Amazon’s just-announced Lord of the Rings series carries with it the inescapable sense of make or break for the service. Its television output is divided between 1) rampantly depressing comedies about disaffected urbanites who waft their hands listlessly through beams of sunlight in their apartments in lieu of telling any jokes, and 2) Jeremy Clarkson wincing and belching while attempting to ward off gout.
But Lord of the Rings could be its Game of Thrones. It could be the big, expensive, prestigious breakout show that finally pushes Amazon over the edge.
But it won’t be – for all sorts of reasons. First, the initial reaction to the Lord of the Rings show was a heavy, sustained groan that could be heard the world over. No one is remotely excited about the adaptation. Even to the most enthusiastic Tolkien fan, it’s just another needless dilution of a work that exists best in print form.
The rest of us, meanwhile, feel like we’re being bludgeoned to death by an unseen malevolent force. The most recent Hobbit movie is only three years old, yet JRR Tolkien’s world is being broken up, reassembled and repackaged again for further consumption. It reeks of cynicism. This isn’t Peter Jackson at the turn of the century announcing a sumptuous adaptation of an unadaptable work 65 years in the making; it’s an online shop making a show about the film about Tim from The Office that only just came out three Christmases ago.
It’s not like anyone needs anymore Lord of the Rings. If you decided to watch all the extended versions of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films consecutively when you got home from work at 7pm one night, you would still be watching them at 4pm the next day. Anyone who remembers the battle of wills they undertook with their bulging bladder as The Return of the King lumbered into its 12th consecutive final scene will know what a slog those films can be. The thought of a multiseason version of this, with the contractual possibility of a spin-off, is enough to bring you out in hives.
Most worrying of all, however, is the news that the new series isn’t going to be based on anything JRR Tolkien wrote. It will be a prequel that ditches the canon in order to explore the events between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, events so dull that Tolkien didn’t bother committing them to paper. Even if Amazon manages to claw a meaningful story out of this deliberate lull, there’s no guarantee it will be good. Game of Thrones went horrendously off the rails as soon as it let go of the books. And don’t forget the wholly unnecessary third Hobbit film, which stretched a two-and-a-half hour movie out of three pages of a novel. Watching it felt like having someone batter the IQ out of you with a tray.
Realistically, the best the series can do is not disappoint people. The worst it can do is junk the franchise forever. That seems like too big a gamble, especially for a service that makes most of its money delivering cat food.