There may be very little in terms of detail for Amazon’s upcoming mammoth project bringing The Lord of the Rings to the small screen, but even in its very early stages it looks like it’s setting itself up for failure.
While no cast or crew, air dates, or even so much as a vague production schedule is known, we are aware of a few vital pieces of information. First, the series will be an Amazon exclusive, meaning it’ll only be available to subscribers of the Prime Video streaming service or to anyone who is signed up to Amazon Prime. Second, it’ll span a whopping five seasons with an up-front commitment, and thirdly, it’ll boast a budget in excess of $1 billion.
So if we just process that limited information for a moment, it immediately tells us that Execs at Amazon either have extraordinary faith in the greenlit production or are panic-competing with its rivals. Not only that but proclaiming it’ll endure for half a decade and to be throwing that sort of money around is not only bonkers but marks the dawn of a new era of TV spending power.
Despite nemesis Netflix throwing money at a number of new shows and original movies (see Annihilation for one of its recent successes), it appears Amazon are trying to outdo them and, in the process, inadvertently place themselves under enormous pressure.
To dedicate such resources and money (yes, it’s hard look past that billion-dollar budget right now) is setting itself up for a fall. Putting that sort of faith in a project means this show has to be the television event of the decade, if not century, as a ways of justifying its existence. There can be no half-baked ideas, performances, CGI, writing, or storytelling: this is expected to be groundbreaking and something to rival classic shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, and especially Game of Thrones.
Yet, with such responsibility in the hands of these fearless producers there lies a number of obstacles in its way.
Because of the money being invested here it has to be spectacular – anything that’s merely fun or entertaining won’t suffice; this needs to stun audiences on a global scale and be the show to replace Thrones which is by far the biggest show on the planet. A mixed reception simply won’t do for the lavish budget assigned.
But with that sort of expectation comes an even greater pressure of producing a story that’s tens of hours in length and needing to be different enough from the three movies Peter Jackson has already made.
Have J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories not already had justice given to them? After all, Jackson’s trilogy between 2001-2003 won a staggering 17 Oscars and had even more nominations (31 in total), so how can this possibly compete?
And significantly it’s worth asking whether we even need this in the first place. Who is screaming out for a LotR TV series? It’s hard to imagine anyone who has seen the films now demanding to spend an additional 30 hours of more of the same but likely not as good.
One simply cannot predetermine and manufacture a sure-fire global hit (unless you’re making the latest Star Wars or Fast and Furious movie, that is). Stranger Things was something of a whirlwind success after it had landed on Netflix but there certainly wasn’t the hype for it beforehand nor did anyone know how massive it would eventually become.
So what makes Amazon so confident in this franchise? Sure it may have a solid track record and a fanbase in place, but what audiences enjoyed 15 years ago isn’t necessarily going to be something that resonates in 2018.
There’s also the small issue of it being available on a subscription-based deal rather than it airing onto telly. In 2017, Netflix was miles ahead of its competitor with subscriber, and this year Forbes claim Netflix will have an estimated 128 million, with Amazon trailing on 85.3 million, and Hulu in third on 32 million; so it’s not even like Amazon is the market leader and can command the swagger to throw obscene amounts of cash about – but here we are.
Because Amazon Video isn’t even the biggest video streaming service out there, it means plenty of people will specifically need to sign up and pay to watch this series which, personally speaking, doesn’t feel like a juicy enough reason to attract new paying users to sign up.
I’m all for big, exciting, and adventurous television projects, don’t get me wrong. With brilliant TV like Westworld on its way back and the final season of Thrones with us next year; not only is it essential that The Lord of the Rings seriously raises its game to compete aforementioned but is already encumbered by the iconic, existing films that, many would say, perfectly encapsulate the essence of Tolkien’s work.
And this isn’t even addressing the small matter of assembling a better cast to shadow the likes of Elijah Wood, Sean Bean, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Viggo Mortensen, and the late Christopher Lee.