Peter Jackson and the issue of continuity: Amazon’s The Rings of Power in context
EDIT: The show has ultimately proved to be a spiritual prequel (a-la The Great and Powerful Oz) rather than a literal prequel. The conclusions drawn in this article should therefore be seen along the light of the ambiguity Amazon have chosen to wrap the project in until its actual airing.
I am of the opinion that the six Middle Earth film set – recently re-released in Ultra High-Definition – marks a singular achievement in filmaking: six films of 19 hours and 16 minutes (sans credits) all written, directed and produced by the same person – Sir Peter Jackson – with the same core creative team, telling the same story, over a period of some 15 years. All other film series of comparative scope – The eight Harry Potter films come to mind – went through multiple creatives as through tissue paper. Even the original six Star Wars films, which are always thought of as George Lucas’ magnum opus, had actually gone through three directors and multiple producers, writers, editors, directors-of-photography and so forth over a 30-year period, the sequel trilogy and spinoffs notwithstanding; while the dreaded Marvel Cinematic Universe had gone through countless creatives. I would argue that the relativelly contained number of entries, and their unity of vision, really sets Middle Earth apart in the franchise-dominated landscape of our times. “Its not a ‘franchise!'” Sir Ian McKellen always insists, “its a series of films.”
What, then, will be the future of this series, this creative vision, in the Amazon era? Is Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and its rumoured spinoff show to be part of the same continuity, like New Line’s The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim? Is it a prequel to the films? or is it a re-adaptation that just happens to focus on an earlier epoch? Should it be a prequel, or should it be a re-adaptation? Does it matter? And what does either choice mean to the show itself?
As a preface, I’m going to say that I will refrain from using the dreaded term “Cinematic Universe.” While at the moment we don’t have a better name for the series than “Middle Earth” (come on, people!) I think its various entries are linked in ways that are little bit more meaningful than just taking place in the same fictional universe: for starters, both the six films and the Amazon show chart the course of a single, millennia-long conflict between Sauron and the Free People of Middle Earth. Granted, The War of the Rohirrim doesn’t, but being a single, animated film it can be considered an intermède of sorts, the serva padrona to the main cycle’s Il prigionier superbo, if you will.Intermèdes were short plays sandwiched into the act-breaks of a longer play in Renaissance theatre. Out of this genre developed intermezzi, like Pergolesi’s La serva padrona – “The … Continue reading
I also wish to preface that, were Amazon to make an original re-adaptation of Tolkien, I would be all for it. But we need to put our biases aside – and this applies to both sides of the argument – and try and see what Amazon are doing, first. Its easy to get sucked into wishful thinking both on the part of those who love Jackson’s vision and want to see extensions of it, and on the part of those who have their reservations for it and want to see it remade and theoretically outdone.
So, will they?
But IS there going to be continuity with the films? The answer is “yes, probably.” Amazon are in a partnership of someking with Warner Bros.Joe Otterson, ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series Moving Forward at Amazon With Multi-Season Production Commitment’. Variety, 13 November 2017. Early on, a New Line contact of the since-defunct Herr Der Ringe Film told the site that:
The LORD OF THE RINGS series should feel like of-a-piece [wie aus einem Guss mit] with the Jackson film trilogies. The old locations in New Zealand are to be rebuilt and all yet-usable sets that were stored by Weta Workshop are to be reassembled as far as possible. Incidentally, the same also applies to existing props, weapons, armor and the like. At least, that’s the current approach [der derzeitige Ansatz] of Amazon Studios’. Since it was also revealed a few days ago that contact had been established with Peter Jackson, it could be that negotiations are being held with him in this regard. We will also keep you up to date. Cirdan, Exklusiv: Zu den Kulissen der HERR DER RINGE Serie, Her Der Ringe Film (archived).
At that point in time, Amazon will have considered a story set around the time of the films, like Young Aragorn, although at no point over the process did anyone involved with the production deny the notion of continuity, which is also noteworthy. Even after Amazon moved to the Second Age, continuity had been attested to by several sources. One of which is Jackson himsef, who said that Amazon want to “try to have a series and a world where it sort of fits with the films; they want to keep the designs”Kim-Taylor Foster, “Peter Jackson’s Tips for Casting Aragorn in Lord of the Rings TV show“, Fandom (4 December 2018) The date of this remark is significant because we know Jackson … Continue reading and that its “in the same world.” James Croot, Sir Peter Jackson hasn’t given up hope of making The Dam Busters, NZStuff, November 12 2018. In conversations with a prospective showrunner for the show, Fellowship of Fans had discovered that at the time, the show’s executives had already moved from a Young Aragorn premise to the Second Age, so its not as if Jackson’s remarks are premature or based on an outdated concept for the show. Indeed, why would they contact Jackson to begin with if theirs was to be a re-adaptation? Author Ian Nathan had confirmed to Fellowship of Fans that Jackson had conversations with Amazon with a view to producing the show, and wanted to take over the writing of the show, had schedules allowed him to do so.
