap of faith to realize the incredible stories, characters and world of The Lord of the Rings on the big screen. The result was a landmark series of films that have been embraced by generations of fans,” Warner Bros. film bosses Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy added in a statement of their own. “But for all the scope and detail lovingly packed into the two trilogies, the vast, complex and dazzling universe dreamed up by J.R.R. Tolkien remains largely unexplored on film. The opportunity to invite fans deeper into the cinematic world of Middle-earth is an honor, and we are excited to partner with Middle-earth Enterprises and Embracer on this adventure.”
Probably not. Amazon and Warner Bros. only have rights to (respectively) the TV and movie rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. As TheOneRing.net puts it in a summary of the current rights different entities have to Tolkien’s various works, “Prime has has only licensed the same exact two books that Embracer & Warner Bros. has (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), crafting any spinoff from any word or phrase from prologue to appendices.” Any “material from other books — such as The Silmarillion or The History of Middle-earth” need to be approved “on a case-by-case basis” by the Tolkien estate.
Furthermore, Fellowship of Fans on Twitter reports that apparently “WB cannot develop and produce anything that competes with Amazon's plans & ideas. WB can only make original spin-offs inspired by the Lord of the Rings and Hobbits books & existing films.” It is unclear as of now whether this is confirmed, but that would mean that with no rights to The Silmarillion and a non-compete agreement with Amazon, we’ll likely see little to no First Age events and no real Second Age stories (the biggest ones concern Númenor, Sauron, and the rings of power, which is literally what Amazon’s covering with The Rings of Power), which leaves stories set in the Third Age.
So what does that leave us with? Well here are a few stories from the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings that I think would make for some excellent movies.
The Fall of Arnor and Rise of the Witch-king of Angmar
When I was a guest on That’s What I’m Tolkien About, we broke down the first portion of Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings over the course of two episodes. Here’s a link to the first:
A major storyline we covered then concerns the fate of the kingdom of Arnor, Gondor’s sister kingdom to the north that was also founded by Elendil. As the years pass from the days of Elendil and Isildur, the northern kingdom fractures into three kingdoms that gradually wane in power and ultimately succumb to the onslaught of the forces of a familiar foe from The Return of the King: the Witch-king of Angmar.
This would not only make for a great tale on its own but would also feature multiple opportunities to tie into the movies, such as Glorfindel’s prophesy that “Far off yet is his [the Witch-king’s] doom, and not by the hand of man shall he fall” and depicting the transformation of the kings of Arnor into the Dúnedain Rangers of the North, the last and most famous of whom is Strider.
War in the North
Also in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, we are told that at the same time he was besieging Minas Tirith, Sauron was assaulting Dale and Erebor. For while “when the War came at last the main assault was turned southwards; yet even so with his far-stretched right hand Sauron might have done great evil in the North, if King Dáin and King Brand had not stood in his path” (The Lord of the Rings, 1079)1.
Gandalf tells more to Frodo and Gimli:
When you think of the great Battle of the Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valour of Durin’s Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell! There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from the victory here only to ruin and ash.
-The Lord of the Rings, 1080
We learn in Appendix B that not only did Sauron assault and besiege The Lonely Mountain and Dale but also three times attacked Lórien as well as Thranduil’s kindgom in Mirkwood (1094-95).
This movie (or movies) could serve as a perfect bridge uniting strands from both The Hobbit trilogy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Thranduil, Dale, The Lonely Mountain, Galadriel, Celeborn, and Lórien are all key players in this theater of the War of the Ring.
But Wait, There’s More!
There are many, many more stories from the Appendices to be adapted.
Appendix A also tells the story of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs, which Tolkien tells was “long and deadly, and fought for the most part in deep places beneath the earth” (1074). The final battle involves both Thorin and Azog from The Hobbit movies (though awkwardly Azog…dies in the books. Guess WB didn’t care about the lore, eh?) and is fought in front of the East-gate of Moria where the Fellowship exited after Gandalf fell fighting Durin’s Bane. Unfortunately, I don’t see how this one could fit continuity-wise with the three minute version of this battle we see in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey if they’re trying to get all these movies to exist in the same shared cinematic universe.
The Kin-strife—Gondor fought a bitter and deadly civil war that is listed as the first of three great evils that befell the realm. King Valacar marries a non-Dúnedain woman while living among her people and when his son Eldacar comes to the throne many of the Dúnedain rebelled against his rule. “Much of the best blood in Gondor was shed” (1047), we are told, and Eldacar is driven out of Osgiliath into exile for years before he is able to reclaim the crown. This story ties directly into Gondor and its decline as well as the founding of Umbar by the defeated rebels, whose black sailed fleet makes an appearance in The Return of the King.
