5 Amazing 'Lord of the Rings' Movies We'll Never See
With The Hobbit! Episode 3: The Revenge of the Smaug limping drunkenly into theaters next week, it's finally time to bid an exhausted farewell to the fever dream that has been Peter Jackson's contractually obligated second run in Middle-earth. So this seems like as good a time as any to inject a little fucking life into that franchise and explain to you how the Lord of the Rings movies were almost crazy different.
See, Jackson wasn't the first person to try to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's work -- a few others got damn close. And most of those movies would've been fucking insane. For example, we have ...
The One Starring The Beatles (and Directed by Stanley Kubrick)
Movie casting's a tough call: sometimes a weird choice like Heath Ledger as The Joker turns out to be amazing, and sometimes a seemingly dead-on choice like Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi ends up just boring. So I'm not going to sit here and say that I have some kind of superpower when it comes to anticipating how movies would've worked out, and I don't want to overstate things, but Paul McCartney almost played Frodo Baggins, and that would've been the greatest goddamn thing to ever happen to this planet.
In the 1960s, The Beatles approached a young, barely known filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick (The Fucking Shining, 2001: A Space Fucking Odyssey, Full Fucking Metal Fucking Jacket) to see if he wanted to do a film version of Tolkien's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. In addition to Paul as Frodo, John would've played Gollum, George was going to be Gandalf, and Ringo would've been Samwise Freaking Gamgee.
The craziest part of this is that every Beatles movie is basically an extended music video, meaning that The Beatles likely almost turned Lord of the Rings into a rock opera. Think Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, only with a Balrog.
Instead, all we got is these dorks' version, which is -- ugh -- fine.
On top of that, the whole thing would've been directed by one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. This just raises so many questions. Would Harrison have worn a fake beard, or would he have just grown his own out? What ridiculous special effects would they have used to make Paul and Ringo short enough to be hobbits? What about all the murder, guys? And, perhaps most pressing of all, how would the notoriously fastidious directing of Stanley "Screams at Shelley Duvall Until She Has a Nervous Breakdown" Kubrick have clashed with the notoriously stoned-all-the-time acting style of the Fab Four? Follow-up question: can we invent time travel so we can go back and make this happen?
The Sadomasochistic Soft-Porn Version Directed by John Boorman
John Boorman is an English director best known for Deliverance and Zardoz and ya know what? I'm not even going to say it's weird to go from those two flicks to Lord of the Rings. After all, Jackson's last movie before New Line hired him to do Fellowship was The Frighteners, a comedy/horror/drama/romance in which Michael J. Fox battles ghost Jake Busey, and just before that he did Heavenly Creatures, a true story about teenage murderers. So I'm not gonna say having Boorman direct would've automatically made this movie crazy. The script might have, though.
See, basically everything that ended up being part of Boorman's Excalibur was originally developed for Lord of the Rings -- and it's freaking nuts. For example, there's a part where Aragorn, Boromir, and teenage-ghost-Arwen all make out with their swords and each other. Then there's the sex scene between Frodo and Galadriel, which happens right before he stares into her mirror. Hey, I just discovered a new euphemism!
I also discovered that it's very easy to find Elijah Wood's O-Face.
The scene where they find their way into Moria is also different: in the story we know, Frodo (Gandalf in the books) realizes that "speak 'friend' and enter" is the "eats shoots and leaves" of Middle-earth, and the door magically opens when they speak the Elvish word for "friend." In Boorman's version, Gandalf wraps Gimli in a burlap sack and beats him until he remembers. That's not Lord of the Rings, that's the porno I'm surreptitiously downloading while I write this.
Guillermo del Toro's The Hobbit
Most people who obsessively follow every bit of Lord of the Rings trivia to the detriment of their personal lives know that Peter Jackson never actually intended to direct The Hobbit -- his (and everyone else's) original first choice was Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy). Now, again, I try to avoid the wanton use of hyperbole, but this would've been the greatest thing to ever happen.
See, Lord of the Rings is great largely by chance -- Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) has mentioned that Jackson sorta went nuts with the CGI after the success of Fellowship of the Ring, but this isn't as big a problem as it could have been because it fits with the theme of the series, which is about leaving the comforts of safe familiarity and exploring a larger, weirder world full of surprises. So we can forgive a bit of computer-generated craziness.
A little bit.
But these sensibilities don't really fit with The Hobbit, which is a far smaller story than Lord of the Rings. Jackson couldn't have dialed it back. But del Toro -- I mean, pre-Pacific Rim del Toro -- lived in the world of small-scale, haunting, and strange movies, and you can piece together an idea of what his Hobbit might have looked like. To see how he might have done a character like Gollum, check out Cronos or The Devil's Backbone:
To get a sense of how he might have tackled the surreal, haunting nature of Mirkwood, check out Pan's Labyrinth:
The doofy, outcast-tinged heroism of the dwarves? Bam, sucker: he did that in Hellboy:
And the giant robot fight that happens during the Battle of the Five Armies, when Thorin and all the dwarves put their weapons together and magically transform into Dwarftron? That's just like Pacific Rim!