For those who might still feel Jackson is engaging in special pleading there, this had been reiterated by the show’s conceptual designer John Howe, who said that “The show runners are determined to remain faithful to the existing trilogies”David Sutton, “Interview with Narnia Conceptual Designer John Howe“, Narnia Fans (August 18, 2019) and that “its a continuation.”Blue Pill, [Art of John Howe」指环王概念主创约翰·豪先生带您逛画展并答粉丝问, YouTube, 17 August 2019. Indeed, Howe was also one of the conceptual designers of Jackson’s films, and his involvement alone is indicative of continuity between the projects,Could it even be that Amazon’s hiring of Howe was at Jackson’s behest? Jackson had said back in June 2018, prior to Howe’s involvement, that he’s “helping putting the … Continue reading as is Amazon’s contacting of Jackson’s composer, Howard Shore.
Executive Producer Jennifer Salke pointed out that “we’re also not starting from scratch” Nellie Andreeva, “Amazon Studios’ Head Jennifer Salke On Strategy, ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series, Battle For Talent & ‘Transparent’ End Game: … Continue reading while director and executive producer JA Bayona said at his 2021 Lumière talk that the show is in the same world as the films, and has “an undeniable element of kinship (innegable elemento familiar) to the movies of Peter Jackson.” @alexandreguia42, “I was in the Bayona masterclass during the Festival Lumière in 2021.” Twitter (30 January 2022), Begoña Donat, “Todos los monstruos de Juan Antonio … Continue reading
The involvement WETA Workshop – instrumental to the creation of Jackson’s films – had been confirmed through Mimic FX, who “had the pleasure to fly once more to New Zealand and work for @wetaworkshop on the highly anticipated Amazon Prime TV”Mimicfx post, Facebook, 6 February 2022.. Although not confirmed by Amazon, Weta had earlier been said to be “expected to cash in on the production” and several of its employees are credited on the show’s IMDb page, while WETA Digital (a separate company in spite of the shared moniker) are working on some capacity on the show’s post-production.Tom Hunt, “Avatar movies on-track after WETA Digital’s work-from-home effort“, Stuff.NZ (14 May 2020), Jonathan Milne, Bonnie Sumner, “Return of the Rings: Govt hopes Amazon … Continue reading
Amazon had also opted to shoot in Jackson’s homeland of New Zealand. Initially, they were to shoot there for the duration of the five seasons,Series Memorandum of Understanding for the 5% Uplift in relation to the production of an Untitled Amazon Project, The New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 2020. but complications to do in-part with the breakout of SARS-COV-2 lead to Season Two being relocated to the UK. Nevertheless, choosing New Zealand to begin with would suggest a visual kinship to the films, and Amazon could still be hoping to marry shots taken in the UK in with the New Zealand vistas, especially since plates shot in New Zealand would likely be retained for the establishing shots of the returning, main locations for the show.
What little we’ve seen of Amazon’s production design seems to corroborate this: The map that Amazon released is in the style of the maps used in the films, and indeed retains a closer proximity of the “Mountains of the East”, exhibited in Jackson’s maps, than one usually sees in maps of Middle Earth.
The shot of Tirion, released by Amazon, has a lot of the hallmarks of Jackson’s Elven designs: from the “papershaker” towers of Alan Lee’s Rivendel Mural of Ost-in-Edhil (more on that later) to canopies right out of Rivendell itself, and swanships with prows right out of Lothlórien. The surrounding cliffs are taken from the same New Zealand cliffs used to create the valley of Imladris and even the ravine of the Forest River. Indeed, the shot itself is framed in the same cinematic 2.41:1 aspect ratio in which the movies were released. A leaked image of stairs from a Númenórean set vaguely resemble Jackson’s Minas Tirith set, while leaks from the Moria set exhibit Jackson’s geometric design aesthetic.
