Come join the Southern California TORn staff and Tolkien fans on Saturday, September 18, 2021, as we celebrate Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ shared birthday in Griffith Park. The party will kick off at Noon, and run until about 6 pm. The biggest difference this year will be NO POTLUCK. Please bring enough food and drink for yourself and the group you will be attending with. As always, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses, and maybe a popup for shade are all good things to bring in order to stay comfortable. We are returning to the Mineral Wells section of Griffith Park, which is near the Harding Golf Course. Please head to the Baggins Birthday Bash Facebook event page for directions and a map. https://www.facebook.com/events/193623342558178/
While this event is scheduled for Saturday, September 18, the dual issues of COVID restrictions and/or Wildfires could become an issue this coming week. Should LA County trigger a restriction of large gatherings or a Wildfire trigger evacuations in the region of Griffith Park, we will post a Cancelation notice to the FB page first, and if there is time, post here on the main website as well.
As for COVID restrictions, the LA County guidelines recommend masking outdoors only in the case of a Mega Event, and that has only happened once. We are recommending everyone have a MASK with them, ready to wear near groups of people and remove when eating and drinking. The outdoor setting should afford us more than enough space to social distance if it makes you feel comfortable. We would PREFER if everyone attending was fully vaccinated, but none of us are qualified to verify the CDC card, so we won’t be asking.
The folks over on The Digital Bits have unearthed a breakdown of Warner Bros. forthcoming “Middle-earth 31-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition”. If you’re a collector, you’ll want to have a read of this before committing your hard-earned.
The Digital Bits says that Warner Bros. are close to an official announcement. They also report the set will include “the Theatrical and Extended versions of all six Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray (including the remastered Lord of the Rings films on Blu-ray).”
But, here’s the kicker.
They says that the new content is expected to be one Blu-ray bonus disc containing the 26-minute presentation reel shown at Cannes in 2001, and the Alamo Drafthouse cast reunion.
Further, The Appendiceswill not be included in this new set.
All that will set you back a total of 196 quid. Release is slated for October 26.
Staff reactions to the report are a bit mixed. Personally, I’m much more stoked for the Evangelion box sets that TDB mentions in the same article, while Staffer Earl suggests that:
So after waiting 20 years, the “ultimate” edition ends up having just the Cannes reel and some newly filmed reunion footage hosted by Colbert (hope it’s not some late night show format with his jokes and display of Tolkien knowledge)?
Uh oh! I sincerely hope that ain’t all.
To be honest, I’m inclined to think if this is it, then why bother with the 20th anniversary at all. But maybe this is great for truly hardcore fans who can afford to splurge on yet another version and can’t wait another 5 years.
If you are keen, though, check out the full, detailed breakdown over on The Digital Bits.
Well, we’re back – with Episode 2 of our collectibles themed podcast. (If you missed it, you can find Episode 1 here.) In this episode, we talk about the importance of having a clear concept of what you want your collection to be, what you want in that collection, and being open to when a special piece crosses your path. We think this topic is important when collecting, because it’s very easy to feel the need to have everything, and thus get overwhelmed and burned out. We hope you enjoy the podcast – and we’re already working on episode 3!
Guest writer Matthew Bossons brings us this fascinating look at how Tolkien fandom has made its way to China; and he reflects on whether Amazon’s upcoming Middle-earth series is likely to find fans there.
Panjiayuan is Beijing’s biggest and best-known antique market, regularly attracting orc-like hordes of tourists and locals alike to wander the warren of booths and stalls, both indoor and outside. All manner of old and made-to-look-old items are on offer here: jade carvings, stone Buddha statues, ancient coins, Chinese Communist Party pins and propaganda posters, replica Korean war medals and mounds of books.
On a brisk October day, while standing at a hawker stand specializing in old Chinese books – mostly Chairman Mao’s iconic ‘Little Red Book’ – I came across a curious title: The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, in English-language and hardcover form. The book, a collection of sketches and maps made by Tolkien, was published in 2015 and compiled by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull – both well-known scholars of the ‘father of high fantasy.’
