Weighing the pros and cons of a lack of Peter Jackson.
It was recently announced that Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series would be focusing on Aragorn, news that was understandably well-received by Tolkien fans. Up until now, it was largely thought that Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, would be without a doubt returning to Middle Earth in some capacity. However, it has been confirmed by Jackson himself that he will not be working on the project, saying that he is “not involved at all in the Lord of the Rings series.” He later clarified that he is still helping with “putting the creative team together,” but that he “would not want to be the one responsible for the entire TV series.” Things appear to be quite unclear at the moment, but it raises the question: what does this mean for the newest entry in the Middle Earth franchise?
Released in 2001, The Fellowship of the Ring brought J. R. R. Tolkien’s works into a modern context, redefining the fantasy genre while establishing Peter Jackson as a visionary filmmaker. Jackson, alongside screenwriter Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, created a trilogy that seemingly appealed to a variety of audiences, from Tolkien enthusiasts to those who otherwise wouldn’t go anywhere near a fantasy film– whilst still managing to clean up at the Oscars. But things change.
The response to The Hobbit trilogy was… less enthusiastic. While still liked by some, these films didn’t manage to inspire in the way The Lord of the Rings had. Many felt that Jackson had lost his once bright spark. Numerous fans have attempted to get to the heart of this issue, with Lindsay Ellis’ exceptional video series being the most enlightening, revealing that the problems with The Hobbit owe a considerable debt to the messy struggle between various studios and producers. Behind the scenes footage showed an exhausted Jackson trying his best to battle rapidly approaching deadlines in order to cobble together something resembling a coherent film.
Somewhere on this grueling production, Jackson appeared to fall out of love with Middle Earth, at least for a time, and the announcement of his lack of involvement in the new Amazon series can easily be seen as a positive. After all, Jackson’s baggage from the punishing experience of The Hobbit may not be the best starting point for this new show. Perhaps what it needs is a fresh perspective, one that can do for this series what Jackson did for the movies, and maybe he just isn’t the person to do that.
Though in all honesty, how many filmmakers like Peter Jackson are there? How many people would be bold enough to unapologetically make 2005’s King Kong, in all its 187-minute glory? How many could have been the guiding hand in creating a fantasy world that is so memorable, so immersive, that almost all depictions of fantastical settings since owing at least a debt to Lord of the Rings? And would someone else’s interpretation of Middle Earth be more imitation than visionary creation?
At this point, it’s difficult to tell. All cinematic depictions of Middle Earth, at least those in live action, have been directed by Jackson and we currently have no frame of reference for how it would look otherwise. The closest we’ve ever come to this was when Guillermo del Toro, a similarly visionary director with a passion for Tolkien, was attached to direct The Hobbit. But that version of events never saw the light of day, as del Toro dropped out of the project, forcing Jackson to step up to direct.
With his recent involvement in television (serving as writer and creator for Netflix’s Trollhunters and producing the upcoming 10 After Midnight), perhaps del Toro is the perfect candidate to spearhead this new series. While he’s already got a large number of projects in development after his big win at this year’s Oscars, he may be the creative voice that this new series is in need of.
All of this, as of now, is still uncertain. What we do know is that Peter Jackson taking a more hands-off role in Amazon’s Lord of the Rings has left big shoes to fill– shoes that won’t be filled so easily.