Twenty years on from the theatrical release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, fans continue to celebrate the monumental achievements of Peter Jackson and the team who brought Middle-earth to life. New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) have shared with us a twelve-minute look at the making of LOTR: ROTK pulled from the archives featuring new 4K remastered footage.
Back when midnight openings were a thing, fans around the world lined up to be the first to watch Return of the King in cinemas with heralded hype. The runtime of 3 hours and 21 minutes did not dissuade anyone as book fans knew there was a lot of story to cover, and the DVD releases of the longer Extended Editions had primed audiences for a longer, well-told story. The finale exceeded anyone’s expectations. The Return of the King made $1.1 Billion at the box office, making it the second-highest grossing movie of all time at release. It was still #1 at the box office in its 4th week!
Above, Peter Jackson attends TheOneRing.net’s Fellowship of the Ring Oscar Party in 2002. Below, Peter Jackson returns to the 2004 fan party for Return of the King with all the Oscar trophies in hand. Return of the King matched the record for most Oscars ever won by any movie, and is the most-awarded film worldwide of all time.
In the 20 years since its record setting award winning run, The Lord of the Rings films have become the benchmark of filmmaking with just the right balance of practical and digital effects, location and digital shooting, innovation and classical performance, and maintaining a fidelity to the source material while at the same time introducing changes benefiting the medium of film. Fans have made watching these films an annual event, and the wide use of LOTR memes are unsurpassed in quantity and relevance.
Peter Jackson is adored worldwide and fans still enjoy diving into the BTS Appendices on 4K, Bluray and DVD. Now that New Line Cinema has a fresh long-term deal to make new LOTR spinoff movies, could Jackson return to Middle-earth? His producing partner Philippa Boyens is already bringing WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM to cinemas in December 2024, telling the story of Helm Hammerhand and the history of the Rohan Shieldmaidens. Jackson doesn’t need to get back to LOTR after winning Emmy Awards with The Beatles (and directing his first ever music video for them) but, based on the daily conversations happening on our forums and discord, LOTR fans are ready for a trustworthy hand to manage the future of Tolkien’s expanding legendarium.
Before Rotten Tomatoes, TORn had RINGER REVIEWS for fans to share right after watching the film
Happy 20th anniversary to Return of the King, a film that made us all cry (multiple times) by channeling the best of J.R.R. Tolkien and the humanity of his stories. It remains the high water mark of fantasy filmmaking even today.
Unity, a game engine company famous for top-tier mobile phone graphics, purchased Wētā Digital’s name and VFX technology in 2021, but has decided to exit that business in a change of strategy.
It was originally a huge headline that minted Sir Peter Jackson a billionaire. The director of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films sold the digital VFX tools business for $1.625 billion, in a deal which included dozens of award-winning visual effects plugins for 3D graphics programs like Maya and Houdini as well as the 265 computer programmers coding and maintaining that software. The original deal resulted in Jackson creating a new company, WētāFX, which he still has ownership of and still employs digital artists and studio management that went on to win another Oscar for Avatar: The Way of Water.
Wētā FX, the spinoff company of artists but not programmers, has stated they intend to re-hire the programmers that were recently let go from employment with Unity’s business change. WētāFX is currently working on Avatar 3, a film that’s expected to break new ground in visual effects and which relies heavily on the digital tools and programmers that were laid off with this move.
If you’re keeping up, it seems that Peter Jackson made a billion dollars and now gets to keep using the digital tools, keep the team together, and use the Weta Digital name again. First reported by FXGuide, Unity is returning the name Wētā Digital to Peter Jackson.
The news confused many fans, with some thinking the Oscar-winning studio had closed down.
It was also confusing when the deal first happened — many industry folk asked what was Unity buying if it didn’t include the entire award-winning studio responsible for LOTR, Avatar and Planet of the Apes. Many theorized Unity was attempting to jump into the digital filmmaking arena pioneered by The Volume StageCraft of Disney Star Wars fame, a live in-person 8K digital LED screen powered by Epic’s Unreal Engine. Both Unreal and Unity compete in the game engine business, but Unity had almost zero footprint in Hollywood movie production business. Buying Wētā Digital’s toolset seemed like a shortcut to getting world-class filmmaking tools to compete with Unreal on The Volume. VFX industry trade show SIGGRAPH hinted at big plans from Unity and Weta Digital.
