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The Return of the King or the Dark Lord?
One Director to Film them All: Thoughts on Warner Bros. New The Lord of the Rings Movies, Peter Jackson, Amazon's The Rings of Power, and The War of the Rohirrim
One Director to Film Them All
Yesterday (June 14), Variety published an article about the new co-CEOs and Chairpeople of the Warner Bros. Film Group, Pam Abdy and Michael De Luca.
Variety then shared the article on Twitter with the following description:
It’s a curious choice for a preview of the article, as Adby and De Luca’s visit to see Peter Jackson in New Zealand is literally the only detail having to do with the upcoming Lord of the Rings movies to be found in the entire extensive and detailed article about the studio.1 Also, the new The Lord of the Rings movies have not yet been officially been announced as “reboots” and there is nothing in the article that announces they are.
I wrote about these planned The Lord of the Rings movies back in March when word first broke about them, analyzing the news as well as offering my own suggestions for the types of content and stories that I would want to see in future movies about Middle-earth (among them: TOM BOMBADIL! just kidding. not really. but really2).
Because it was all that was known at the time, all I wrote then about Peter Jackson’s involvement was “Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens have been kept in the loop and Warner Bros. reportedly wants them involved.”
But confirmation that Abdy and De Luca not only want Jackson and Co. involved but made a pilgrimage to Middle-earth to sit at the feet of the great wizard himself got me thinking. The article is all about Abdy and De Luca’s quest “to restore the luster to Warner Bros,” restoring its “Movie Glory” after a series of missteps shook the confidence actors and directors all throughout Hollywood had in the studio. Part of that strategy, in addition to more original stories, is returning to past franchises and big names that have come to be associated with Warner Bros. Names like Christopher Nolan, Harry Potter, and, of course, The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson.
But while “playing the hits” and returning to the classics may be a viable (and safe) strategy at times, it can also be a chasing after the wind. More often than not, when filmmakers and audiences alike attempt to recapture the feelings of nostalgia the originals evoked, the returns steadily diminish and the lightning doesn’t find its way back into the bottle.
Both Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and The War of the Rohirrim, the upcoming animated film from Warner Bros., draw from Jackson’s films at times in their depictions of Middle-earth. Some visual designs for The Rings of Power came straight out of Jackson’s LOTR: the Balrog of Moria and Sauron in his armored Dark Lord form are the immediate examples that come to mind.
Some of the dialogue and events of The Rings of Power were also inspired by or almost directly lifted from the movies, which I used as examples of the Problems with Prequels in my recent miniseries. I pointed to this example of Bronwyn and Sam’s dialogue in the second entry in the series:
The War of the Rohirrim, Warner Bros. animated film coming in 2024 is a prequel set 183 years prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings and deals with Helm Hammerhand, who gave Helm’s Deep its name. The War of the Rohirrim’s direct ties to Jackson’s trilogy start with Miranda Otto reprising her role as Éowyn and narrating the movie. Stephen Gallagher, who worked on the music for Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, is composing the score. John Howe and Weta Worskshops, who did concept art and designs for Jackson throughout the LOTR movies, are doing the same for this film. And Philippa Boyens is an executive producer.
While The Rings of Power is only done with one of its planned five seasons and The War of the Rohirrim has yet to be released, what’s already abundantly clear is the influence of Jackson’s movies on the Middle-earth movies and television that have followed. And though any potential direct role by Jackson himself is still to be determined, Warner Bros. seems to have no plans to stop drawing from the well in hopes of recapturing the magic.
But will lightning strike twice?
Writing about the ‘error’ of the elves in the Second Age of Middle-earth, Tolkien observes in Letter #131 that
They thus became obsessed with ‘fading’, the mode in which the changes of time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them. They became sad, and their art (shall we say) antiquarian, and they efforts all really a kind of embalming —even though they also retained the old motive of their kind, the adornment of earth, and the healing of its hurts.
The forging of the Rings of Power and deception of many of the elves by Sauron is fueled by a desire to heal the lands of Middle-earth, for the “chief power (of all the rings alike)” Tolkien explains in the same letter, “was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. ‘change’ viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved.”
While I am happy to see more movies and television adaptations of Tolkien’s works, I fear we are on the road to a level of obsession with ‘fading’ and ‘embalming’ by letting one interpretation of Tolkien’s works so dominate our imagination to the exclusion of others.
I love Peter Jackson and his The Lord of the Rings trilogy,3 but let’s let someone else have a turn to bring these amazing stories and world to life in a style and vision that is unique to them and not limited to what’s come before. Let's see some new visual styles and influences and interpretations! Let's not get stuck trying to recreate what was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement in Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy instead of producing fresh new versions of the stories we all love so well. Let’s follow the road ahead, not only gaze longingly back to where we’ve been.
One way to attempt to restore glory is to retell the stories of the victories of yesterday. But another is to go out and achieve new victories. Where future adaptations of The Lord of the Rings are concerned, I am much more excited about the possibility of the latter.
That’s all for today’s newsletter. Farewell, friends. Go towards goodness!
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The single sentence in the article referencing The Lord of the Rings is: “She [Pam Abdy] and [Michael] De Luca also brokered a pact to make new “Lord of the Rings” films, and visited Peter Jackson in New Zealand to reestablish the studio’s connection to the franchise’s original director.” It’s still an interesting article if you’re interested in an inside look at the studio, but it definitely feels like clickbait the way they shared it on social media.
But not really.
The less said about that other trilogy the better.