Fancy a return trip to Middle-earth? Amazon certainly hopes so, because it’s pumping a staggering amount of money into a new Lord of the Rings TV series, set to premiere on its Amazon Prime streaming service.
The ambitious project has already grabbed headlines for being the most expensive TV series ever made, but it’s not like Amazon is gambling on an unknown quantity. The original book trilogy written by JRR Tolkien and published from 1954-1955 has sold more than 150 million copies. But as prepublicity goes, that’s peanuts compared to the Peter Jackson-directed film trilogy (2001-2003), which made just shy of $3 billion at the box office (with his follow-up prequel movie trilogy The Hobbit adding another $2.9 billion). It was the Jackson films that truly created an army of Rings fans, who embraced the tales of hobbits, men, wizards, elves and dwarves battling sorcerers, orcs and ancient evil being Sauron, on an epic scale.
But the new series is no mere remake. It’s both more interesting and riskier than that.
Lord of the Rings series release date
There’s been no official announcement yet, but 2021 seems likely. Production did start before the pandemic, but while Covid-19 brought shooting to a halt, the series is now back before the cameras in New Zealand. Yes, the same country that played Middle-earth in the films.
It’s a prequel
When Amazon announced the series in 2017, many assumed it would be a remake. It soon became clear, though, they had other plans; the series is a prequel. A map posted on the official @LOTRonPrime Twitter feed in February 2019 detailed lands and regions that only existed long before the events depicted in The Lord of the Rings.
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If you’re wondering how people could have worked that out when we’re dealing with a made-up world, the reason is that JRR Tolkien created an entire history of Middle-earth – broken down into the First Age, Second Age and Third Age – which then he related in a book called The Silmarillion, plus various appendices to The Lord of the Rings. The events of The Lord of the Rings take place in the Third Age; the events of the new series take place in The Second Age, thousands of years before.
FYI, Sauron (the Big Bad of Lord of the Rings) created the all-important One Ring during the Second Age.
The official synopsis
Amazon released an official synopsis for the series through TheOneRing.net in January 2021, revealing that the series “will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”
What can we glean from that? The mention of the Misty Mountains would seem to promise some dwarf action, while Númenor is a vital stepping stone in the creation of Gondor, which features significantly in Lord of the Rings. And Sauron is clearly going to be playing a part in proceedings.
What Amazon can and cannot do
Apparently, the deal Amazon signed with the Tolkien estate means they have to play by specific rules. According to Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey, Amazon must only film Second Age events, and cannot, “contradict anything that Tolkien did say… It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries that Tolkien has created… But you can add new characters and ask a lot of questions, like: What has Sauron (pictured) done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it.”
At what cost?
Various sources claim that the series’ budget will be $450 million for the first series. That compares to the estimated $90 million that Game of Thrones season eight cost, or $15million an episode. As yet, we don’t know how many episodes season one of The Lord of the Rings will be; Tom Shippey has said it will be 20, which is unconfirmed (and seems a lot), in which case that still would be a significantly larger $22 million an episode. Amazon boss Jennifer Salke justified the cost saying, “This is a full season of a huge world-building show.”
Will there be more?
The initial deal Amazon made with the Tolkien estate was for a five-season commitment. Whether it makes it that far will likely depend on viewing figures, but in November 2019, it was confirmed Amazon had officially ordered a second season of the series, which was already in the works. The deal also allows for spin-offs, though there has been no word on that yet.
LORD OF THE RINGS SERIES cast
Oddly, Amazon has released a huge list of actors who’ll be in the show, without confirming who any of them will be playing, so who among the following are the stars and who’s playing recurring secondary elf is anybody’s guess for now.
- Sir Lenny Henry (Broadchurch)
- Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow, Power)
- Maxim Baldry (Years and Years)
- Kip Chapman (Top of the Lake)
- Trystan Gravelle (A Discovery of Witches, Mr Selfridge)
- Thusitha Jayasundera (Humans)
- Fabian McCallum (You, Me and the Apocalypse)
- Simon Merrells (Spartacus)
- Peter Mullan (Cursed, Westworld, Mum)
- Lloyd Owen (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles)
- Augustus Prew (The Morning Show)
- Alex Tarrant (Shortland Street)
- Benjamin Walker (Traitors)
- Robert Aramayo (Behind Her Eyes)
- Owain Arthur (A Confession)
- Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland)
- Morfydd Clark (His Dark Materials)
- Ismael Cruz Córdova (Berlin Station)
- Markella Kavenagh (Picnic at Hanging Rock)
- Joseph Mawle (Game of Thrones)
- Dylan Smith (Maze Runner: The Death Cure)
- Charlie Vickers (Medici)
- Daniel Weyman
- Ian Blackburn
- Anthony Crum
- Maxine Cunliffe
- Geoff Morrell
- Peter Tait
- Leon Wadham
- Sara Zwangobani
- Ema Horvath
- Tyroe Muhafidin
- Sophia Nomvete
- Megan Richards
Some more key roles have yet to be announced.
Who’s making it?
The names of the showrunners (JD Payne and Patrick McKay) may leave you none the wiser as their credits on IMDB start with… the Lord of the Rings TV series. So how did two guys with apparently no experience land such a plum role? It appears they were recommended for the role by JJ Abrams (Lost, Star Trek, Star Wars) and have been quietly making a name for themselves behind the scenes.
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Confirmed directors include: JA Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) who will helm the first two episodes; Charlotte Brändström (The Witcher, Jupiter’s Legacy) who will direct two episodes (pictured); and Wayne Che Yip (Preacher, Doctor Who, Doom Patrol).
The series will also be crafted by executive producers Lindsey Weber (10 Cloverfield Lane), Bruce Richmond (Game of Thrones), Gene Kelly (Boardwalk Empire), and Sharon Tal Yguado; writer and executive producer Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad); writer and executive producer Jason Cahill (The Sopranos); writer and executive producer Justin Doble (Stranger Things); consulting producers Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones) and Stephany Folsom (Star Wars Resistance); and writer and co-producer Helen Shang (Hannibal). Ron Ames (Bumblebee, Avengers: Age of Ultron) will oversee the visual FX.
Will Gandalf be in it?
On learning of the new series, Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the Peter Jackson movies) confirmed on Graham Norton’s radio show in 2017 that he’d be delighted to play the wizard again. But while, according to Tolkien, Gandalf was alive in the Second Age, he – along with his fellow wizards (or Istari) – didn’t arrive in Middle-earth until the Third Age. Does that mean a wizardless show?
Need more fantasy and magic? Check out our guide to all the Harry Potter movies to get your fix.