It seems so obvious in retrospect!
Or you could, you know, just go watch and enjoy those movies on their own merits, because, man, what a weird and wonderful filmmaker.
And things only get weirder from here, because we also almost got ...
The Version Co-Written by Tolkien Himself
Though many modern movie adaptations don't seem to give a flying fuck what the original author thinks (in fact, I'm pretty sure Kubrick is openly mocking Stephen King in The Shining), back in 1957 things were pretty different -- at least for Tolkien. The first people to try to adapt his movie (as a cartoon, obviously) sent him a script and concept art, and ol' J.R.R. loved the concept art so much that he sent detailed notes back about the script (which he thought was pretty shitty). Based on what I know about Tolkien (I have read The Silmarillion more than once), and based on his reactions, I'm pretty sure that if this movie ended up being made he would've essentially written it. And that would've been awesome.
Here's the thing: the script Tolkien got makes this really weird mistake where it describes orcs as having beaks and feathers. That seems like an insane error today, because the orc has integrated itself into popular culture, but back when these books came out, nobody really knew what an orc was. They were just human-shaped monsters. Over the years, the depictions have included the weird, glowy-eyed monsters of Ralph Bakshi's cartoon version:
The green-skinned monsters from Warcraft:
And, of course, Jackson's versions, which most closely resemble deformed elves (which is, canonically, what they are):
But had this cartoon version been made, we would've seen orcs -- and, in fact, all of Tolkien's mythology -- brought to life in a way that he personally oversaw. And we know Tolkien would've taken this movie seriously, because the Middle-earth Legendarium was his entire life. He created entire languages and rich backstories for this world, remember -- part of the reason Jackson's films are able to be so intricately detailed (aside from the criminally insane dedication) is that there is intricate detail in the story already. They didn't have to make any of it up.
And the kicker? Even though Tolkien hated the script, he was confident it could be fixed and promised not to sell the rights to anyone else for six months while they worked on a new draft. The producers wanted a year, but Tolkien wouldn't give them that much time without some money, so the whole thing fell apart.
That would probably have been the best version of any of these -- or at least the most valuable to dedicated Tolkien dorks like myself. But the coolest version? The craziest version? The version that makes my inner 8-year-old spontaneously combust into flames of giddy stupid glee? That'd be ...
The Silmarillion Cinematic Universe
OK, so this is apparently nowhere near close to ever happening, and is more realized in my head than anywhere that actually exists. But if you will allow me to stretch my premise here, just a teeny tiny bit, I will describe for you the coolest thing you've ever heard.
See, The Silmarillion as a single story is essentially unfilmable, because it's the Bible of Middle-earth. A lot of it reads like notes Tolkien left to himself, explanations of how the universe was created so Tolkien can keep the little details consistent in The Lord of the Rings -- the real story -- so reading through The Silmarillion is something of a slog. But if you take the time to learn the hundreds of made-up words and keep track of the dozens of intersecting plotlines, you'll find some of the stories way bigger and cooler than the stuff you already know: we get a guy who bites a werewolf to death to protect his friend, an elf who sings her dead boyfriend back to life, a guy who battles dragons with a flying pirate ship, and entire armies of Balrogs.
"But how would that impact the smoke detectors?"
Oh, goodness. The smoke detectors would be the least of your problems.
Now, remember when I said that The Hobbit doesn't fit Jackson's style, because it forces him to go smaller-scale when that's clearly not what he wants to do? Silmarillion isn't smaller-scale at all, because Balrog army, you guys. It's the exact same kind of escalation that worked for Alien and Aliens: a mysterious, under-explained monster getting explored in a way that makes it, somehow, even more terrifying. And, best of all, we wouldn't have had to worry about continuity snarls because Tolkien (and his son, Christopher, after J.R.R. died) sorted all that shit out a long-ass time ago (the first draft of The Silmarillion was actually written and submitted to publishers before the first words of The Lord of the Rings book were ever written).
So, what's the hold up? It turns out Christopher Tolkien won't give Jackson the rights, because he doesn't like what's been done with his father's life's work. And that, my friends, is ... shit. It's completely understandable, and even admirable, since he's probably giving up an infinite number of money dollars in the name of protecting his father's legacy. And you know what? If more people behaved like you, Chris Tolkien, the world would be an objectively better place.
You pretentious English butt.