For Many First-Timers, 4K Ultra High Def LOTR/Hobbit Causes a Need for Upgrades, so Take the Deep Breath Before the 4K Plunge
From Guest Columnist Oscar Villanueva; a comprehensive breakdown of 4K Television tech to help us understand and prepare for the upcoming 4K Releases of the LOTR and Hobbit Trilogies:
So here we are now near the end of a very agitated 2020, almost 20 years after the original cinema release of The Fellowship of the Ring, and we have yet another home video release of our beloved six-film Middle-earth Saga around the corner. It’s almost as if it was coming back to our aid, to remind us there’s still light out there that no shadow can touch, and is worth fighting for. But what’s different now is that it will do it with a new acquired dimension.
It seems home entertainment gear changes about every ten years or so, and sometimes we feel we can’t keep up with it, or maybe we are just not willing to since of course there are real priorities out there especially in these troubling days. And yes, we certainly don’t need to, but there’s also the variable of how much the uptick of that technology really is in play here, so for many of us that may be the actual determining factor.
So now we have this 4K technology almost everywhere, and along with it we often hear or read terms such as HDR, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and also a weird-sounding thing called “Wide Color Gamut,” and the only thing it achieves is adding more to our already confused consumer minds. We only want to enjoy the movies and shows we love without the troubles of even thinking where to start.
Thankfully as we are about to find out none of it is that complicated in reality, especially since all of those different technologies are out already there in our favorite stores, and what’s even better they often come in one single package, so the only place drama belongs in that regard is still movies themselves. Don’t worry we’ll keep it simple, but first let’s check some basics.
We’ve had FULL HD resolution for almost 15 years and we have used the term for all types of displays such as cinema, televisions, computers, even cellphones and most recently streaming services. Full HD in display gear means a high resolution image composed of 1920 pixels (horizontally) by 1080 pixels (vertically). In short is what blu-ray discs and players brought us the past decade.
This is the “newest” standard, or at least is increasingly becoming it as it is being adopted more and more by manufacturers and streaming services. 4K is a very high resolution image composed of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which in theory is four times Full HD, at least for the vertical part.
Here is where we enter the actual “new dimension” of 4K display technology, and no, we are not talking about 3D here nor will. HDR is a term we may have seen once in a while in professional photography gear, and maybe some cell phones, but although is the same basic concept, its application in home entertainment is totally different. It means High Dynamic Range hence HDR and it refers to difference, or range, between the brightest and the darkest part of the image. But then starts the interesting part; we are used to experience bright and dark sections of a single image, yes, but basically television sets always achieved this thanks to a combination of color and brightness, so when there’s the need to display something very bright lets say a sunset, that section of the screen turned very white or almost white, with little to non extra brightness from the tv, and of course the effect was successful, but for that to constantly work darkness could never be too dark and brightness could never be too bright, that is now called SDR or Standard Dynamic Range. Now what HDR tech allows is to have real deep darkness and real high brightness in one single shot giving images more of a real life quality and therefore a much more visceral feeling.
This one is just a refined form of HDR, developed by Dolby Laboratories, and maybe we should say it’s the ideal form of HDR. The issue with HDR is that it is not a defined standard in the sense that different movies are mastered at different luminance levels and this mastering may not fit our screen perfectly causing sometimes shadows or highlights eat up fine detail, this issue is also known as black crush and white clipping respectively. Well, none of this happens with Dolby Vision since basically it “communicates” with our display so it can set luminance and dark levels according to our TV’s capabilities, delivering the best HDR experience for our gear without any loss of detail.
Nit is the standard unit in which luminance levels of light sources are measured with, and this of course includes display sets. Common TVs have always been as bright as 300 nits, but now they can get to 500 nits in standard modes. But now with HDR they can get even higher, or should we say must? For a good HDR/Dolby Vision performance as designed a display must be capable of at least 700 nits of brightness, although ideally it would be about 1000 to fully appreciate the wide range of brightness and because is where the majority of films are mastered at. The only problem is that for a Tv to get a HDR certification it only needs to be able to reproduce the HDR algorithm but not necessarily to reach the levels of luminance, or nits, needed for a good HDR experience.