Indeed, several of the actors would seem to have been cast partially based on their similarity to Jackson’s cast members: Morfydd Clark (and Lady Child-Villiers as an even-younger version of the character) makes a nice match to Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel and actually spoke about struggling with “imposter syndrome” and said “There’s a huge amount of respect for the films.”Ben Travis, Morfydd Clark On Being Cast As Galadriel in Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Series, Empire, 29 October 2020. In fact, in her interview to The Face, “Clark confirms” that she plays “younger, more rebellious incarnation of Cate Blanchett’s film version of the queen.”Craig McLean, Everyon’es Tolkien about Morfydd Clark, The Face, 1st October 2020 All the more noteworthy since it was JA Bayona – who’s remarks on continuity are cited above – who cast herAlex Ritman, Breakout Morfydd Clark Finally Sees Her ‘Saint Maud’ Released After COVID-19 Delays, Hollywood Reporter, 28 January 2021 in what’s reportedly the show’s lead role. When The Playlist Podcast Network said they “know” the show is a prequel to the films, Clark responded with an affirmative “ah-huh” and went on to speak about taking-over from Cate Blanchett: “[the challenge of taking part in an original film] is exactly the same [in] stepping into a world that’s already been created and already been masterfully done.”The Playlist Podcast Network, Morfydd Clark Talks A24’s ‘Saint Maud,’ Recapturing The Peter Jackson Magic In The ‘Lord Of The Rings’ TV Series & More, Anchor, 28 … Continue reading
Likewise, Robert Aramayo (like Will Poulter before him and other runner-ups to the role like Conor Fogarty) resembles Hugo Weaving’s Elrond, and Maxim Baldry could pass for a younger Harry Sinclair as Isildur. Even Jackson’s Elendil – a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Peter McKenzie – seems to have found his doppelgänger in Amazon’s choice of Lloyd Owen, and Gil-galad in Benjamin Walker. In some cases, its not even a matter of visual similarity but a vocal one: Peter Mullan seems to be playing the older Durin (codenamed “Khain”) and his Glaswegian brogue is right in-line with what Jackson established for the Dwarves with John Rhys-Davies, John Callen, Peter Hambelton, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish and Sir Billy Connolly. Indeed, Mullan himself had auditioned for Jackson, presumably for the role of Balin.These actors’ roles have been confirmed by Fellowship of Fans. Mullan spoke about having sent an audition tape to Jackson for what he believed was James Nesbitt’s part of Bofur.
Really, this was all to be expected: With the exception of episodic, comic-book properties like Batman and Spiderman – none of which have quite the acclaim of the Middle Earth films – continuity is Hollywood’s currency at the moment: the very justification for this show being greenlit (with a behemoth budget to boot and with no star power attached) has all to do with the brand as established by the films, which had generated $6 billion revenue. New Line is also milking it with The War of the Rohirrim. Amazon’s choice of subject-matter – both in the case of Young Aragornindeed, the idea of Young Aragorn could perhaps itself be traced-back to a pitch of Jackson’s, dating back to 2002, to make a “bridge” film between The Hobbit and The Lord of the … Continue reading and in the eventual choice of the Second Age – is intristically-connected to elements shown in the movies: the show could be seen as a reworking of the Jackson’s prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring. Indeed, were the show rooted purely in the literary works, it would not have required the reintroduction of Hobbits into the narrative – that’s an addition borne out of the centrality of Hobbits to audiences’ perception, as shaped by the film series.
UPDATE: Amazon had released a few close-ups of characters, most of which are vaguely in the style of the movies. Perhaps the most surprising – and most damning – is this picture, which depicts either a Northman or Numenorean cavalry, but in either case does so in the style of the Rohirrim: Note not just the horsehead on the hilt but also the motifs on the blade itself and also the scale armour typical of Rohan: even the Reddish colour is reminiscent of Eomer. Another example is Owain Arthur as Durin IV, with geometric design (also present for the picture of his wife, Disa, played by Sophia Nomvete), a ginger beard to rival John Rhys-Davies’, and a hammer that could have been wielded by Graham McTavish’s Dwalin.A picture believed to be of Lloyd Owen’s Elendil had given some fans cause for concern with him holding a sword that doesn’t look like Jackson’s Narsil. I should point out, however, … Continue reading
Furthermore, in a Twitter event Vanity Fair’s Anthony Breznican and Joana Robinson both (who watched the first three episodes) attested to this:
Breznican: Its going to change the way they watch the Jackson films.
Robinson: […] For people who those films there is…it feels of-a-piece. The Howard Shore music [for example].
Breznican: “It does feel like a piece…it feels like it could be a piece of the universe we’ve seen.
But wait, should they?
This seems to answer the question of whether Amazon are maintaining continuity with the films, but should they? I will say, it is attractive from the point of view of building on what works, certainly in the fantasy genre and with this much at stake. Ultimately, Jackson’s vision of the world is too indelible, his designs and cast so intristically connected in the audience’s mind to the story that even a new re-adaptation would struggle to look completely different to Jackson’s. With the exception of The Lord of the Rings Online, even games have mostly tried to stick to Jackson’s visuals, including the recent Rise to War.
I will say, in defense of the naysayers, that many a work of great prose had been adapted to cinema and television multiple times – Война и мир comes to mind, but so do Les Misérables, Oliver Twist, Dune, Shakespeare’s plays and many others. If Ben Hur had been adapted six times, why not The Lord of the Rings? Strictly speaking, there had been more than one adaptation of Tolkien’s: a flurry of unlicensed, low-budget Eastern European adaptations notwithstanding, Tolkiens’ stories had been adapted – in parts – by both Ralph Bakshi (for cinema) and Rankin/Bass (for television). Both having been commercially succesfull, there would seem to be money to be made in a re-adaptation of Tolkien’s works.
