Middle-earth in film
J. R. R. Tolkien's novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, set in Middle-earth, have been the subject of various film adaptations. There were many early failed attempts to bring the fictional universe to life in screen, some even rejected by the author himself; the first depictions of Middle-earth on film were realized in 1966 as a short cartoon film. In 1978 the first big screen adaptation of the fictional setting was introduced in The Lord of the Rings; the story was more or less completed with the animated television special The Return of the King. In 1985, Middle-earth was depicted in a live-action film for the first time by an adaptation produced in the Soviet Union. In 1993, a live-action television miniseries titled Hobitit was aired by the Finnish broadcaster Yle.
New Line Cinema released the first part of director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film series in 2001 as part of a trilogy and several actors and roles were introduced once again in a trilogy in The Hobbit film series. There have also been fan films of Middle-earth such as The Hunt for Gollum and Born of Hope, which were uploaded to YouTube on May 8, 2009 and December 11, 2009 respectively.
Collectively, the franchise has received a record 38 Academy Award nominations, winning 17, and one special award, also a record. Along with The Godfather trilogy, it is one of two film series to date to have received three Best Picture nominations. The third film in Peter Jackson's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, was the first and, as of 2017, only fantasy film to win Best Picture, as well as the second sequel to do so after The Godfather Part II. Furthermore, it is currently the only film to be the third in a series and win the award. Along with Titanic and Ben-Hur, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King holds the record for Academy Awards won by a single film and is the only one of the three films to win every category for which it was nominated.
In 1957, Tolkien received a film proposal from Forrest J. Ackerman, Morton Grady Zimmerman, and Al Brodax. The proposed film, a mix of animation, miniature work, and live action, was to be three hours long with two intermissions. Tolkien was enthusiastic about the film's concept art, described as akin to Arthur Rackham rather than Walt Disney whose works Tolkien intensely disliked. However, Tolkien was dissatisfied with the script and the financial arrangements which would have brought him little profit, thus the project was turned down.
Tolkien criticized the script for divergence to the tone of the book (such as a "fairy-tale" depiction of Lothlórien, as well as elements cut "upon which [the book's] characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends") and character representation (such as Sam leaving Frodo to Shelob and going on to Mount Doom alone), he also took issue with dialogue changes as regards to the "style and sentiment" of characters, and with intercutting between the storylines of Frodo and Aragorn. He suggested eliminating the battle of Helm's Deep to better emphasize the defense of Minas Tirith, as well as cutting characters out instead of diminishing their roles. Tolkien protested against added "incantations, blue lights, and some irrelevant magic" and "a preference for fights".
In 1966 William L. Snyder commissioned a 12-minute film of cartoon stills from Gene Deitch, as related by Deitch himself. This film was created in the Czech Republic and publicly screened in New York City.
The Beatles planned to do a live-action version with Paul McCartney as Frodo Baggins, Ringo Starr as Sam Gamgee, George Harrison as Gandalf, and John Lennon as Gollum; the group approached Stanley Kubrick to direct the film. Even though he briefly considered directing the film, Kubrick turned the offer down, as he felt the novel was unfilmable due to its immensity. Soon the plans for the film came to nothing because Tolkien didn't want the Beatles in the film. Tolkien sold the film rights to United Artists in 1969.
In the 1970s John Boorman was contracted by United Artists to direct an adaptation that would have collapsed the entire story into a single film. Boorman corresponded with Tolkien about the project. In the script by Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg, many new elements have been inserted or modified. Among other things, Gimli is put in a hole and beaten so he can retrieve the password to Moria from his ancestral memory, Frodo and Galadriel have sexual intercourse, Arwen is made into a teenaged spiritual guide with her role as Aragorn's love interest wholly transferred to Éowyn, and Aragorn’s healing of Éowyn takes place on the battlefield and given sexual overtones; the project ultimately proved too expensive to finance at that time. Again collaborating with Pallenberg, Boorman later made the Arthurian epic Excalibur where he used special effects techniques and locations intended for the Tolkien project.
The Hobbit, an animated version of the story produced by Rankin/Bass, debuted as a television movie in the United States in 1977. In 1978, Romeo Muller won a Peabody Award for his teleplay; the film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost to Star Wars.