Wide Color Gamut
Also known as WCG this specification implies a wider range of color and tonalities. Whereas the full range of HD signal have always been the code named REC.709 color gamut, modern 4K UHD displays especially ones with HDR capabilities tend to reach the much wider BT.2020 color gamut, and although no display to this date can support the full spectrum of the BT.2020, they do reach the smaller DCI:P3 gamut which is contained in the BT.2020 one and is wider than REC.709 and is where the majority of UHD movies ara mastered at.
It’s a relatively new enhanced audio format also developed by Dolby Laboratories that allows extra channels or speakers to fire up from above the listening position. This means you can place speakers in your ceiling, or ones that fire up to the ceiling and bounce back to you, to create this dome-like environment of sound around you, making it an even more immersive experience.
Now, these are some of the basics but they are just half of the equation for there’s still something that would materialize all that theory; a display of course. In the past it may have been more difficult to look for something akin to our precise needs as we were used to picking without knowing more beyond what we saw in stores. But nowadays not only there are more display brands than ever but also information is out there in the form of written reviews and youtube videos reviews, and they all get there earlier than a wizard so we can really know what we are going to get before we get it, and that’s saying a lot.
So, then, what do I need in order to maximize enjoyment of the upcoming Middle-earth 4K releases?
Well, ideally it would be a display whereas be a TV set or a home projector that includes as much of the previous specifications as possible. There are a number of technologies available right now and for different “pocketses,” so once we decided to upgrade our home theater gear it shouldn’t be too difficult to find something that accommodates us.
Here are some display types we have within our reach:
This has been the basic flat TV for years now. This type of TV is traditionally lit up by a series of light tubes mounted behind the screen. Along with the now extinct Plasma TV they made flat and wider panels possible.
An LED TV is technically similar to a LCD TV but this one is backlit by LED (light-emitting diodes) which are usually placed in a row on the left and right edges behind the screen.
Limitations: Common issues with both types of TVs include very uneven brightness and light leaking from the edges.
Full Array LED
This type of TV is the best of the LED family since it can light up an specific segment of the screen while keeping the rest darkened thanks to its bigger number of led lights evenly placed throughout the back of the screen. It can achieve very high levels of luminance making HDR and Dolby Vision really work as were designed. This Full Array Local Dimming technology as is also known is commonly found in the ones marketed as Quantum TVs or QLED.
Limitations: One of the problems with having lights behind the screen is that no matter size or number of those lights, there always be some leaking of brightness outside the zone that is requiring that specific luminance, this is called Blooming. This may or not be noticeable to everyone, and although it happens it isn’t that distracting nor detract the HDR effect, specially in a well lit room.
This TV is composed of organic light-emitting diodes thus OLED, and that means each pixel emits its own light individually when stimulated by electricity. So what happens when there’s no need for color in the image? Well, it turns completely off creating absolute blackness and therefore producing what is called Infinite Contrast. Not only that but since each pixel can turn on and off independently luminance is perfectly delimited to the part of the image that needs it which is why OLED gives us the best image possible to date. While full array local dimming TVs can make images pop thanks to their high light output, OLEDs do it by going negative; absolute black giving images a level of contrast with an almost tridimensional pop feeling to them.
Limitations: Of course no tech is perfect, so here we have two main issues with OLED displays related in fact to its organic components. First they can’t get too bright, at least not as much as a LED TV because in doing so they run the risk of burning pixels out, which leads us to the second issue; image retention. If a static image is displayed for too long it can be burned into the screen and kept for hours, days or even weeks if not permanently. There are solutions now to avoid this problem included in more modern OLED TVs, but it’s something the technology can’t still get rid of completely.
These may come as a surprise for some people because we are so used to the idea of a projector only belonging to theaters or classrooms, but now by 2020 home theater projectors have increasingly become part of the repertoire of possibilities for our private cinema and gaming entertainment. Projectors nowadays have become more compact, more advanced and more affordable than ever, and of all types of displays we’ve mentioned they still deliver the most cinematic and immersive experience of all thanks to that cinema size screen they produce. And yes, they come with 4K resolution and support HDR too.