Then again, there would seem to be money involved in a re-adaptation or remake of The Godfather or of Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï, and yet the reputation of their previous screen adaptations (more as films than as adaptations, per se) seems to deter people from doing so for fear of not measuring-up and in-so-doing alienate the very fanbase that franchise filmmaking typically relies upon. Perhaps an even more pertinent case is with the Harry Potter franchise, whose runners (Author JK Rowling included) seem uninterested in re-adapting the existing books for film or for TV, choosing instead to branch into new entries that are in continuity with the existing films. This, I’d argue, is also the case here, at least for forseeable future: From conversations with a prospective showrunner for the show, Fellowship of Fans had uncovered that already in early development, Amazon were reticent to retread the the Quest of the Ring, due to the association with Jackson and his films.
I would also argue that any hope that a TV series about Frodo and the Ring – by sheer dint of being long-form – should be more “faithful” to Tolkien’s story than a film series, is to be filed under “wishful thinking” and indeed derives from a basic misunderstanding of what an adaptation is (as opposed to a transcription), but that’s really beyond the scope of this essay. For now, suffice to say this: Gildor Inglorion, the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, Bill Ferny and Ghân-buri-Ghân are all absent from Brian Sibley’s meticulous 1981 radio adaptation, which was … Continue reading As for hoping that a TV adaptation would be better cinematically than the films, it goes from “wishful thinking” to “self delusion.”
Ultimately, I just think the films have taken-on a life of their own, and so the desires of fans of the films for prequels are – at this point, anyway – no less legitimate than the desire of fans of the literary works for a re-adaptation. Just like fans don’t except Star Wars or even the dreaded MCU to restart from scratch, so do fans of the films don’t want the same of this series. For book-purists to tell movie-fans that they’ve “had their turn” with the property to me borders on gatekeeping.
As it is, the value of questioning what Amazon should be doing is, at this stage, pretty limited, ultimately. The best we can do is use available evidence to deduce what it is they are actually doing, rather than pontificate too much on what we think they should be doing, and this applies both artistically and commercially – one can assume Amazon are eying a readaptation of The Lord of the Rings, but at this point there’s no concrete evidence for it, and therefore no reason to suspect it.
Pertinently, I’ve posted an poll – carefully-worded and handled to avoid any bias – on these subjects to our Reddit community, r/LOTR_on_Prime. Out of 40 thousand community members, 1011 voted thinking that the series will be in continuity with the films “and it should be”, while 271 voted thinking it would be in continuity “even though it shouldn’t.” 772 voted against continuity, saying it shouldn’t be like the films, and 342 voted it should be in continuity, but probably won’t. It could even be argued that within a dedicated community like the subreddit, book purists are over-represented as compared to the general populace.
Even Fellowship of Fans crew-member Penguin, who knows a thing or two about marketing and who’s ardently against the idea of film continuity, admits that not only are the evidence for continuity (as shared here or otherwise unearthed by Fellowship of Fans) very strong but also that Amazon will assuredly provide “lip service paid to the books, but the target is people who liked the movies and moved on with their lives, with the core effort made to the movie fans.”
Then again, what can they?
Perhaps a more relevant question to ask is that given Amazon’s seeming pursuit of continuity with the films, what in the show can we expect to look and feel similar to the films? What callbacks could we see in the design, the characters and the situations? Well, being set in the Second Age, the show takes place long, long before the time of the films: so long, in fact, we’re millenia out from the creation of the civilizations of Erebor, Dale, Goblintown, Esgaroth, Bree, the Shire and Rohan, as featured in the films. Arnor (of which we mostly see the ruins of Weathertop in the films) and Gondor will be established, but presumably only towards the tail-end of the show, and the latter will be missing some of its hallmarks like the Argonath (established over a millennium into the Third Age).
Nevertheless, it seems Amazon are keen on callbacks to existing works: they had asked for the inclusion of Hobbits, for example, for just that purpose. I don’t think this is the place to open-up a discussion of “fan-service” but I will say that, as a rule, I don’t begrudge prequels for doing “the prequel thing” in moderation, and this show will be no exception. It just needs to be worked into the show itself with enough clout. So what can be the same?
We have several returning characters. They’re mostly Elves like Galadriel, Elrond, Gil-galad and probably Celeborn and Cirdan, as well. Of these, the latter three effectivelly appear in the films in cameo capacity, so their personalities are clean-slates for Amazon and the actors to explore.
Even Elrond and Galadriel, whom we got to know quite well in the films, are completely new characters in this story; by which I don’t just mean that they’re recast as “younger” versions of themselves (a workable ploy to get fresh faces to play the parts), but that they are in a completely different place in their lives. Elrond is a young captain and budding statesman under Gil-galad’s tutelage: very different to the older and largely-autonomous loremaster of the films. Galadriel is younger, more ambitious and more active; less settled into any one realm.