Young Aragorn - at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is 87 years old. There is a lot of his story that remains to be told, from “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" in Appendix A—which fleshes out their story from meeting to last parting and which Tolkien himself considered really essential to the story of The Lord of the Rings—to his travels through Moria, to Rhûn and Harad (where "the stars are strange"), and tracking and capturing Gollum in the Dead Marshes. There’s also his adventures under the alias Thorongil (Eagle of the Star), fighting alongside Éowyn’s grandfather Thengel and serving Denethor’s father, Ecthelion, by leading a strike force against the fleets of Umbar. Sounds like a movie or three to me!
(Matt Berry would be acceptable too for Tommy B)
So where do I land on all this news? Well I’m cautiously optimistic as long as there is indeed no remake of The Lord of the Rings in the works.
These are by no means exhaustive, but there are definitely pros and cons to the situation.
Return to Middle-earth! I’ve loved this about The Rings of Power and will surely love it about any future Warner Bros. films. The feeling of returning to Middle-earth is a joyous one and seeing these on the big screen will be a wonder as well as bringing back memories of seeing the original trilogy in theaters.
Potential for More Animated Films—I would absolutely love to see more animated films like War of the Rohirrim, which was already in development before this news and tells the story of Helm Hammerhand (of Helm’s Deep). Scheduled to be released April 12, 2024, it also features Miranda Otto reprising her role as Éowyn from the Lord of the Rings films as the narrator of this tale.
There is a good argument to be made that animation is the natural choice to adapt fantasy epics, though modern technology has closed the gap some in terms of what live-action is able to bring to life. But we need not pit them against each other: bring on both!
Bring New Parts of Familiar Stories to the Screen—instead of remakes or new adaptations of the same portions of the familiar stories, there is an opportunity to bring new portions of Tolkien’s stories to life and fill in some of the gaps that are left if you just adapt the main storylines.
Possibility of some good content but lots and lots of mediocre content or flat out bad stuff—according to several sources such as one quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, “Warner Bros. hopes to turn LOTR into a Star Wars-like franchise.” Now there have been some real gems that have come out of the Disney era of Star Wars (e.g. Rogue One, Andor, The Mandalorian, and The Last Jedi2), but even a huge Star Wars fan like myself has to admit there has also been a lot of mediocre or just bad content too. The more entries in a franchise, the more likely you’ll get a few stinkers among the bunch.
Marvelication of Middle-earth—many franchises today are so interconnected that it’s almost impossible to enjoy a single piece of media without having seen most or all of the others. Will the interconnectedness of these new movies be a barrier to those unable or not wanting to follow every single entry?
That Bombadil 2: Civil War tho..
Departures From the Source Material—I completely understand that certain changes may need to be made to adapt a work from the page to the screen. All adaptations make choices like that. But I do worry that what we’ll end up with will resemble The Hobbit trilogy more than The Lord of the Rings trilogy (which was not without its own changes that I disliked!).
In sum, there are many opportunities for Warner Bros. here but also many potential pitfalls. Time will tell how things turn out. And though we may wish that none of this had happened, that these new films had never come to us, that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the films that are given us.
Of Course This Meant Memes Too
Twitter being Twitter, this news didn’t take very long to inspire some excellent jokes about the whole situation.
I’m 1000% in on this one.
Not everything has to be dark and gritty…but I’d watch this movie.
Speaking of Tom
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Take a Movie/TV Show and Make it LOTR
While I stand by the above choices for ideas that Warner Bros. should adapt, I also would love to see a few different sorts of movies included in the bunch, which I joked about here:
This inspired some serious creativity in the replies and quote-tweets. Here are some of my favorite suggestions for LOTR movies or tv shows:
This whole idea is gold, but the title is perfection
Only Murders In the Building (so good!) meets Imladris
Faramir deserves better than the hack job he got in The Two Towers and The Return of the King. This would be a start in making up for that.
I love the idea of seeing Saruman early on in his prime before he abandons reason for madness. We all know where he’s going to end up but get to see a different side of him while knowing his eventual fate.
I never thought about it but this is totally possible and now I have to see it!
Maybe there’s a reason the Entwives left. Find out the tea on
Happy Birthday, Aragorn
Yesterday was March 1st, which means it was Aragorn, son of Arathorn’s birthday (I discussed this and joked about it towards the end of a previous newsletter). I asked people on twitter to share their favorite Aragorn moments/memes/etc. on Twitter. Here are some of the top answers based on the frequency with which people replied with them:
Happy Birthday, King!
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Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2020.
I said what I said
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