Limitations: Projectors are very different type of technology altogether as they produce images using a beam of light, which means that even dark areas of the screen will have to be delivered using some light, so even the darkest areas will not get as dark as a good full array tv, much less an OLED, and it’s because of this and the fact that we are watching reflected light instead of a source of light that HDR rendering is fairly limited compared to TVs. Also affordable projectors and even not so affordable are limited to REC. 709 color gamut. But make no mistake, with its high level of contrast within a dark room and (preferable) darkened walls and ceiling and a good reflective surface (screen) projectors deliver the most breathtaking experience with very natural images and very natural HDR and color rendering, all while being very pleasant to the eyes because let’s be real for a moment here, nobody’s eyes could actually bare a 120″ screen shooting direct light at them.
“Now… what does it say about *recommendations* my precioussss?”
Well In the end we get what our real life priorities allow us and thanks to the increasingly growing home video market, options are richer than ever and although there are enough of them for every pocket out there we will be focusing on just some of the top quality and more complete displays sets that are also somewhat “pocketses-friendly” at the same time, more of a mid range budget sets. The point being starting from here everyone can enjoy the new Lord of the Rings and Hobbit releases without losing any of the 4K advantages image quality wise.
Full Array LED TV recommendation:
Hisense H9G (55”65”) TCL Q635 (55”65”75”) Both of these models give you one of the bests budget friendly TV performances of recent years. Not only both support HDR and Dolby Vision, but they can output as much as 1000 nits of luminance gloriousness and in the case of the Hisense even a bit more than that delivering truly breathtaking 4k HDR/Dolby Vision images. Both are great at streaming too, with the TCL also being more game orientated. Oh and the Hisense H9G also comes with an integrated Dolby Atmos system.
Worth keeping an eye on: SONY Bravia X900H: One of the most popular full array LED displays to hit the market in 2020. This full array display delivers stunning, high-end HDR and Dolby Vision at a fairly affordable, mid-tier price point suitable for most people not concerned with OLED.
If we want to spend a little less then the Hisense H8G would be a great choice. It can output about as much as 700 nits which is still pretty good for HDR/Dolby Vision performance.
Also Note: We know Samsung is one of the most, if not *the* most popular QLED TVs manufacturer on the market, but although it’s really good its flagship TVs are the only ones that do justice to HDR representation but those are neither affordable enough nor a complete package as the brand don’t’ support Dolby Vision in any of their sets.
OLED TV recommendation: In this category we only had one contestant given we are focusing on what’s mid-range affordable while keeping good quality and complete offerings.
VIZIO OLED H1 (55″65″) The first OLED TV by Vizio comes not only with maybe the most budget friendly price for an OLED but also comes with just the right bunch of specifications that includes HDR and Dolby Vision. Of course being an OLED TV It can’t get as bright as a LED TV but it certainly produces an outstanding very popping image thanks to its infinite contrast ratio exclusive of this type of technology.
Worth keeping an eye on: Sony A9G OLED and LG C9X/CX. These are of course more expensive but one cannot know what those Black Friday winds can bring right to us.
Also Noting: Of course remember an OLED is prone to burn in or image retention and the more expensive models are the ones that have better protection against this.
Worth keeping an eye on: BENQ HT3550, EPSON UB5050/6050. Both of these projectors are a bit more expensive but their performance is also a bit better delivering great black levels and a wider color gamut.
Also Note: These are some of the most affordable home theater projectors. ‘Affordable’ may be a very relative term here, but these are as budget friendly as they can get and still deliver maybe the most cinematic experience possible in the intimacy of home. All of those also deliver true 4K images thanks to shifting technology and also produce beautiful HDR rendering. We should note that there’s no projector at the time that support Dolby Vision, just HDR/HDR10 but it sure looks gorgeous.
Lastly, we cannot simply walk into a 4K blu-ray collection without a 4K player, so here are some of the best affordable 4K player on the market right now:
Sony UBP X700 Sony UBP X800 Panasonic DP UB450
Worth to keep an eye on: Panasonic DP UB820, which is more expensive but delivers amazing image performance.
Also Note: These 4K players can play both HDR and Dolby Vision which no console is able to at the present time.
