It has been an extended road to the premiere of Amazon’s new Middle Earth TV show.
The much-anticipated series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered last night on Amazon Prime Video, to a mixed reception from critics and audiences. Amazon hasn’t released streaming figures for the premiere yet.
The path to getting to last night’s premiere was long. With then-CEO Jeff Bezos’ involvement, Amazon fought hard to purchase the television rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books. The streaming service won the rights in a bidding war in 2017 against Netflix and HBO.
“The sellers had expected to receive between $50 million and $75 million for the rights, said one person involved in the talks. The nearly $250 million offered by Amazon came after the company pledged several seasons of the show and highlighted its ability to cross-promote the author’s books on its website,” says The Wall Street Journal.
Why it’s important
Amazon Prime wants to turn its Lord of the Rings adaptation into its service’s breakout show, similarly to the way Game of Thrones popularized HBO and The Mandalorian popularized Disney+. The company plans to produce five seasons of the series as well as spinoffs.
Jeff Bezos, a noted fan of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, is said to have worked with an “unsual degree of involvement” on the show, WSJ reports.
It took a great deal of convincing and negotiation to make the series happen though. Tolkien’s estate has always been notoriously weary of Hollywood adaptations of the late author’s works. The author himself had been presented options for adapting the book trilogy in the late 1950s and turned them down.
The American animation studio Rankin Bass had managed to adapt two television specials in the 1970s while the rights to the films were briefly in the public domain due to a trade dispute, but major proposals to adapt the books were met with derision by the author’s family.
The author’s son Christopher Tolkien went as far as to criticize the critically acclaimed Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy, saying that they lack the “beauty and seriousness of the books”. The trilogy grossed nearly $3 billion at the box office, won 11 Oscars, and earned Return of the King Best Picture at the 2004 Academy Awards.
The Tolkien estate’s mood changed in 2017 in resolving a copyright dispute with Warner Brothers over the use of Middle Earth characters in various promotional materials.
“In 2012, the estate sued the trilogy’s studio, Warner Bros. over the use of Ring’s characters in online games and slot machines. Five years later, the two sides reached an agreement with an expected proviso, The estate would unlock television rights to the books and the two parties would shop them together,” says The Wall Street Journal.