Of all the many things that Jeff Bezos and Amazon have, from domination over the online retail market to control of how your neighborhood gets its groceries to the ability to make large American cities grovel and beg, the one thing they don’t have is a water cooler-type entertainment property that only they control. Recently ousted Amazon Studios head Roy Price told reporters back in September that Bezos and other high-level Amazon executives were on a mission to discover a tentpole “event” television program for the company to call its own.
In other words, they were sick and tired of watching shows like Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Stranger Things steal all the thunder for competitors. Sure, Amazon has a lot of critically acclaimed programming but you don’t see too many Twitter hashtags and memes these days for Transparent, Man in the High Castle, or Mozart in the Jungle.
If the company was indeed looking for the next Game of Thrones, we offered up some suggestions of our own, which included a fresh take on Earthsea. That fantasy saga had been done before, but never well, and seemed like a logical way to try an emulate the medieval and magic storylines of HBO’s hit program. It was no Lord of the Rings, but it seemed like the next-best thing.
What we forgot to realize was that Amazon doesn’t do next-best, it just goes right for the best. As rumored last week, Amazon officially announced Monday that they have acquired the global television rights to The Lord of the Ring and will “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.” According to the official release, “the deal includes a potential additional spin-off series.”
According to reports, Amazon paid somewhere in the vicinity of $200 million just for the rights. That’s before you even get into the costs involved in making and marketing the show.
Amazon just bought series rights to Lord of the Rings. "Insane" gets thrown around a lot. In this case, it is not an overstatement. pic.twitter.com/36279tUgau
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) November 13, 2017
Believe it or not, it’s been 14 years since the last of Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King hit theaters, dominated the Academy Awards, and completed a trilogy of films that grossed almost $3 billion worldwide. Of course, it’s also only been three years since the last of The Hobbit film was released, which also grossed close to $3 billion altogether but failed to connect with audiences in quite the same way.
So, on one hand, we’re far enough removed from the beloved trilogy to see about a fresh take on the characters, but not so far removed from the stories of Middle-earth that it all feels shiny and new. That’s the dilemma that Amazon will be up against, whether or not it can make its LotR show feel necessary in the wake of an entire trilogy of films that felt anything but.
Plus, as The Comeback’s Jay Rigdon mentioned recently, it’s probably going to be a long time yet before you actually see the initial show in this deal.
Even if Amazon does pull it off, it’s going to be a while before you’ll be enjoying Middle-earth in serialized form. Development and production, even if rushed from the time of a rights deal, would still be some time in the future. Production on any show isn’t quick, and for a massive fantasy series with what would likely be incredibly high production values, it takes even more time.
All of that said, the potential is sky high for Amazon and their TV series. Because they’re going to tell a different story than the one in Peter Jackson’s movies, they’re already maintaining a level of intrigue that should keep people interested, be it out of excitement or sheer terror of screwing it up.
The movies were forced to cut a lot of backstory and early setpieces, especially in The Fellowship of the Ring, which also gives the show some leeway in which characters it decides to focus on and where it wants to go. The important thing will be to heed the lessons of the Hobbit films and not overstuff the plots with characters that the audience doesn’t really have a connection to. What works about the books and about the original trilogy is that we do care what happens to these people (and hobbits, and wizards, and elves, and dwarves).
— Nick Brisbon (@NBrisbon) November 13, 2017
There’s going to be a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth in the coming months and years as Amazon starts prepping, casting, and shooting their Lord of the Rings TV show. Given Bezos’ desire for his company to control the entertainment universe, or at least own a TV show that has mass appeal, expect them to spare no expense when it comes to creating an experience unlike few others on your television screen. Whether it’s good, or worthy of the source material, we won’t know for a long time yet.
Chances are, no matter what, you’re going to get an Amazon Prime account in order to find out. And that’s all that matters in the end to Bezos & Co.