Filmmaker Ralph Bakshi was introduced to the work of J. R. R. Tolkien by a director at Terrytoons in 1956. In 1957, he started trying to obtain the rights by convincing producers that the books could be animated. Following John Boorman's attempt to adapt the books, Bakshi proposed that United Artists produce the story as three animated films. Bakshi and Dan Melnick, then-president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, made a deal with United Artists to purchase the film rights to the story for $3 million, but the deal fell through when Melnick was fired from MGM. Bakshi contacted Saul Zaentz, who had helped finance Fritz the Cat, and persuaded him to produce The Lord of the Rings. United Artists agreed to produce the story as two films. Voice actors included Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scholes and John Hurt; the film incorporated the use of rotoscoping, brief snippets of cel animation, and live-action footage mixed with animation. Bakshi later regretted his use of the rotoscoping technique, stating that he made a mistake by tracing the source footage rather than using it as a guide. Once the film was completed, Bakshi was told that audiences would not pay to see an incomplete film, and The Lord of the Rings was released without any indication that a second part would follow, in spite of Bakshi's objections; the film cost $4 million to produce and grossed $30.5 million at the box office. Film critic Leonard Maltin said that it was one of only two major commercial successes in Bakshi's career, the other being Fritz the Cat. Despite this, the studio refused to fund the sequel, which would have adapted the remainder of the book series. The Lord of the Rings won the Golden Gryphon at the 1980 Giffoni Film Festival.
In 1980, Rankin/Bass more or less completed what Bakshi had started with their own animated adaptation of The Return of the King, based on their own concepts previously applied to their earlier animated adaptation of The Hobbit.
First live-action versions
The first live-action film depicting characters and stories of Middle-earth was shown in 1985 in the Soviet Union. Skazochnoye puteshestviye mistera Bilbo Begginsa Khobbita (Russian: Сказочное путешествие мистера Бильбо Беггинса Хоббита) [The Fabulous Journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit] was a film based on the events of The Hobbit. Shot in 1984 as a teleplay and produced in the framework of the children's TV series Tale after Tale (Russian: Сказка за сказкой), it featured actors such as Zinovy Gerdt as Narrator (Tolkien), Mikhail Danilov as Bilbo Baggins, Anatoly Ravikovich as Thorin and Igor Dmitriev as Gollum.
In 1991 there was another USSR adaptation, called Khraniteli (Russian: Хранители) [The Keepers], based on the events of The Fellowsip of the Rings, with Andrei Romanov as Frodo and Victor Kostetskiy as Gandalf; the music from the film was included in Andrei Romanov's album The music of Middle-Earth. Now this TV-film is lost.
In 1993, the Finnish broadcaster Yle produced a live-action miniseries called Hobitit ("The Hobbits"). Despite the name it was based on The Lord of the Rings rather than The Hobbit; but it included only the parts of the story that the hobbits had witnessed themselves (hence the title); the nine episodes were aired on Yle TV1. The series was written and directed by Timo Torikka. Toni Edelmann composed the soundtrack. Actors included Pertti Sveholm as Sam, Taneli Mäkelä as Frodo, Martti Suosalo as Bilbo, Matti Pellonpää as Saruman, Vesa Vierikko as Gandalf, Ville Virtanen as Legolas, Kari Väänänen (as Aragorn and Gollum in the same time) and Leif Wager as Elrond; this is the only official film adaptation which includes Tom Bombadil, the Barrow-wights and the scourging of the Shire.
Peter Jackson's film series
The Lord of the Rings
Miramax Films developed a full-fledged live action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, with Peter Jackson as director. Eventually, with Miramax owner Disney becoming increasingly uneasy with the sheer scope of the proposed project, Jackson was given the opportunity to find another studio to take over. In 1999, New Line Cinema assumed production responsibility (while Miramax executives Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein retained on-screen credits as executive producers); the three films were shot simultaneously. They featured extensive computer-generated imagery, including major battle scenes utilizing the "Massive" software program; the first film subtitled, The Fellowship of the Ring was released on December 19, 2001, the second film subtitled, The Two Towers on December 18, 2002 and the third film subtitled, The Return of the King worldwide on December 17, 2003. All three won the Hugo Award for Best (Long-form) Dramatic Presentation in their respective years.