Currently all Avatar and The Lord of the Rings filmmaking projects have not utilized The Volume during production, but Star Wars and The Batman have.
All of this business stuff is unrelated to Weta Workshop’s Tales of the Shire video game. That is being currently developed by Wētā Workshop in partnership with Private Division. Additionally, Wētā Workshop’s games studio is separate from Wētā FX.
What’s next for Peter Jackson and Weta Digital, Weta FX and Weta Workshop? They have been busy winning Emmy’s for The Beatles Get Back, releasing a new and final Beatles song Then & Now, winning Oscars for Avatar, and talking with WB about getting back into Middle-earth. Many fans are hoping Jackson can make a deal with Warner Bros to become the Kevin Fiege of Middle-earth: a franchise producer with total control of top-tier storytelling and filmmaking.
Emmy winner for “Get Back” involved in the final song ever from The Beatles, with a music video that will “bring a few tears to the eye.”
The Beatles – those from the group who are still with us – announced that Peter Jackson is making the music video for “Now and Then” which is to be the final new song ever produced with the foursome of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The group used the same audio technology that helped Jackson win an Emmy award to clean up the vocals of an old cassette tape recorded by John Lennon, who died in 1980. Additional vocals and guitar were added by George Harrison in 1995, but never completed. Paul and Ringo this year added their parts to the song with Giles Martin, son of longtime Beatles producer George Martin, finishing production.
In a lengthy artist’s statement posted by Peter Jackson, it is revealed that new footage has been found of The Beatles performing with original drummer Pete Best. When describing the tone of the video, Jackson says, “We wanted the short film to bring a few tears to the eye. We tried to craft something that could adequately sum up the enormity of The Beatles’ legacy – in the last few seconds of their final recording. This proved to be impossible. Their contribution to the world is too immense, and their wondrous gift of music has become part of our DNA and now defies description.
“Dhani Harrison happened to be visiting NZ at this time. I discussed the ending with him, and described one vague idea I’d been toying with. His eyes immediately filled with tears – so that is the way we went.”
Disney+ and many tv stations worldwide will have a 12 minute behind-the-scenes documentary featuring The Beatles and Peter Jackson, today, November 1. The song “Now and Then” releases on all music platforms with the Jackson directed music video this week.
Additional Spy Reports from the TORn Tuesday podcast hint at Peter Jackson following this up with a new second documentary series on the break up of The Beatles, as a sequel to his Emmy winning Get Back series. Nothing has been confirmed at this time.
Will Peter Jackson return to The Lord of the Rings under the new WB and Embracer movie deal? He’s confirmed they are talking. But when The Beatles call, priorities change! Now that the music video is done and out, perhaps he will reconsider coming back for more Middle-earth.
The Annecy Film Festival — which is hosting a “first look” at The War of the Rohirrim on June 13 — has updated its site listing to reveal that the length of Warner Bros. Animation’s (WBA) forthcoming feature anime will be 130 minutes.
That’s actually substantial for an animated film and will place it among the top 50 longest animated films of all time. Length is no indication of quality, but good animation is time and resource intensive. WBA’s committment to a long feature indicates confidence in the story they have to tell.
WOTR’s director, Kenji Kamiyama, has also been busy directing other projects: Ultraman, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, and Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045.
Animation techniques: 2D/3D blending
The other thing of note in Annecy’s overview of the presentation is the animation techniques listed.
Much, of course, has been made that The War of the Rohirrim is being animated in 2D — because everyone panics mightily as soon as the words “3D animation” are even whispered. But 2D/3D blending — typically for effects or backgrounds — has become a staple in even some of themost popularanime, and can look non-intrusive and seamless when executed with skill. Apparently even Hayao Miyazaki’s Mononoke Hime contained a small amount of 3D CG rendering — something I was not aware of until I began looking into just how prevalent the use of CG effects has become in modern anime productions.
