Amazon's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has already made history by breaking the record for most instances of the word "rings" in a TV show title, at least until the inevitable spin-off The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The Fellowship of the Rings Begins comes out. But this momentous achievement was only possible after sorting a series of massive legal and logistical headaches, like ... 

Amazon Had To Pay $250 Million Before Even Making An Episode

 

If the estimated cost of $1 billion dollars for five seasons holds true, Rings of Power will be the most expensive TV show ever -- you could make 80,000 episodes of Friends for that money, or exactly one million episodes of Married ... with Children. A big chunk of that is due to the fact that Amazon paid $250 million just for the rights to make the show. As in, before paying a single actor, overworking a single CGI artist, or buying a single wig, this show had already spent 88% of the budget of the three Lord of the Rings movies combined (or 17857% of the budget of Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood). 

Lephrechaun with a bong from Leprechaun 6.

Lionsgate Home Entertainment

And unless the dwarves quickly discover bongs in the next episode, this will never be as good as Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood

It probably didn't help that the Tolkien Estate was aware during negotiations that Jeff Bezos is 1) a lifelong Tolkien nerd and 2) insanely rich on a historically inhuman scale. If he'd just pretended to be more of a Harry Potter guy and refrained from publicly blowing money on space trips and stuff like that, he could have easily shaved off a hundred million or two.  

Plus, it was also in the public record that Bezos had been desperate for Amazon Studios to come up with the "next Game of Thrones" for years, at one point even calling the entire Amazon Studios team to Seattle and giving them a list of 13 specific things he needed in a fantasy show. Tolkien's work presumably checks most of the items on that GOT-ripoff checklist, except maybe for "dongs" and "dongs again."  

Basically, the Tolkien Estate knew they could squeeze Bezos for as much as they wanted, so they did. Hopefully, by the time the show is over, they'll have enough money to travel to Venus and terraform it into an actual Middle-earth. 

There Are Strict Legal Limits To What Can And CAN'T Be On The Show

 

Rings of Power is set in Middle-earth's Second Age, which means they're stretching that five-minute prologue at the start of the first movie into an estimated "50 hours of television." Uh, spoilers for all five seasons, we guess. 

The good news is that Tolkien wrote extensively about the Second Age in works like The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth. The bad news is that Amazon can't touch any of them. See, that $250 million only got them the rights to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, which means the writers had to scour those books for any reference to the Second Age they could find. For instance, they can't use the pages and pages about Elven King Gil-galad (played by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's Benjamin Walker) in The Silmarillion, but they can use the lyrics to the song about him included in Fellowship of the Ring, performed here in its entirety by someone in the appropriate attire: 

At the same time, the writers are strictly monitored so that they don't contradict any of that stuff they can't even show. They did make an exception for one thing: condensing the timeline of the Second Age so that human characters don't go from babies to wrinkly corpses in every episode. 

The writers also have to be careful not to retcon the Peter Jackson movies (to avoid confusing the audience) while making it clear enough that this is legally NOT set in the same universe, per the details of the contracts Amazon signed with the Tolkien Estate. New Line Cinema is involved with the show because they hold the license to the movies, obviously, but not that involved because this has nothing to do with the movies, obviously. One of the lawyers called this "the most complicated deal I've ever seen" -- we're assuming each contract is 400 pages long and includes appendices, song lyrics, and lengthy digressions about #$%@ing Tom Bombadil being a weirdo. 

Some Important People Already Left The Show (Or Were Never In It)

 

Speaking of the movies, you might remember stories from 2018 about Amazon saying they wanted Peter Jackson to be involved with the show, so what happened with that? Easy: they ghosted him. Jackson says they called him and offered to show him some scripts … then just never did.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, what happened was that Amazon was all for bringing Jackson in (even if just for, say, a Stan Lee-ish cameo as a Dwarf), but the Tolkien Estate wanted nothing to do with him. Not just because the show is supposed to be legally distinct from the movies but also because Tolkien's son hated Jackson's films, which the Estate had no control over. Other family members, while far more diplomatic, have talked about how they don't think J.R.R. himself would have been hooting at the cinema. 

Another factor that probably contributed to Jackson's un-involvement is that at least one Amazon exec who was eager to work with him, Sharon Tal Yguado (who also helped negotiate the deal), isn't working at Amazon anymore. Meanwhile, remember that teaser they dropped in 2019 to announce the creative team behind the show before it even had a name? One of them was Tom Shippey, "one of the world's leading academic experts on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien" according to Wikipedia and a familiar face for anyone who thought the LOTR extended editions weren't long enough and decided to watch the behind-the-scenes stuff and documentaries too. He's at 1:21 below: 

Shippey's presence gave legitimacy to the project for a number of diehard Tolkien fans ... so it's unfortunate that he left the show shortly after that trailer was posted, possibly for breaking his NDA in an interview. 

Around the same time, actor Will Poulter of Midsommar and "You guys are getting paid?" meme fame was announced as one of the leads, a mystery character called "Beldor." Everyone immediately saw through that and guessed that Poulter was playing Elrond because, well, look at those eyebrows:  

Unfortunately, Poulter left due to "scheduling conflicts" three months later, though we wouldn't be surprised if the Tolkien Estate made him leave because he might make people think a digitally de-aged Hugo Weaving is reprising his role from the movies. Plus, if you're paying $1 billion for a show, wouldn't you want a lead who has the decency of scheduling his conflicts with people instead of springing them unprompted? Foolish decision, Tolkien kids. 

The Cast And Crew Got Stuck In New Zealand For Almost Two Years

 

When Amazon and the Tolkien Estate signed that deal in 2017, one of the terms was that production of the show had to start within two years. And sure enough, by 2019, the writing was underway, and everyone was ready to hit the ground running and shoot two seasons back to back in 2020. And then ... 2020 happened. 

The around 800 members of the cast and crew had completed 25 days of shooting in New Zealand when they were told to stay home for a few weeks while that pesky new virus came and went. A month, tops. They ended up being trapped in the country for almost two years. Now, there are worse places to be than New Zealand during the pandemic, but this still meant that the actors (half of which were British) couldn't see their families or water their plants for way too long. We're assuming at least some of them came back home in late 2021 speaking like Wellington Paranormal characters.

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The upside is that New Zealand's closed borders meant that Amazon execs couldn't just fly into the set and give notes like, "Where are the dongs? This still isn't enough dongs." The downside to that upside is that this lack of executive meddling contributed to Amazon's dramatic decision to move the entire production out of New Zealand and into England for the second season, leaving much of the crew -- who had become a "fellowship" during the long lockdown -- heartbroken. 

On the other hand, since the movies were also shot in New Zealand (with much of the same crew members), that's one less resemblance for the Tolkien Estate to worry about. Curious. No, we're not saying they manufactured the virus to get their belated revenge on Peter Jackson, but only because we value our lives. 

Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment on every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com. 

Thumbnail: Amazon Studios, New Line Cinema 

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