Today, Amazon finally revealed the first major hint of their new Lord of the Rings series, which is quickly looking like the first billion-dollar TV series in history. Bezos wanted Amazon's studio to find a way to match Game of Thrones as a modern TV fantasy spectacular, and it seems like the team has risen to the challenge.
If this is anything to gauge the rest of the series by, we can hope that this team learned the lesson of the original Peter Jackson films: CGI should support the practical effects, never replace them (oh, how we all wish The Hobbit had learned that lesson).
We know a few things about Amazon's new Lord of the Rings series. The Rings of Power will, first, not tie directly to the content of the Peter Jackson films in any way. The Tolkien estate was quite clear on that. The estate also said that while Amazon could create new characters, go in-depth with the plotting of specific stories not found in Tolkien's work, and have general creative license to build the stories they wish… they can not change the shape of Tolkien's history. Anything that happens in Tolkien's body of work still needs to happen; the shape of the world needs to remain the same.
Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and 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.
The Second Age of Middle-Earth is an obvious choice for the team to pick, since it does have such a breathtakingly vast expanse of potential to work with. After the fall of the dark being Morgoth, the worst of his servants, Sauron, continues to gather strength through a combination of deceit and forbidden power. With a vast mythic landscape to explore, tales of great heroism and tragedy, and the original forging of The One Ring, there's a lot of room for seriously epic storytelling here.
Of course, this is a much darker period in history than the Third Age, with a story that notably does not contain as kind an arc as The Lord of the Rings. For many, this will be a good thing, as it means there will be the likelihood of darker and grittier material showing up on the screen. Whether this grittiness will be rendered well remains to be seen.
What's especially exciting about the Rings of Power intro video is that the amazing effects it contains are practical in nature, not computer-generated. The Hobbit films notably failed to impress, largely due to issues surrounding the incredible overuse of CGI technology and the lack of the weightiness supplied by the practical effects that dominated the original three films. Here, we have the slight suggestion that this new series will offer something different.
Watch the video:
In an exclusive interview for IGN, Special Effect Advisor Douglas Trumbull explained his approach.
“I always try to find an organic — or analog — solution instead of the knee-jerk reaction to use computer graphics. The reason for this is: every time I try this, I get some delightful result that is, in some respects, unexpected. There are magical things that happen in nature — gravity, fluids, lighting — that one couldn’t really design using computer graphics.”
Well, this Tolkien fanatic could not agree more. I've been hesitant to feel anything but trepidation over this new adaptation, especially because I so deeply dislike a large swath of modern TV writing (I was not at all a fan of Game of Thrones, for instance), and because Amazon is evil incarnate. But I have to admit that Trumbull's vision here wins me over a bit. If all the artistry is given this care, and if the writing doesn't fail, this could be one for the history books.