TheOneRing.net extends gratitude for the effort of our Guest Contributor, Oscar Villanueva, whose passions include filmmaking, cinema, home theatre gear and of course LOTR, can be followed on Instagram @oscarilbo and Twitter @Oscrilbo [a play on Oscar + Bilbo]
Amazon Studios’ LOTR Series Heads Into Uncharted Carnal Waters with Casting Call for Nudity and an “Intimacy Coordinator”
This might be a singularly surprising or even upsetting concept to present to Tolkien fans. If I were to address this reality to Star Wars, or Harry Potter, or even Miyazaki fandom it could raise eyebrows or outright alarm. But gather ’round the campfire and hear my tremulous words:
“Prepare for a newly-sexualized version of your favorite fantasy world.”
It’s the equivalent of saying: “Get ready to watch Anakin and Padme do something onscreen that will forever alter the way you see Star Wars. Sorry about the sand. It gets everywhere.”
Is this a real lightning rod issue? Depends on your temperament. I have to be really careful about presumed gatekeeping (which is not my intention) or any semblance of that; I just want this discussion WAY out in the open. Let’s get to the heart of this, because it is a thing now.
We must clearly ask ourselves what we want and don’t want from a billion-dollar Tolkien TV adaptation, because the tracks are laid and that train is headed straight for us, via your streaming device and paid subscription.
It is needful to discuss and understand those qualities of Tolkien’s work that are most important to us. Fair to say we have a worldwide multigenerational scholarly and fan community that share some great common denominators of what “fidelity” means in an adaptation of Tolkien. Thankfully we have shared voices; and if we shout from the rooftops collectively Amazon Studios might, perchance, just listen.
Let’s tell them what we expect. We are the audience they need to win over, after all.
T/W: By necessity, our topics today include sex organs, bodily functions, sexual abuse and rape in other fantasy TV shows, and coordinating intimacy—so here’s the trigger warning ahead of time. New territory for TheOneRing.net, BUT HEY IT’S 2020! Bear with me. We may find an egalitarian way forward in this conversation.
Amazon’s Approach: Will There Be Sex On Screen?
Fact check: We can confirm Amazon Studios has hired Jennifer Ward-Lealand, a well-known New Zealand Intimacy Coordinator, for the Lord of the Rings production.
The only Amazon show in NZ is Lord of the Rings, a production so overwhelmingly large that Auckland film unions report that over 80% of all local production crew are working on it, leaving no crew for other TV shows. It should be known that instead of clearly stating to be on LOTR, Ms. Ward-Lealand’s official site declares the acronym for “Untitled Amazon Project” / UAP is listed on her upcoming projects, first reported on Knight Edge Media and other sites. We know for sure Amazon’s UAP is the catch-all working title for LOTR. Remember how “Jamboree” and “Little Rivers” were the working titles for Peter Jackson’s LOTR and Hobbit Trilogies, respectively. But how much nudity is Amazon considering?
Will There Be Group Nudity?
Fact check: Rumor! An open casting call for background extras “comfortable with nudity” appeared. Just how many naked extras do you need for a classy, romantic love-making scene?
Caleb Williams dug deep while reflecting on some of our earlier reporting on TheOneRing.net of new casting announcements by BGT Casting; stating ‘must be comfortable with nudity’ for upcoming roles in LOTR. Put two and two together: there’s an Intimacy Coordinator who serves an important role to ensure the well-being of actors during sex scenes (or with nudity) and then we learn nudity in certain roles is openly asked for.
Will Characters Be ‘Sexified’ That Weren’t In Tolkien’s Books?
Fact Check: Unknown! The precise story they’re telling is unknown, as is the time within the 2nd Age wherein it’s all set. Don’t know what’s in the scripts, their content, nor what proper characters are associated with already-established cast members. We do know who plays a handful of the leads (Galadriel, Elrond) with best guesswork. We follow these actors on Instagram but we don’t know exactly who this ‘Tyra’ characters is because Tolkien never named one.
We surely don’t know who’s involved in scenes of nudity/sexuality. Debate is now open on where that would be necessary in a grand story of Númenor or the Elven-smiths of Eregion, or the welcoming halls of Khazad-dûm in its pre-Balrog glory.
We do know they are using water tanks. A stunt performer was injured filming scenes underwater (and she has thankfully recovered). Possible connection to Númenor being flooded and ruined in a specific catastrophe? Yes, quite possible. Underwater scenes depicting naked people swimming? We just don’t know.