The films were met with both critical and commercial success. Jackson's adaptations garnered seventeen Oscars, four for The Fellowship of the Ring, two for The Two Towers, and eleven for The Return of the King; these covered many of the award categories. The Return of the King in fact won all of the eleven awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture. With a total of 30 nominations, the trilogy also became the most-nominated in the Academy's history, surpassing the Godfather series' 28 (with the release of The Hobbit, the series currently has 36 nominations total), its 11 Oscars at the 2004 Academy Awards tied it for most awards won for one film with Titanic six years earlier and the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. It also broke the previous "sweep" record, beating Gigi and The Last Emperor (which each took 9 out of 9). The Return of the King also made movie history as the highest-grossing film opening on a Wednesday and was the second film after Titanic to earn over US$1 billion worldwide.
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is verified to be the currently highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, evidenced by its earning close to $3-billion (US); the film trilogy also set a record for the total number of Academy Awards won, tallying a total of seventeen Oscars. Critical acclaim has commonly hailed the trilogy as "the greatest films of our era," and "the trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal."
On the other hand, some readers of the book decried certain changes made in the adaptation, including changes in tone, various changes made to characters such as Aragorn, Arwen, Denethor and Faramir, as well as to the main protagonist Frodo himself, and the deletion of the next to the last chapter of Tolkien's work, "The Scouring of the Shire", a part he himself felt thematically necessary.
A three-part prequel based on The Hobbit and directed by Peter Jackson was released between 2012 and 2014; the three films are subtitled An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies. As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the prequel movies were filmed back to back in New Zealand; principal photography began on 21 March 2011; the first film was released on 14 December 2012, the second was released on 13 December 2013, and the third was released on 17 December 2014.
The films star Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. Several actors from The Lord of the Rings reprised their roles, including Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom; also returning for the production were a big part of the production crew; among others, illustrators John Howe and Alan Lee, art director Dan Hennah and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. As with the trilogy, props were generally crafted by Weta Workshop and visual effects managed by Weta Digital. Additionally, composer Howard Shore, who wrote the score for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, confirmed his role in all three parts of the film project. Following the release of The Battle of the Five Armies, Freeman reprised his role as Bilbo Baggins in the Saturday Night Live sketch known interchangeably either as The Office: Middle Earth or The Hobbit Office, alongside Bobby Moynihan, Taran Killam, Kyle Mooney and Kate McKinnon as Gandalf, Gollum, Legolas and Tauriel respectively as they take up office jobs; the skit explains that during the events of The Lord of the Rings, Tauriel remained working at this office. The skit is based on the fact that Freeman starred in the British series of The Office as Tim Canterbury.
- With additional credits.
- EE stands for Extended Edition.
The Hunt for Gollum, a fan film based on elements of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, was released on the internet in May 2009, it is set between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and depicts Aragorn's quest to find Gollum. The film's visual style is based on that of the Jackson films. Although it is completely unofficial, it has received coverage in major media.
Another fan made feature film, Born of Hope, produced and directed by Kate Madison, was released online on December 1, 2009 on Dailymotion and later on YouTube, it takes place before the events of The Hobbit. The film can be streamed freely on its main website. Like The Hunt for Gollum, this film triggered reviews in various media.
Box office performance
|Motion picture||Release date||Box office gross||Budget||Ref(s)|
|Worldwide||North America||Other territories|
|The Lord of the Rings||15 November 1978||$35.992.637||$30.471.420||$5.521.217||$4.000.000|||
|The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||19 December 2001||$871.530.324||$315.544.750||$555.985.574||$93.000.000|||
|The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers||18 December 2002||$926.047.111||$342.551.365||$583.495.746||$94.000.000|||
|The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King||17 December 2003||$1.119.929.521||$377.845.905||$742.083.616||$94.000.000|||
|The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey||14 December 2012||$1.017.003.568||$303.003.568||$714.000.000||$180.000.000|||
|The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug||13 December 2013||$960.366.855||$258.366.855||$702.000.000||$200.000.000|||
|The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies||17 December 2014||$955.119.788||$255.119.788||$700.000.000||$250.000.000|||
Public and critical reception
|The Hobbit (animated)||67%|
|The Lord of the Rings (animated)||50%|
|The Return of the King (animated)||67%|
|The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||91%||92||A−|
|The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers||95%||88||A|
|The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King||93%||94||A+|
|The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey||65%||58||A|
|The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug||74%||66||A-|
|The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies||60%||59||A-|
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