The same could also be said for Sauron. We, as veterans of the films, know him as this evil, spectral voice and a menacing figure in armour, which we’ll sure see eventually: Sauron’s armour is the only piece of design in which the filmmakers could indulge in a full, Enlightenment-era suit of segmented-plate armour: all the other races seem to demand a more stripped-down style of armour, and so it’d be great to give this great piece of WETA design more air-time. All the more pertient, since its largely the work of one John Howe, the show’s conceptual designer.
However, Sauron himself will probably appear through much of this show as a humanoid character; a cunning, Machiavelian manipulator, perhaps even feigning benevolence towards some of the characters initially or operating under an alias such as Annatar. So, again, a completely new character, in effect. At most, he might merit callbacks to Gandalf, being very much a parallel of his character.
Speaking of Sauron, the origin story of his minions, the Nazgûl, might well figure into the show. Amazon would have the massage the timeline slightly to pull them into the time of the Akallabêth, but it seems like a workable ploy. Three of the wraiths, we’re told, are Númenóreans – presumably rulers of Númenórean colonies rather than members of the Council of the sceptre – and at least one other, Khamul, an easterling. In The Battle of the Five Armies, their ceremonial armour reveals that WETA had concieved of at least two of them as hailing from Harad and Forodwaith, accordingly, and Amazon could use that.
The issue of characters also brings-up creatures: what about Orcs, Trolls and the like? Well, the nature of the show’s story (more on this later) is one of a Machiavelian thriller as opposed to a series of creature encounters a-la The Hobbit, so I don’t suppose we’ll see such creatures except as part of the Dark Lord’s hordes. The only exception to this might be the character of Adar (Joseph Mawle) who is said to be an “Elf, tortured, corrupted, turned into warlord”.Fellowship of Fans, BREAKING: LEAKED Production Sheet Revealed + MAJOR Character Revelations For Amazon’s #LOTRonPrime, YouTube (26 November 2021)
Then we have the Númenóreans: Elendil and Isildur. Again, though, both roles in the films basically amounted to cameos: Elendil is practically only there for a couple of frames, and Isildur gets only one line, indeed one word (dubbed by Hugo Weaving, no less!). Moreover, Isildur is much younger at the point in which the show opens, and will likely be played accordingly: the inclusion of three friends of his could suggest they’re basing his character partially on Aragorn, and giving him his own miniature “Fellowship.”
The other Númenórean characters don’t feature in the films at all, although Pharazôn is mentioned, albeit in the subtlest way possible: when Gandalf is rummaging through Minas Tirith’s library in The Fellowship of the Ring, he comes across this piece of parchment:
There’s the issue of whether they’ll handle the Last Alliance and Sauron’s demise as per Jackson’s example, which is an alteration of the textual course of events. But that’s far in the future at this point and probably impossible to answer. Amazon might even contrive an “unreliable narrator” angle to explain it away.
There’s a whole other aspect of things coming back which has to do with music, but that’s more complex and will merit a separate write-up in the future. Now that I’ve got the characters out of the way, lets look at the various locations we’ll likely see and whether we should be able to recognize them. I’ll also point out artefacts that we may see returning throughout.
Númenórë isn’t a recurring location: it is completely new, and while I’m sure it’ll vaguely resemble Gondor, I’ll also bet it’ll look quite distinct at the same time. For one thing, it would have a much stronger aquatic theme going on. We mostly see Gondor in decay, whereas Númenórë even at the time of Akallabêth should look polished and redolent.
The main “prequel” moments surrounding Númenórë, however, will have to do with certain heirlooms: The Númenórean armour from Fellowhsip’s prologue is obviously a pretty big one, especially the regal armour of Elendil’s (which I presume belongs to the Lords of Andunie), alongside Narsil and the crown. It’ll form a nice circle with Aragorn putting them both on in his coronation. Seeing the Ring of Barahir, too, would help elucidate the quick reference to it in The Two Towers. We’ve yet to have a discussion on whether the Palantiri should figure into this show or not, but eventually, they should as they are brought by the Númenóreans to Middle Earth.
On the face of it, if the answer for Númenórë would be an obvious no, this would be an obvious yes: we have seen Lindon before, after all: at the end of The Return of the King we get a good, glorious look at the Grey Havens: its the final place we visit in the course of the cycle.
However, should Gil-galad’s seat of power actually be IN the Grey Havens? Well, according to the Appendices, Gil-galad’s seat of power was in Forlindon (north-western Lindon) which would suggest that his captial was not in the Grey Havens but rather in the city of Forlond. Amazon could cheat this slightly and/or find ways to feature the Grey Havens more prominently, but its still just one familiar location. For my money, it should feature very sparingly to maintain the novelty at the end of The Return of the King (especially Bilbo’s line: “Here’s a sight I have never seen before”) but if it does feature prominently, its not a big crime against The Lord of the Rings.
There’s another aspect to Lindon that is bound to be entirely new: the natural landscape, as in the shores of the sea. As Howe himself had tellingly lamented, we’ve never seen New Zealand’s glorious shoreline double as the shores of Middle Earth. We know Amazon had been shooting on shores and around water-tanks and wet sets, so the beach and the sea are both going to be a new and welcome presence, visually.