How Tolkien Presented Sexualized Content
He simply didn’t. Tolkien was super-duper Catholic. In his own words to his publisher he expressed the desire for his overall Legendarium to be presented as “‘high’, purged of the gross.” That’s from his famous Letter 131. I’ll get back to it in a bit. He did not write stories in the manner of George R.R. Martin, although the inverse is often true. The word ‘rape’ does not appear in The Hobbit, and only once in LOTR: The Return of the King (even then not referencing a person but a geographical place, Gondor: as in ‘sack’ or ‘pillage’).
There are a few notable instances of non-sexual nudity mentioned in The Lord of the Rings itself: (a) the hobbits’ bath in Crickhollow, (b) the running naked through the grass to clear their hearts and minds after imprisonment by the Barrow Wights, (c) Frodo’s rescue by Sam at the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Perhaps there’s one I missed.
A few stories from The Silmarillion include incredibly dark things like incest; as with Túrin and Niënor. But that wasn’t their fault (poor things) and Amazon Studios does not have the licensing for those particular stories.
That’s not what they’re currently producing.
Tolkien vs. Other Popular Fantasy
I’m more keen to look at Tolkien’s works the way the Professor himself looked at them. He was spiritually and mentally deliberate in everything he did. With his “Sub-Creation” Tolkien meant to celebrate God’s main Creation with such language and artistry as he possessed. This Secondary World of Arda was a vessel of joy and a profound expression of faith. If anyone had a “purity” litmus test for this kind of fantasy it was John Ronald himself, as seen in a nearly 10,000-word letter to his publisher Milton Waldman, from late 1951:
Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story, the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our ‘air’ (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be ‘high’, purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.
Excerpt from Letter 131, “The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien” (1981), p. 143
Here he admits his original ambitions may have been overreaching. Generations later we find they were not; as many other minds, artists, and hands have since played within Arda. Amazon Studios is playing in that sandbox right now, as I write this. Broadly speaking, Tolkien’s popularity helped launch an entire strata of “High Romantic Fantasy” that changed publishing forever. Previous adaptations of his books to films, plays, games, comics and audio have, by and large, held true to this aesthetic.
Notice how he describes his connected Legendarium with words like “large and cosmogonic,” “splendour,” “elusive beauty,” “majestic,” “steeped in poetry,” and the most revealing of all: “‘high,’ purged of the gross.”
He never uses words like “scatological,” “salacious,” “sexually charged,” “tumescent,” “steeped in carnality,” or “debauched.” If you are even slightly attuned to Tolkien’s stories you know the tone he set. You know the point I’m driving at. I don’t even feel like being subtle anymore.
Look… this is Tolkien telling you why none of his characters masturbate or take a pee break behind the bushes. He’s telling you why his characters are never described in acts of copulation or defecation. Yes they certainly did copulate, but none of that needed to appear; violating his deliberate idiomatic approach that served his own noble purpose. Nobody ever said the word fart in Middle-earth, at least not through the voice of our omniscient narrator. Elsewhere he makes clear his reasoning: the heroic and sympathetic characters do not engage in acts causing revulsion. He leaves that to the Orcs, corrupted enemies, demonic monsters, and their poisoned physical environments; and it greatly heightens the sense of revulsion in the reader by such measured and careful use. Tolkien said that the Orcs’ language (part of their unique cultural brutalism) was far worse than he let on. SO NOTHING IS GRATUITOUS. Not one word is wasted in its application or import.
Professor Tolkien kept the toilets, orgasms, and such other bodily ephemera offstage the entire time. Invisible. Never even suggested. This is high fantasy, remember, and a special kind too. There’s one noticeable exception in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug where Peter Jackson showed Bilbo and the Dwarves climbing into Bard’s house through the secret entrance of, yes, the toilet. Thus the word ‘toilet’ entered Middle-earth dialogue for the first time (Tolkien would have disapproved linguistically at the very least because it’s so damn French); but to some fans this silly, throwaway gag was a red flag that P.J. had *perhaps* missed some of the marks in his adaptation of The Hobbit (amongst other reasons, looking at you Tauriel/Kili/Legolas triangle) compared to the monumental achievement of his previous Trilogy.
