Commentary: What Can Warner Bros. Do With Its Renewed ‘Lord Of The Rings’ License?
by Erik Amaya
The Palantír suggests more Lord of the Rings spinoffs are in our future.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. Pictures has renewed its license to create film spinoffs based on the fantasy novel series by J.R.R. Tolkien. In fact, as Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav revealed during an earnings call, continuing to make franchise brand material like LOTR is important to the overall health of the company. But what sort of stories can be derived from just the three books making up the epic tale?
Amazon asked that same question when it acquired the TV rights to the books. Their answer for what became The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was to dramatize events from the Middle-earth’s Second Age, a period both mythological and quasi-historical for Frodo and the rest of LOTR‘s fellowship. Presumably, Warner will not go down the same route — the company’s New Line Pictures is somewhat involved in the series — but sticking with Third Age tales still offers roughly 3500 years of story to mine before Bilbo Baggins discovers the Ring in Gollum’s cave.
In that time, the northern kingdom of Arnor rises and falls, with smaller kingdoms also appearing to take its place and all them eventually falling to the Witch-King of Angmar’s wars of aggression. Within that setting, you have hopeful but flawed kings — ancestors of Aragorn — who try to maintain their Númenórean nobility, but succumb to death and despair. You have the settling of the Shire by the Harfoots, Fallohides, and Stoors. Although Rings of Power touches on the Harfoots and their way of life, they are not the settled and mostly contented Hobbits we know from Tolkien’s full novels or the movies based upon them. A story of discovering and mastering that beautiful land not only opens the option for more Halfling characters, but allows the notoriously cost-conscious Zaslav the chance to reuse the permanent Hobbiton in New Zealand.
Another curious option is to fully realize Gollum’s decent into madness. As it happens, WB Games has a Gollum-focused title, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, due for release between April and September of this year, so some story options for that already floats around the Warner offices. On the same front, the studio could always adapt the video games Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor and its sequel, Middle-earth: Shadows of War into some pretty compelling feature films. Although it would share ring-maker Celebrimbor with Rings of Power, the Shadows games realize him in a very different way.
There is, of course, the one obvious answer: a Young Aragorn project. This was the most bandied about option when Amazon grabbed the Rings TV rights and a concept Rings of Power executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay dismissed for being too obvious. They also mentioned in at least one interview that the problem with Young Aragorn is that he cannot really progress as a character until he encounters Frodo and the Ring. Such a project would be more of a travelogue with its protagonist forever unable to either become King of Gondor, marry Arwen, or complete an emotional journey with those events still handing in his future. Then again, Andor proved you can tell a compelling tale with a character whose fate is well-known to the audience with the right creatives at the helm.
Indeed, while it is fun to speculate on the characters and settings Warner can exploit with its Lord of the Rings license, it is all arm-chair producing until a writer or filmmaker comes aboard to set a proper course. Hopefully, it will be more unexpected than we think and dramatically satisfying once realized. In the meantime, though, Tom Bombadil waits by the edge of the Old Forest and wonders when he will get his movie deal.