So what now for the world of Tolkien? After the success of the Lord of The Rings trilogy, and the fact that it paved the way for legitimate fantasy fiction to sweep onto the big screen, New Line began trotting out the concept of going back and filming Tolkien’s first novel, The Hobbit, which had been touched upon only barely in the Fellowship Of The Rings. The Hobbit seemed like a natural follow-up for the trilogy, even though Jackson had stated that he had “currently” no interest in revisiting Middle Earth so soon after leaving it.
Friction At New Line
Shortly after the Lord Of The Rings Oscar sweep, covered in a previous article, Peter Jackson took unprecedented legal action against New Line Cinema for supposed unpaid royalties on the DVD sales of Fellowship Of The Ring, and publicly stated that the studio had dodgied up the books, meaning Jackson was many millions of dollars short. Whether this was true or not is the subject of another, much more meaningful article, but suffice to say that Bob Shaye, the instigator of the Lord of The Rings trilogy back in 1997, was not happy. He publicly scorned Jackson and went on record that “Jackson will never work for this studio again”, a statement he would later come to regret.
In the years between 2003 (when Return of The King was released) and now, New Line’s fortunes were said to have become more and more bleak, with a string of box-office duds carving a deep gouge into the studio coffers. New Line badly needed a hit, and they knew they’d get one if they could get The Hobbit off the ground. However, there were a couple of problems, before they could do so.
Many moons ago, the rights to The Hobbit were sold to MGM Studios, the makers of the James Bond films. MGM, upon realising that there was money to be made in Tolkien now, wouldn’t sell the rights to MGM, so New Line had to cave-in to the demand to be co-production studio’s for the new film. Many of the cast of the original Rings trilogy films stated that they wouldn’t return unless Peter Jackson was director, putting Bob Shaye into a corner: he had to either retract his previous statement or risk potential fan backlash if they chose another director. Shaye, however, had one key advantage: it really didn’t matter who directed and starred in the film, because it would make money no matter what.
The pressure of the Tolkien fan-base helped force New Line to back down on their statement about Jackson’s future with the Tolkien brand, and this came about around the same time as the legal wrangling of payments was settled out of court. Shaye came out and publicly stated that they wouldn’t make The Hobbit unless Jackson was involved, however, in the intervening years, Jackson had become involved with several other film projects, and could no longer commit to directing the film.
While this disappointed a lot of people, the studio came up with an alternative: Jackson would produce the new films, and he could appoint a director of his choice. Fan reaction to a two-film deal was profound. The first film would be the cinematic version of The Hobbit. The second was apparently a bridging film set between events in The Hobbit and those of Fellowship Of The Ring. Exactly what that would entail was, and to a certain extent, still is, a mystery. In any case, two Tolkien-set films were better than one. The next task was to find a director willing to come into the Middle Earth fold.
Jackson’s choice was a surprising one. Guillermo Del Toro, the director of films such as The Devil’s Backbone, Blade 2, Pan’s Labrynth, and Mimic, was announced as the man who would helm the new films. Del Toro, who is famously adverse to films featuring things like goblins and elves, had spoken at length with Jackson about his involvement, and Jackson persuaded the Spanish-born Director to give it a shot. Fan reaction was immediate. Almost all were overwhelmingly in favour of the choice, and with Jackson providing the guiding light as producer, felt the series was in good stead for being of a similar quality to the original Rings films.
In the intervening months and years since all this took place, fan speculation has been rife with who would play all the roles, whether the same cast could, or would, be used in roles they’d previously done, where applicable. Gandalf was a lock for Ian MacKellan, who had stated he’d love to play the role again. The part of Bilbo, played in the original trilogy by Ian Holm, would no doubt require a younger actor. Mention was made of Gimli returning for a cameo, and perhaps even Legolas as well.
But what to make of the second film, the one not based on any story in particular, but a conglomeration of material gleaned from other sources? Would it focus on events told in The Silmarillion, the posthumous novel from Tolkien that told of the pre-history of Middle Earth? Well, if comments by Del Toro and Jackson are anything to go by, probably not. So what does that leave us with?
The Grey Havens
Looking ahead, it’s hard to see past the initial hoopla surrounding the new Tolkien movies. What else could possibly be done?