Case in point: even the provocative director of the X-rated film Fritz the Cat, Ralph Bakshi, managed to keep it in his pants. His ambitious yet incomplete 1978 animated Lord of the Rings stays in the right lane, true to its high fantasy trope, even though the film is wildly psychedelic in its visual flair. Such a great contrast to his other fantasies Wizards and Fire & Ice which was R-rated “Adult Swim”-fare arriving decades early! Instinctively and thoughtfully, Bakshi knew that Tolkien’s story didn’t need all the Tits & Ass that had previously made the animator the darling of 70’s arthouse cinema. He kept that out of Middle-earth, indulging it elsewhere more suitably for his other films.
I recall my Dad taking me to the movies see John Boorman’s Excalibur when I was just 12. He knew my brother and I were really big on this sword and sorcery thing. Our love of Tolkien was so strong Dad figured the King Arthur legend would be ideal for us but he didn’t comprehend what was behind the “R” rating. I remember so clearly the opening scenes of Uther Pendragon’s sexual assault against Arthur’s mother, arranged by Merlin to conceive the future King. Shocked, my Dad leaned over to check on me—uncertain what to do: “You okay son? This might be too much for you…” I waved him off, “Yeah, I’m fine,” while my retinas were seared permanently with the first sexual act I had ever witnessed in my life. It was inscrutable and jarring to a child. Confusing. Dad wasn’t prepared to discuss the birds and bees and their biological needs, not by a mile. It didn’t overly-phase me, as my young mind was too busy trying to memorize The Charm of Making.
But it would strike me as very odd (and unnecessary) that a future predicament similar to my Father’s might befall parents innocently watching “a Tolkien fantasy show.” Imagine if suddenly you have to press pause, take the smallest children out of the room, and… “have the talk.” Well, you get it.
That was assuredly the moment for me where Tolkien differentiated himself from other fantasy storytellers. Indeed, that distinction was drawn in sharpest relief. Perhaps we are lucky that Mr. Boorman never got to direct LOTR for United Artists (that almost happened for real, but he made Excalibur instead).
If you are unfamiliar or never read Tolkien and wanted to get into the fandom, would you want to start with the adaptation that stikes furthest away from Tolkien’s literary sensibilities? One which could be deemed too much for a child to watch?
Sure, there’s more than enough room for all the “adult content” of darkness and otherworldly terrors from Tolkien’s larger span of legends, there is DEFINITELY a place for that! I’m not arguing against any adaptation desirous of that. We can go as far away from the golden-hued fairy story of Bilbo’s journey that you want and go right to the 2nd Age of Sauron-inflicted deceits, treachery, and metaphysical corruption.
But why does it need to be prurient?
The horrors brought upon Númenor end up with Satanic style Morgoth-worship and ghoulish human sacrifices. Body horror? Beheadings? Ripping living hearts from a sacrificial victim? Maybe. But there are no brothels mentioned. No Littlefinger. No orgies.
The Hobbit and LOTR stand rather apart from the most insanely disturbing stuff within The Silmarillion (especially) and Unfinished Tales, so yes, it may yet be that someday we will have a separation of what Tolkien shows/movies you watch with your little ones… and those you just don’t. And now we realize the time may be upon us sooner than we think.
I’m just a guy who knows what he’s getting when he reads Tolkien. I know what I like: the languages, the world-building, the spirit of Arda. There’s a gazillion other styles and idioms of modern fantasy where you can get your fix of anything: be they puppets (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) or video games (hey there Witcher).
Now The Witcher comes to mind as a counterpoint to Game of Thrones in terms of sexual portrayals. GoT portrayed so much of its sex negatively, tied to assault and dehumanizing acts (yeah, yeah there’s a wee bit of “romance” in the tub Jaime/Brienne) while in contrast The Witcher is extremely playful and wink-wink (hey, there’s a magic spell for your erectile dysfunction, how cute), and the orgy scene shows a woman completely in charge of its illusory energy. Not a victim at all compared to so many other depictions of female characters in fantasy. Yes, there’s room for all that sexy “insert tab A into slot B” in modern fantasy, as we have seen, but the end results can be widely divergent.
