Middle-earth in film

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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 itself. 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 The Hobbit film series. There have also been fan films of Middle-earth such as The Hunt for Gollum and Born of Hope.

Collectively, the franchise has received a record 36 Academy Award nominations, winning 17, also a record. Along with The Godfather trilogy, it is one of two film series to date to have received 3 Best Picture nominations. The third film in Peter Jackson's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, was the first 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 threequel to win the award.

Early attempts[edit]

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[1] whose works Tolkien intensely disliked.[2] However, Tolkien was dissatisfied with the script[3] and the financial arrangements which would have brought him little profit. Thus the project was turned down.[4][5]

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".[5]

In 1966 William L. Snyder commissioned a 12-minutes film of cartoon stills from Gene Deitch, as related by Deitch himself.[6][7] This film was publicly screened in New York City.[6][8]

Contrary to widespread belief, the film rights to The Lord of the Rings were never held by Walt Disney.[9] In fact, Tolkien deeply disliked Disney's adaptations of fairy tales. The film rights were sold by Tolkien to United Artists in 1969. 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.[citation needed] Even though he briefly considered directing the film, Kubrick turned the offer down, as he felt the trilogy was unfilmable due to its immensity.[citation needed] Soon the plans for the film came to nothing because Tolkien didn't like the Beatles in the film.[10]

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.[11] Boorman corresponded with Tolkien about the project.[5][12] 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.[5][12][13] 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.[5][12][13]

Materials pertaining to Ackerman/Zimmerman/Brodax and Boorman's treatments, as well as Ralph Bakshi's (below) are stored in the Tolkien papers collection of Marquette University.[5]

Animated films[edit]

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.[14]

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.[15] Following John Boorman's attempt to adapt the books, Bakshi proposed that United Artists produce the story as three animated films.[11] 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.[11] 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.[11] 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.[16] 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.[11][17] The film cost $4 million to produce and grossed $30.5 million at the box office.[18] 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.[19] Despite this, the studio refused to fund the sequel, which would have picked up half-way through the story and adapted the remainder of the book.[11] The Lord of the Rings won the Golden Gryphon at the 1980 Giffoni Film Festival.[20]

In 1980, Rankin/Bass more or less completed what Bakshi had started with their own animated adaptation of The Return of the King,[21] based on their own concepts previously applied to their earlier animated adaptation of The Hobbit.

First live-action versions[edit]

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[22] 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, Mikhail Danilov, Anatoly Ravikovich, and Igor Dmitriev.

In 1993, the Finnish broadcaster Yle produced a live-action miniseries based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The nine episodes of Hobitit were aired on Yle TV1. The series was written and directed by Timo Torikka. Toni Edelmann composed the soundtrack.[23] Actors included Matti Pellonpää, Martti Suosalo, Vesa Vierikko, Ville Virtanen, Kari Väänänen, and Leif Wager.

Peter Jackson film series[edit]

The Lord of the Rings[edit]

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 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released on December 19, 2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on December 18, 2002 and The Lord of the Rings: 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).[24] The film trilogy also set a record for the total number of Academy Awards won, tallying a total of seventeen Oscars.[25] Critical acclaim has commonly hailed the trilogy as "the greatest films of our era,"[26] and "the trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal."[27][dead link]

On the other hand, some readers of the book decried certain changes made in the adaptation, including changes in tone,[28][29] 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.

The trilogy's defenders assert that it is a worthy interpretation of the book, most changes stemming from the filmmakers putting the book into a modern context[citation needed], rearranging the events into a chronologically linear narrative (as opposed to Tolkien separating the two main story threads into two separate parts for The Two Towers and most of The Return of the King), and their perceived need for developing characters further or for sheer timing issues.[citation needed] In any case, the films proved popular with general audiences (i.e. non-readers) and readers alike.

The Hobbit[edit]

A three-part epic fantasy film directed by Peter Jackson is set for release in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The three parts, titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and The Hobbit: There and Back Again,[30] are being filmed back to back and are in production in New Zealand; principal photography began on 21 March 2011.[31] The first film was released on 14 December 2012, the second was released on 13 December 2013, and the third film is set to be released 17 December 2014.[30]

The films will star Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins,[32] Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug.[33] Several actors from The Lord of the Rings will reprise 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 are 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 will generally be 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, has confirmed his role in all three parts of the film project.[34]

Fan films[edit]

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.[35]

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.[36] Like The Hunt for Gollum, this film triggered reviews in various media.[37]