By way of heirlooms, I would definitely like to see the same Lindon armour, since that armour has quite a lot of screentime in the films, being used both for the Last Alliance and donned by Elrond in An Unexpected Journey and The Battle of the Five Armies. I guess it’d be pretty cool to see Elrond wield Hadhafang again, too…
We’ve seen a fair bit of Moria, but only as a ruin. The inside of it should look utterly unrecognisable in its glory. Maybe the 21st Hall of Dwarrowdelf could look somewhat recognisable, or the stairs immediately leading from the Doors of Durin. Other parts of Moria like the cemetery, the bridge and the Dimril Dale shouldn’t be very relevant to the show to begin with.
Obviously, one of the more iconic images of Moria isn’t the subterranean realm itself but the Doors of Durin, shining from across the lake. We are going to see these doors – the design is pure Tolkien – and their creation (if Amazon features it) is actually an important plot-point because its a joint Dwarf-Elf enterprise, which then pays-off when it succesfully fends-off Sauron’s forces.
However, the other part of that iconic shot – the shimmering lake – isn’t going to be there. That body of water is a late creation, the result of the river Sirannon being mysteriously blocked (by the Watcher?) some time in the late Third Age.
Instead, there should be (if Amazon does their homework) a raised viaduct leading right from the gates, over the stream and to Ost-in-Edhil: this is the high-road to the Elven city, marked on Amazon’s map. In the Fellowship of the Ring, we glimpse a broken piece of it and (with the Sirannon overflowing) its dripping water, almost giving the impression of an aquaduct. With it functioning as a working viaduct stretching right to the gates, it will make for quite a distinct visual compared to the film.
By way of heirlooms, I guess the main relic of Moria – other than Thror’s Ring – is the double-bladed Axe we see Gimli find in the chamber of Mazarbul, and which he continues to bear for the rest of the trilogy. That’s very subtle, and it may or may not be that Amazon will give this axe (or, for that matter, Thorin’s sword, “Deathless”) to either of the Durins, but if they do it’ll be a neat connection.
While on the subject of Dwarves, could we see the other two Dwarven Rings reclaimed by Sauron? One would imagine that would require seeing the Dwarven mansions in the East, which are closest to Sauron’s base of operations. Would Amazon care enough about this obscure piece of Middle Earth backstory to go to all those lengths? I doubt it, but who’s to know? Likewise, in the Second Age Gundabad first falls into the hands of the Orcs – will we see it? Doubtful, but never say never.
The one thing I don’t want to see are too many allusions to the Balrog or the Watcher: those are the cases, the novelty of those monster encounters is more important than having a setup for it. Don’t “Death Star” the Balrog: don’t feature him so much that he loses his eventfulness. I would say the same is true to a lesser extent of the appearance of dragons.
This one would depend on how exactly Amazon intends to incorporate the Elven realm of Eregion into their storyline: will they move its destruction up the timeline to include it side-by-side with Isildur’s youth? Or will they flash-back to it copiously, or perhaps just feature it early on and be done with it? I don’t believe they’ll gloss over it: its too important, too big with fans (especially since Celebrimbor’s character had been built-up in games, I’m told) and too intristically connected to some of the backstory Amazon seem to be delving into.
On the face of it, we’ve never seen Eregion on film, but that’s not quite true. Eregion is the land that the Fellowship traverse immediately upon exiting Rivendell. Its portrayed as a land of bare hills, with the mountains in the background. We also see a shot of the Fellowship passing the ruins of a city, which conceptual designer Alan Lee identified as the ruins of Ost-in-Edhil, the capital of this realm. The ruins do resemble Alan’s mural, posted in Elrond’s study, of the city.
So, appearantly this is prime real-estate for good ol’ prequelitis, right? Well, not necesarily. Eregion is Elvish for Hollin, so named after its woodlands of holy. Except those got mostly torched during the war with Sauron, and so Amazon have a convenient excuse to set their Eregion in a woodland, quite distinct from the hills of The Fellowship of the Ring, and potentially less remote for the production to stage scenes in. Ost-in-Edhil should look the same, but if the ruins only represent the top of the city, it should give Amazon some latitude in the design.
Obviously, Eregion also brings with it the Rings of Power, which will probably have a major role to play in the story of the show, and we can expect them to look the same. Obviously, of the lot we only really get good glimpses of The One (which is straight out of Tolkien, anyway), the three Elven Rings, and Thror’s Ring, and I don’t see the showrunners putting too much time into the remaining Rings except maybe to setup the Ringwraiths.
Lórien will probably feature as a tertiary plotline, but it will have to feature nonetheless: Galadriel goes there at some point in the story, and Lorien sends-out troops to fight Sauron both in Eregion and later in Dagorlad.
However, at this time Lórien is absent its iconic Mellyrn trees, which would only be planted later by Galadriel. Amazon could cheat that aspect of it slightly, but its still a relatively minor thing, especially given the tertiary nature of Lorien as a location.