Rings composer Howard Shore has already performed the music from the films in a series of concerts, and released almost the entirety of his composed music on CD for fans to access. The extended editions, which were exhaustively backed up by hours of bonus material, will likely be released on new HD disc formats until the end of the world, over and over to capitalise on the success.
Would a filmmaker ever be brave enough to contemplate The Silmarillion as a film project? The complexity and non-linear storytelling style of what is essentially a biblical “let there be light” origin story would be hard to translate to the big screen in a way that was palatable to an audience. I say that now, but no doubt in years to come, somebody will come up with a way. Still, here and now, it does seem unlikely.
The publication in 2007 of a new Tolkien book, The Children Of Hurin, however, has given cause to stop and consider whether we should try translating the rest of Tolkien’s works into film. The flash of bottled lightning that was The Rings Trilogy couldn’t possibly be repeated, could it? Indefinitely? Given that Tolkien had died in 1973, it’s hard to imagine any more literature coming from his mighty pen. So where to henceforth for the texts of a man some regard as one of the literary world’s giants.
It’s hard to imagine a world in which Frodo and his kin don’t inhabit some level of public consciousness. At some point, almost everybody in the western world has read, or been exposed to, the works of Tolkien. You’d imagine, then, that the clamouring for film’s and TV works made from his books and other publishings might be intense, yet it would appear this is not so. The Hobbit and it’s sequel aside, it’s hard to see anything continuing the legacy of Tolkiens work further into the future.
The Unfinished Tales publication would be utterly unsuitable for filming, as it’s eclectic and “unfinished” nature prevents anything from becoming of these stories without major tampering from a brave filmmaker. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, published a 12 volume series of books examining the entire legacy of the author, including unfinished and alternate versions of his previously published works. And it’s hard to see a studio having a crack at a bunch of unfinished stores for a film.
Therefore, it’s my belief that once The Hobbit (and it’s sequel) make it to the big screen, there will be a dearth of coherent and cohesive story material from which filmmakers can construct a full feature length film, without resorting to the “inspired by” tagline often used when people butcher another’s works. While many have publicly stated that there is so much material to be mined from Tolkien’s works, the various back-stories and second-tier characters within the world of Middle Earth, it’s unlikely that fan reaction will predicate such a success as was achieved with the three Rings films. Given this, it would seem at the outset that the current film production of The Hobbit will be the last chance for people to see a Tolkien film up on the big screen, which is reason to both rejoice and mourn.
No doubt though, with the popularity of the world of Middle Earth, people will find a way to continue the adventures of Tolkien’s world, no matter how different it may be. Fan fiction, a popular genre on the Internet, is perhaps the perfect place for people to explore the themes and lands of Middle Earth, using their own words, their own imagination, applying all that Tolkien did to his creation and expanding it, mythologising it, creating a vivid and diverse extrapolation of the work originally begun by the late Oxford don.
A quick perusal of the Internet divulges plenty of fanfic sites, waiting for the hardcore fan to explore, and yet, while not perhaps more commercially accepted, or even blessed by Tolkien’s estate, the ability of people to explore his world on their own, is perhaps a subtle way of invoking the myths Tolkien himself lamented being missing in English history: in a way, his beginning has continued on the world wide web, through thousands of people who find it comforting to delve deeper into the world he created.
It’s hard to imagine anybody writing more Middle Earth novels, especially without a surname of Tolkien. To try and make a commercial gambit of the legend of the great man, and further the words he has written, would, at this time, almost be sacrilegious. It would be like somebody writing a new Harry Potter book that wasn’t JK Rowling. Still, perhaps, in the future, authors of renown could try and revitalise the enormous demand for Tolkien’s world, add to the mythology and the legend….. after all, isn’t that what Tolkien himself wanted? People have written new books about James Bond, well after Ian Flemming’s death, so I guess anything’s possible these days.
Whatever the future may hold, in whatever form of media it comes in: the Lord Of The Rings was firstly, and foremost, a book. The use of a persons imagination to create their own versions of Frodo, Sam, the Dark Riders and even Sauron, is perhaps more potent and powerful than anything a director, cinematographer, CG artist or musician could possibly create. And that, my friends will ensure that the novel version of Tolkien’s opus remains the definitive, unconquered format to enjoy this magnificent tale.