Is a Lord of the Rings prequel a good idea? That's a question I've been asking myself since Amazon announced a new TV show based on J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal series in early 2017. On one hand, a return to Middle-earth sounds like the perfect escapism from today's world. Peter Jackson's original trilogy, based on Tolkien's three Lord of the Rings novels The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King was, by my estimation, just about perfect, and still takes up valuable real estate in my heart. Nostalgia runs super deep for the source material, so revisiting Tolkien's lush fantasy realm would be a real treat for fans like me.
But then I remember Jackson's overstuffed Hobbit trilogy, and worry that any attempt to recapture that initial magic may be a fool's errand. Indeed, Amazon's proposed new series sounds almost too ambitious, and given the sped-up production timeline and mounting obstacles, it could be a massive failure in the making. Or it could be a Game of Thrones-sized cultural event, a show that busts through the gates and takes everyone by surprise. One thing remains true: I am fascinated by what this thing has the potential be, and every new announcement gets me even more excited. If they pull it off, this could be the biggest thing in TV.
Here's everything we know about Amazon's Lord of the Rings prequel series so far.
There's an interactive map of Middle-earth!
Though mostly barren, Prime has already created a Twitter account for the yet-to-be-named series. @LOTRonPrime went up in February of this year, and so far has only one juicy piece of content on it: a map of Middle-earth. The map isn't labeled and appears relatively basic at first glance, but some eagle-eyed fans have decoded a meaning in the tweet's replies.
🗺️ 🔍 Explore the map: https://t.co/z9WOqI9Seo
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) February 15, 2019
As user @tolkienthot points out, there are certain omissions on the map, like the absence of the Beleriand region in the northeast, which means the series is likely set sometime in the Second or Third Age of Middle-earth, and after the War of Wrath. Others have noted that the map extends more east than most Middle-earth maps, which could be hinting at something plot-wise.
The tweet including the map also mentions the "three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky." This is a reference to the rings forged by Celebrimbor, an Elven prince, two of which were given to Elven King Gil-galad and another to Galadriel. These rings were forged independently from Sauron, meaning they were uncorrupted by him, though they were still swayed by the power of the One Ring. They were created during the Second Age, which fits with the map's apparent time-frame. This could mean we'll see the origin story of the Rings of Power.
Amazon paid $250 million for the rights.
After a bidding war with Netflix, Amazon finally obtained rights to Tolkien's series for a cool quarter of a billion dollars back in 2017, a negotiation brokered between Tolkein's estate, book publisher HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, which produced Jackson's films. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the massive deal includes a five-season commitment and states that the show must be in production within two years. It's been almost two years since the purchase, which means we can likely expect a slew of new information to pour in soon.
It could be the most expensive show in TV history.
That $250 million rights package was already massive, but once production and casting costs are factored in, THR estimatesÂ that this thing will cost over $1 billion. When courting the book rights, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos allegedly told his staff he wanted to find the next Game of Thrones; dumping billions of dollars into another beloved fantasy property is one way to do that, we guess. But will it pay off? That's a steep price tag for a show that hasn't even gotten off the ground.
It might focus on young Aragorn.
Last May, Lord of the Rings fan site TheOneRing.net reported that "multiple sources" confirmed to them that Amazon's prequel series would focus on a young Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen's character in the film trilogy. They went on to state that the series will not cover the War of the Ring, as featured in Jackson's trilogy, but would instead draw inspiration from the book's appendices, which get into Aragorn's family history and his role as the heir of Isildur and the rightful king of Gondor.
Though some of Aragorn's appendices stories made it into Jackson's films, namely, his relationship with Arwen (Liv Tyler), there's plenty of ground left to cover. Aragorn is a fascinating focal point for a series, as he remains a mostly mysterious figure even as a main character in the films; his disguise as the ranger Strider masques his noble ties, which harken deep into Middle-earth lore. As TheOneRing.net speculates:
We could, in flashbacks, learn essentials about the men of
#Arnor, sister kingdom in the north to #Gondor, and how the surviving #Dunedain became a community of Rangers, seeking to protect the north from incursions of the Witch-king of Angmar.
Just where the series begins and ends is anyone's guess. Considering Aragorn's reign as King Elessar Telcontar continues after the main events of the War of the Rings, it's even possible Mortensen could return to the role eventually.
Peter Jackson might be involved.
Creatively speaking, the only writers currently attached to the project are John P. Dayne and Patrick McKay, who are acting as showrunners, according to Deadline. The duo were supposedly recommended by J.J. Abrams, who worked with them on the upcoming Star Trek 4. The series will have a full writers room, so we can expect more names to pop up as the pre-production process rolls along.One name that has been tossed around is none other than Peter Jackson. According to Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, the company has been in talks with Jackson about his possible involvement in the series. That could mean the visual continuity of the series will be in step with what Jackson and his team created. That would make the best sense; if you want to tap into the well of nostalgia, and if you're already in coordination with the original film studio, might as well go all in.We don't know what role Jackson would play in the new series, though executive producer and creative consultant is a safe bet.Salke has also said she's in talks with Tolkien's grandson, Simon, whose involvement actually means a great deal. When the film trilogy was announced, Simon had agreed to cooperate with the filmmakers, which caused a riff between him and his father, Christopher, who did not wish to associate and who cut Simon off from the family inheritance. Though the two were briefly estranged, they have since reconciled. It's unclear how the elder Tolkien feels about Simon's involvement in this new series, and just what the family is providing to Amazon, but it's good to know the estate is seemingly more on board this time around.
New Zealand might once again play Middle-earth.
Speaking of visual continuity, Salke also said the show might head to New Zealand, where Jackson's films were shot, once production is underway. "I think we might be in New Zealand," she told Deadline last June. "I don't know, but we're going to have to go somewhere interesting that could provide those locations in a really authentic way, because we want it to look incredible. There's no shortage of ambition for the project. We'll go where we need to go to make it happen."
The series should debut in 2021.
Though there's no hard date yet, Salke told THR that Amazon hopes to have the Lord of the Rings prequel on the air by 2021. In just two short years, we could be saying hello to the next all-time great fantasy TV series. For now, I'm still holding my breath.
Images: New Line Cinema