Character Animated films Peter Jackson films
The Hobbit
The Lord of the Rings (1978) The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings The Hobbit
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
An Unexpected Journey
The Desolation of Smaug
There and Back Again
Bilbo Baggins Orson Bean Norman Bird Orson Bean Ian Holm   Mentioned Ian Holm Martin Freeman (young)
Ian Holm (old)
Martin Freeman
Frodo Baggins   Christopher Guard Orson Bean Elijah Wood  
Gandalf John Huston William Squire John Huston Ian McKellen
Gollum Brother Theodore Peter Woodthorpe Brother Theodore Andy Serkis  
Aragorn II Elessar   John Hurt Theodore Bikel Viggo Mortensen  
Samwise Gamgee   Michael Scholes Roddy McDowell Sean Astin  
Meriadoc Brandybuck   Simon Chandler Casey Kasem Dominic Monaghan  
Peregrin Took   Dominic Guard Sonny Melendrez Billy Boyd  
Legolas Greenleaf   Anthony Daniels   Orlando Bloom   Orlando Bloom
Gimli   David Buck   John Rhys-Davies     Mentioned  
Boromir   Michael Graham Cox   Sean Bean  
Arwen Evenstar   Liv Tyler  
Elrond Cyril Ritchard Andre Morell Paul Frees Hugo Weaving   Hugo Weaving
Galadriel   Annette Crosbie   Cate Blanchett
Saruman   Fraser Kerr   Christopher Lee   Christopher Lee
Thorin Oakenshield Hans Conried     Mentioned   Richard Armitage
Dwalin Jack DeLeon   Graham McTavish
Balin Don Messick     Mentioned   Ken Stott
Kíli Jack DeLeon   Aidan Turner
Fíli Jack DeLeon   Dean O'Gorman
Dori John Stephenson   Mark Hadlow
Nori Jack DeLeon   Jed Brophy
Ori Jack DeLeon     Non-speaking role   Adam Brown
Oin Jack DeLeon   John Callen
Gloin Jack DeLeon   John Rhys-Davies   Mentioned Peter Hambleton
Bifur Jack DeLeon   William Kircher
Bofur Jack DeLeon   James Nesbitt
Bombur Paul Frees   Stephen Hunter
Théoden   Philip Stone Don Messick   Bernard Hill  
Éowyn     Non-speaking role Nellie Bellflower   Miranda Otto  
Éomer   Karl Urban  
Faramir   David Wenham  
Treebeard   John Westbrook   John Rhys-Davies  
Gríma Wormtongue   Michael Deacon   Brad Dourif  
Denethor   William Conrad   Mentioned John Noble  
Sauron   Sala Baker
Alan Howard (voice)
  Mentioned Sala Baker
Alan Howard (voice)
Benedict Cumberbatch (as "The Necromancer")
The One Ring   Non-speaking role Alan Howard (voice)   Non-speaking role Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)   Non-speaking role
Smaug Richard Boone     Mentioned     Non-speaking role Benedict Cumberbatch
Celeborn   Marton Csokas   Marton Csokas  
Thranduil Otto Preminger     Mentioned   Lee Pace
Dain II Ironfoot     Mentioned   Billy Connolly
Dís     Mentioned  
Beorn   Mikael Persbrandt
Radagast   Sylvester McCoy
Tauriel   Evangeline Lilly
Bard the Bowman John Stephenson   Luke Evans
Bain   John Bell
Tilda   Mary Nesbitt[38]
Sigrid   Peggy Nesbitt[38]
Master of Lake-town   Stephen Fry
Alfrid   Ryan Gage
Haldir   Craig Parker  
Gamling   Bruce Hopkins  
Madril   John Bach  
Isildur   Harry Sinclair   Harry Sinclair  
Gil-galad   Mark Ferguson  
Elendil   Peter McKenzie  
Thrór   Jeffrey Thomas   Mentioned Jeffrey Thomas
Thráin II   Michael Mizrahi (old)
Thomas Robins (young)
Michael Mizrahi (old)
Girion     Extended Edition only Luke Evans  
Witch-king of Angmar   John Stephenson Brent McIntyre
Shane Rangi
Andy Serkis (voice)
Lawrence Makoare
  Non-speaking role   Mentioned  
King of the Dead   Paul Norell  
Lurtz   Lawrence Makoare  
Uglúk   Nathaniel Lees  
Grishnákh   Stephen Ure  
Sharku   Jed Brophy  
Snaga   Jed Brophy  
Gothmog   Lawrence Makoare  
Gorbag   Stephen Ure  
Shagrat   Peter Tait  
Bolingúl   Jed Brophy  
Great Goblin John Stephenson   Barry Humphries  
Azog   Manu Bennett
Bolg   Lawrence Makoare
Yazneg   John Rawls  
Fimbul   Stephen Ure  
Grinnah   Stephen Ure  
Goblin scribe   Kiran Shah[39]  
Narzug   Benjamin Mitchell  
Tom Paul Frees      Non-speaking role   William Kircher  
Bert Paul Frees      Non-speaking role   Mark Hadlow  
William Don Messick      Non-speaking role   Peter Hambleton  
Barliman Butterbur   Alan Tilvern   David Weatherley  
Butterbur Snr.   Richard Whiteside  
Betsy Butterbur   Katie Jackson  
Bill Ferny   Dallas Barnett  
Rosie Cotton   Sarah McLeod   Sarah McLeod  
Everard Proudfoot   Noel Appleby   Noel Appleby  
Gaffer Gamgee   Norman Forsey   Mentioned  
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins   Elizabeth Moody     Mentioned  
Otho Sackville-Baggins   Peter Corrigan  
Ted Sandyman   Brian Sergent  
Old Noakes   William Johnson  
Farmer Maggot   Cameron Rhodes  
Fredegar Bolger   Norman Cates  
Elanor Gamgee   Alexandra Astin  
Belladonna Took   Sonia Forbes-Adam  
Old Took   Dan Hennah  
Háma   John Leigh  
Éothain   Sam Comery  
Théodred   Paris Howe Strewe  
Déagol   Thomas Robins  
Irolas   Ian Hughes  
Mouth of Sauron   Don Messick   Bruce Spence  
Braga   Michael Mitchinson
Lindir   Bret McKenzie   Bret McKenzie   Bret McKenzie
Galion   Craig Hall  
Círdan   Michael Elsworth   Michael Elsworth  
Glorfindel   Jarl Benzon   Jarl Benzon  


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  36. ^ Born of Hope homepage
  37. ^ Ide, Wendy (12 February 2010). "Born of Hope". Times Online. London: Times Newspapers Limited. Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
    "Movies Editor" (11 February 2010). "Lord of the Rings prequel for just £25,000". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
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