This week we’ve all begun to say our goodbyes to the Tolkien movie franchise as The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies hits theaters, but why does this have to be the end? Well, there’s lots of reasons actually, and we’ll get into that in a minute, but I’m still going to sit here and wave my flag and declare that we need a LOT more Tolkien movies, and Peter Jackson needs to direct all of them.
He gave us all a little hope this week when he told Variety that he had an interest in moving forward within the franchise:
If I had to start tomorrow, I would say no, because I definitely would appreciate a break to clear my head and get my little New Zealand stories done, which is where my passion and my heart is heading now. But ask me in two or three years, and I’d probably say yes. It would be hard to see another filmmaker go into this world, because I certainly have an emotional ownership of it.
It’s obviously a long shot and nowhere near a confirmation, but it certainly goes a long way in giving fans of his work the hope that we may see something more in the future. The problem is that it goes way deeper than just Peter wanting to do it. Prepare for a history lesson.
The bottom line is that Tolkien’s work is incredibly hard to adapt for the big screen. His stories are epic and take place in a universe that he has fleshed out so completely that it’s easy to miss many of his references. He uses an incredible amount of detail when writing his scenes, and he carefully crafts his stories in a way that removing any little detail could affect the greater understanding of the plot. It’s a world that is so unbelievably large that it’s actually quite daunting for a screenwriter to tackle confidently. It was Peter Jackson and his parter Fran Walsh that decided it was worth it to take on the task.
Script writing for The Lord of the Rings trilogy (back then it was only two films) started in 1997 with filming taking place between 2001 and 2002. The final film finished editing in November 2003, meaning Jackson spent six years completely immersed in the film trilogy. He and Walsh worked tirelessly to craft a story that was as true to Tolkien’s original work as possible, while still having the integrity of a solid motion picture trilogy, and quite frankly, they managed it beautifully. They hired a truly incredible crew of people to bring Tolkien’s complex world to life, with the tiniest details in set creation, costume design, and makeup creating an immersive world for moviegoers. I honestly have never seen this amount of dedication and respect go into adapting a book into a movie. At the end of the day, however, sacrifices had to be made, including cutting characters and scenes (*cough* Tom Bombadil) and developing smaller roles into more prominent ones (*cough* Arwen), but it’s something fans have learned to understand about the process of turning thousands of pages into film.
He was asked several times if he would ever do The Hobbit, but he always responded that the LotR took a lot out of him and he didn’t see himself doing a movie of that scale again. “Doing three movies with the complexity and detail that all these films have is something I probably will never want to do again in my, this is the first and only time,” he said in an interview. Still, he had expressed serious interest in tackling The Hobbit in the 90s and New Line Cinema wanted to see it come into fruition.
The Hobbit faced one major obstacle though, and that was movie rights. A man named Saul Zaentz owned the film production rights to The Hobbit and LotR, which was easy enough to acquire, but United Artists still owned the distribution rights, which made it difficult for Peter Jackson to continue on with his team with New Line Cinema. When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought United Artists they expressed interest in teaming up with New Line Cinema in order to get the movie off the ground.
The issues didn’t stop there, however. While Peter Jackson was set to produce The Hobbit movies (then, two movies) in the beginning, a lawsuit he filed with New Line Cinema over claims of lost revenue from merchandising, video, and computer games releases associated with The Fellowship of the Ring halted progress. New Line co-founder Robert Shaye accused Jackson of being greedy and declared that he would never again direct for them. The dispute didn’t last long, as Shaye tried repairing his relationship with the director later that year claiming he’d be happy to have Peter involved with The Hobbit in some major way.