Y’all ready for this? As I said in the Star Wars example at the top of this piece, Amazon’s series might be an adaptation that forever alters how we see Arda.
What Exactly Do We Want From Amazon’s 2nd Age Series?
That’s the big kahuna. The ever-burning question. Observe what’s happening over there in Amazonland/Auckland. They hired a ton of very talented people but let’s focus on a couple of things:
Esteemed Tolkien scholar and author Tom Shippey was only brought on board to help with the Map of Middle-earth that launched their Twitter feed a year ago. There has not been any marketing effort since then and he is confirmed to be no longer on the project. It seemed to be only lip-service to the fans, which does NOT work. That kind of subterfuge will NOT work, Amazon. We don’t know why his name still appears on the Cast and Crew Listing over on IMDb.
John Howe is not currently in New Zealand and does not appear to be working on the production, certainly not in the fullness of his engagement as he was with Alan Lee back in the time of the New Line LOTR Trilogy. He may have provided some work for Amazon’s show but he’s seemingly not now.
Then there’s that one dude that has caused a wee bit of nerves. Bryan Cogman is onboard as a Consulting Producer, after his commanding story work for Benioff and Weiss on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Quite capable and mega-geek-centric, Mr. Cogman however was a focal point of some controversy on that production. Ringers have been quite vocal that the kind of “rapey” Sansa Stark storylines (attributed to Mr. Cogman) would NEVER be the kind of thing they’d want to see in Middle-earth, no matter how gritty you want to get.
Grit and realism have their place. Darkness and light are explored in their extremes. No one is shying away from the more “adult” things Tolkien had in his stories or saying they don’t exist. The real question is to what extent are they going to “sexify” this show for the sake of getting their next Game of Thrones mega-hit? Just look at this from Variety where Jeff Bezos has mandated a programming shift to get what he wants: another GoT.
AMAZON: So you’re okay with accidental incest, human sacrifice, dismemberment, and sins against Eru?
RINGER FANS: Yes! That’s what Tolkien wrote!
AMAZON: But… you’re not okay with depicting sexualized characters having intercourse?
RINGER FANS: Exactly! That’s what Tolkien wrote!
A predictable future tweet
My personal take: What fans want most from any Tolkien adaptation is verisimilitude. Something that carries the true spirit of Tolkien and has integrity in realizing it. Amazon’s showrunners can keep that integrity by staying true to the themes and characters and intent of the author. It is not impossible to guess Tolkien’s intentions when they are so plainly available to us, even though he is gone. #FidelitytoTolkien is a hashtag we have endeavored to use. Not perfect, but it’s a decent axiom to bear in mind.
Seeing anything remotely sexified between Galadriel and Annatar (oooh, a hot young shirtless Sauron in his seduction mode) or anything else like that is going to turn off fans so fast it will cause seismic waves through a very vocal fandom.
There won’t be any coming back from that. 1000’s of fans have replied and quote-tweeted this news with a variety of opinions for and against:
Does the Tolkien Estate Have “Veto Power” Over the Scripts?
Fact check: Unconfirmed! Well, we have been reporting that they do but it is unclear to what extent that power really exists. It is troubling. The Estate’s authority over the show’s content might not be sacrosanct; indeed it may be limited to keeping the structural frame of the narrative within the existing timelines we know are book-canon. They most likely don’t have final script approval (maybe there’s an infinitesimal chance they do); but it’s more like a general oversight to prevent fundamental alteration to the histories. We have a funny feeling that the two-episode combined pilot they are finishing up will be presented for the Estate’s approval. Time will tell.
But in my mind we’re better off tackling this as a fandom right now, and tell them what we want and don’t want from this Tolkien adaptation. They must listen.
Ringers—I ask you all: Do you want this LOTR to be just a Witcher meets Riverdale series with the branding of Middle-earth slapped on it? Why do I even say that? Because I’m afraid that’s what’s happening. Respected Tolkien twitter scholar The_Tolkienist shared an epic 30-tweet thread on the matter (with plenty of wink wink sarcasm).
Leave your comments on our message boards and social platforms: Twitter, FB, Instagram, knowing that Amazon Studios are definitely listening… and collecting data (!)… and calibrating their next efforts.
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