Why new Lord of the Rings will be a flop
WILL Amazon's new Lord Of The Rings TV series be the one thing to rule them all? Fat chance.
The retail-streaming giant said it has acquired the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's 1950s fantasy saga for a cool $329 million. Its plan is to turn the writer's Middle Earth stories into a five-season TV series by November 2019. It's not known yet what plots the show will focus on, but the project could cost Amazon over $1 billion.
And what timing! As most non-cave-dwellers know, Game of Thrones - arguably the most popular TV show in the world - will air its final season in 2019, sparking a cable and streaming-service battle for its sex-and-swords successor. But who will carry the torch when the Mother of Dragons' flame is extinguished?
Certainly not up to the task is HBO's Westworld, a creaky drama that plays like amateur-hour Isaac Asimov and somehow manages to turn hot sex robots into a snooze.
The network that airs Game of Thrones is also said to be working on an unprecedented four separate spin-off series, like GoT was Keeping Up With the Lannisters all along. But, more often than not, spin-offs don't find their footing. The Lone Gunmen (The X-Files), Joey (Friends), Law And Order: LA and many others have flopped.
The closest Netflix has come to true sci-fi success is the compelling, if not epic, Stranger Things. Netflix doesn't reveal viewership numbers, but it's safe to say that the likely figure does not match up to the 30 million people who watched the season seven premiere of GoT in the US alone.
Therefore, Lord Of The Rings is poised to be the most formidable usurper: It's got battles, British men with greasy shoulder-length hair, competing houses and creatures for days. But don't pop the champagne cork yet, Jeff Bezos.
What LOTR doesn't have is a chance in Mordor of matching the success of Game of Thrones.
We're not, after all, watching George R.R. Martin's fantasy drama for its historical parallels to the War of the Roses. If we were, Masterpiece would be the hottest property on TV.
No, we're in it for the suspense, the humour and - don't deny it - the sex.
Lord Of The Rings, as its critical acclaim and Best Picture Oscar will attest, is brilliant. But remember that it was written by an Oxford-educated linguistics professor, not a late-night comic. While it has its provincial charms - like those of The Great British Bake Off - it's just not very funny.
The Hobbit director Peter Jackson tried to inject some gags into that 2012 film, and fell flat on his face in the process. There are no delectably witty characters like GoT's Tyrion, Olenna or The Hound. Samwell Tarly is a hell of a lot funnier than Samwise Gamgee.
As for sex, that first Middle Earth story, The Hobbit, was actually told to Tolkien's young children as a bedtime story. So Elrond didn't do full-frontal and Bilbo never bared his behind. Nobody in Osgiliath is going to do Cersei's Walk of "Shame". This saga, as written, is Safe For Work. While Amazon could sex up the possible prequel, it's been said that they probably won't add new characters. And manly-man Middle Earth has never been a shining model of gender diversity.
Still, it's been 15 years since Jackson's Return Of The King, the final chapter of the movie series, blew moviegoers' minds. That might be enough breathing room, and the material is beloved across generations. The film trilogy alone raked in over $1 billion at the domestic box office.
But TV is a very different beast.
For instance, GoT usually pushes its big bloody skirmishes to the final two episodes of the season. The majority of the episodes play like a highly watchable, classy soap opera. Those tense, two-person moments are what keep us glued. But LOTR is jam-packed with battles, which don't play as well on TV. And its characters, by and large, are more concerned with the greater good and maps than with juicy interpersonal conflicts. It's just too big for the small screen.
Congratulations on finding The Ring, Amazon. But the shiny gold trinket might just turn you into a sad and desperate Gollum.