Furthermore, the main city we know from the films, Caras Galadhon, has not yet been constructed and will not be for a millennia; and the realm is ruled by Amdír rather than Galadriel. So again, a familiar location made fresh and new by virtue of the intervening milennia.
Obviously, the Mordor landscape will look familiar – hellish, volcanic desert landscape with a Volcano in the midst. But what about the architecture? Well, some of it isn’t yet in place: Cirith Ungol and Minas Morgul are much later, Gondorian creations. So we’re basically left with the Black Gates and Barad-dûr, which we’ll probably see get built, instead of just have them there from the outset.
Actually, Barad-dûr doesn’t have to look the same. While we never see it, the films had a separate, Second-age Barad-dûr design (it can barely be seen in the back of one of the Rivendell murals). Amazon might choose to stick with the familiar image of the tower – both designs are of John Howe’s – although I doubt we’ll see it too often either way: Last Alliance notwithstanding, what’s there to gain from cutting to Mordor other than for a few scenes of forging the One Ring and maybe amassing armies?
This is admittedly very subtle, but I don’t doubt Amazon are looking through the archives of designs done for the films, beyond just those designs that ended-up on the screen: When Disney returned to Star Wars, they tore through everything that had ever come-out of Ralph McQuirre’s pen precisely because they wanted to tap back into the same coup de génie that had fuelled, they believed, the original films.
The Woodland Realm would eventually have to figure into this, since they send forces to The Last Alliance, where Thranduil’s father Oropher is slain. If and when we do get to see the Woodland Realm, however, it too should look unrecognisable. Obviously, at this stage the forest itself isn’t striken with sickness like it is in The Desolation of Smaug.
But, furthermore, the capital of the realm doesn’t sit where it does in the film, but rather on Amon Lanc – the location of the future Dol Guldur. It shouldn’t even be recognisable as Dol Guldur – the design in the films was concieved-of as a later Gondorian fortress (which would explain why its so un-Elven in its angular design, being instead very much akin to Weathertop) and so the Woodland Realm shouldn’t look AT ALL recognisable, except maybe the armour, another John Howe design.
Obviously we’re getting Hobbits, but sans the Shire. Will they resemble the riverfolk Hobbit getup of Smeagol and Deagol from The Return of the King? Possibly. Its also clear we’re getting some Middle Earth natives – Nazanin Boniadi’s character, codenamed “Kari”, is long-believed to be one of those. Where their society will be situated is of yet unclear: they could be in Harad, which will of course have to feature at some point in the show, but for the meanwhile I doubt it. Its far more likely characters like “Kari” hail from Eriador or from the Enedhwaith, since a “human village” set for the show had been discovered in the verdant vicinity of Auckland.
In the case of both Harad and the Enedhwaith, we are dealing with lands we haven’t really seen, but whose populaces we’ve glimpsed: Haradrim soldiers in The Two Towers and – along with Corsairs – in The Return of the King, and Dunlending “wild men” in The Two Towers. Will Amazon try to reverse-engineer their civilizations from their costume designs in the movies? I’d say its more likely in the case of the more elaborately-designed Haradrim then the non-descript “wild men” we briefly see in Isengard. Harad, when it does finally appear, will also require more arid, quasi-Middle-Eastern-looking locales to stage it in. Comparativelly, the Enedhwaith, like much of Eriador around this time, is likely to look like a generic “wild” landscape, although I suppose it would be nice to see Dunland, which the Dwarves mention so often.
Rhûn seems even less likely: its actually been designed quite extensivelly by Howe, back when – in The Battle of the Five Armies – Gandalf was going to puruse Sauron out of Dol Guldur and towards either the Sea of Rhûn or the Withered Heath, both of which were designed extensively. Indeed, there’s a brief shot of Gandalf riding furiously through an arid landscape that represents the edges of Rhûn. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the show, Rhûn is too isolated, not having a shoreline to share with the Númenóreans and having little to no dealing with the Elven realms: it just can’t figure into the fabric of the overall storytelling very well. Unless we get the Blue Wizards, I doubt it will feature in the show much at all.
So, in the end, why shouldn’t they, really?
Given the circumstances of the Second Age, there’s only so much Amazon can throw-back to in terms of visuals and story points. So while they seemingly do intend to make the show fit with the films, the amount of callbacks shouldn’t be so much as to annoy those who are allergic to such “fan service”, but not so little as to leave those who crave it feeling parched. Personally, as a great admirer of the live-action film and a general beliver in the power of serialized storytelling, I think there’s a lot to be gained from weaving subtle connections across the Jackson sextet, War of the Rohirrim, this show and whatever’s yet to come.
We shall have to wait and see.
|Intermèdes were short plays sandwiched into the act-breaks of a longer play in Renaissance theatre. Out of this genre developed intermezzi, like Pergolesi’s La serva padrona – “The Maid Turned Mistress” – a short, comic opera whose two acts played in alternation with the dramatic three-acter “The good prisoner.”
|Joe Otterson, ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series Moving Forward at Amazon With Multi-Season Production Commitment’. Variety, 13 November 2017.
|Cirdan, Exklusiv: Zu den Kulissen der HERR DER RINGE Serie, Her Der Ringe Film (archived).
|Kim-Taylor Foster, “Peter Jackson’s Tips for Casting Aragorn in Lord of the Rings TV show“, Fandom (4 December 2018) The date of this remark is significant because we know Jackson had been in lengthy talks with the show’s executives – itself a tell-tale sign – since March that year and through June: see Neille Andreeva, “Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke On Strategy, ‘Lord Of the Rings’ Series, Battle For Talent & ‘Transparent’ End Game: Q&A“, Deadline (11 June 2018)
|James Croot, Sir Peter Jackson hasn’t given up hope of making The Dam Busters, NZStuff, November 12 2018.
|David Sutton, “Interview with Narnia Conceptual Designer John Howe“, Narnia Fans (August 18, 2019)
|Blue Pill, [Art of John Howe」指环王概念主创约翰·豪先生带您逛画展并答粉丝问, YouTube, 17 August 2019.
|Could it even be that Amazon’s hiring of Howe was at Jackson’s behest? Jackson had said back in June 2018, prior to Howe’s involvement, that he’s “helping putting the creative team together”, and had previously said Howe’s designs – along with Alan Lee’s – are “the beating heart” of his films. See Randall Colburn, “Peter Jackson ‘putting the creative team together for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV series“, Consequence of Sound,6 June 2018.
|Nellie Andreeva, “Amazon Studios’ Head Jennifer Salke On Strategy, ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series, Battle For Talent & ‘Transparent’ End Game: Q&A“, Deadline (11 June 2019)
|@alexandreguia42, “I was in the Bayona masterclass during the Festival Lumière in 2021.” Twitter (30 January 2022), Begoña Donat, “Todos los monstruos de Juan Antonio Bayona“, The Objective, 19 October 2021
|Mimicfx post, Facebook, 6 February 2022.
|Tom Hunt, “Avatar movies on-track after WETA Digital’s work-from-home effort“, Stuff.NZ (14 May 2020), Jonathan Milne, Bonnie Sumner, “Return of the Rings: Govt hopes Amazon will come back to film more seasons“. Newsroom (5 August ,2021).
|Series Memorandum of Understanding for the 5% Uplift in relation to the production of an Untitled Amazon Project, The New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 2020.
|Ben Travis, Morfydd Clark On Being Cast As Galadriel in Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Series, Empire, 29 October 2020.
|Craig McLean, Everyon’es Tolkien about Morfydd Clark, The Face, 1st October 2020
|Alex Ritman, Breakout Morfydd Clark Finally Sees Her ‘Saint Maud’ Released After COVID-19 Delays, Hollywood Reporter, 28 January 2021
|The Playlist Podcast Network, Morfydd Clark Talks A24’s ‘Saint Maud,’ Recapturing The Peter Jackson Magic In The ‘Lord Of The Rings’ TV Series & More, Anchor, 28 January 2022
|These actors’ roles have been confirmed by Fellowship of Fans. Mullan spoke about having sent an audition tape to Jackson for what he believed was James Nesbitt’s part of Bofur.
|indeed, the idea of Young Aragorn could perhaps itself be traced-back to a pitch of Jackson’s, dating back to 2002, to make a “bridge” film between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which would have explored Aragorn’s youth: Xoanon, “Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh talk THE HOBBIT“, TheOneRing, 19 November 2006.
|A picture believed to be of Lloyd Owen’s Elendil had given some fans cause for concern with him holding a sword that doesn’t look like Jackson’s Narsil. I should point out, however, that Amazon had deliberately avoided any of the iconic props – the Ring of Barahir and Aeglos are nowhere to be found – precisely so as to “fuel fan speculation and discussion” and so to assume that this is Narsil is a flawed argument, especially since it hinges upon a design similarity to Jackson’s design: the hollow pommel. Rebecca Alter, How Amazon Prime Wants Us to Cover The Rings of Power, Vulture, 4 February 2022. Other similarities of note include a pattern on Gil-galad’s costume that correspondes to the criss-cross lamellae of the Lindon armour from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit.
|For now, suffice to say this: Gildor Inglorion, the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, Bill Ferny and Ghân-buri-Ghân are all absent from Brian Sibley’s meticulous 1981 radio adaptation, which was certainly in no shortage of air-time: could it then be that the issues of adaptation has to do with more than merely getting the source material down to size? Perhaps its to do, more importantly, with reconciling the ways novels are structured as opposed to drama?
|Fellowship of Fans, BREAKING: LEAKED Production Sheet Revealed + MAJOR Character Revelations For Amazon’s #LOTRonPrime, YouTube (26 November 2021