Rotoscoping is another surprise, although Staffer Justin tells me TORn Tuesday reported industry talk that that WETA was using the “Avatar mocap technology” for The War of the Rohirrim.
It seems that talk was on the mark.
When I saw that I instantly thought that it might be used for animating horses, because as people who know far more about the art of animating than me point out, “horses populate the nightmares of animators“. And I think it would be foolish to not expect a film about the Rohirrim to not feature a lot of horses.
I can already sense readers who have seen Ralph’s Bakshi’s animated The Lord of the Rings recoiling in terror. Yet it’s important to acknowledge the time- and money-pressures that Bakshi and his crew worked under: effectively filming then animating the same film twice in a two-year period with a budget of approximately $4 million. (That’s a touch over $18.5 million in 2023 dollars — much less than many modern Disney animations.)
By comparison, Kamiyama and his crew have three years for development and production, they won’t be rotoscoping everything, and they have the substantial benefit of digital animation methods. And, one guesses, they have a larger budget.
One of our Discord regulars also smartly suggested that rotoscoping could be employed for battles, and pointed out a rotoscoped fight sequence (warning: this clip is quite gory and not suitable for children) that popped up in a recent episode of the anime Vinland Saga. It’s impressively natural and I could see something like that in a story as grim as that of Helm.
Just to further illustrate that rotoscoping can look great in the right hands given sufficient resources, check this character acting scene from Attack on Titan. Or this stunning piece of sakugafrom Kaguya-sama: Love is War that gained both popular and critical acclaim back in 2019.
Anticipating Annecy: going behind-the-scenes for 75 minutes
Kamiyama will be joined at Annecy by executive producer Philippa Boyens and producer Joseph Chou for a 75-minute behind-the-scenes presentation into their adaptation of the Helm Hammerhand story that is found in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. The session will be moderated by fellow producer Jason DeMarco.
Right now, WBA is being very quiet about what they’ll be showcasing.
However, here’s a quick bit of speculation/guesswork that you’re free to take with a grain of salt.
I think the length of the presentation means those attending (not yours truly, sadly) will be treated to a slab of finished animation. I couldn’t see them filling a 75-minute session with just more concept art and character designs.
That animation might be a teaser, or it could be several small segments that the presenters then discuss. I recall that Peter Jackson did this for The Desolation of Smaug and, mostly due to the choice of clips focusing on Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, it was really quite effective at raising anticipation.
I’d expect dialogue and perhaps even music. Stephen Gallagher was revealed as the composer for the score back in February and must have been appointed to the role much earlier.
If it was me, I would choose scenes from places familiar to viewers of Peter Jackson’s films — both fans and casuals — to encourage the mental connection. That suggests Edoras or Helm’s Deep. But the latter might be a bit too far along in the story and reveal too much of the story, so I lean to Edoras. You could show some dramatic scenes with all the key cast — Helm, Wulf, Freca, Héra — that are root to establishing the conflict. The initial concept art that WBA put out showed Edoras being attacked so Kamiyama might tease some of that as well to show how much progress they’ve made.
Since we’re familiar with the location, it’s also possible that we could see Isengard (although, canonically, Freca’s seat of power seems to be another location at the surce of the River Adorn). This could also help set up that there are two sides to the conflict — something that Boyens emphasised was integral to the story they were telling when we spoke this time last year.
This is in addition to more concept art, and, I expect, our first look at some character designs.
Regardless, we’ll very soon know more. It’s been a long wait to get something tangible but it’s nearly over!
About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis.The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net and other staff.
Fandom has lit up again with excitement as more Middle-earth movies, games, LEGO and merch are announced. Here’s what we know about who can do what and where with new LOTR projects.
New Line Cinema continues to be the cinematic home for Middle-earth
Feb 2023 – After a year of wild moves and intense backroom conversations about the future of Lord of the Rings, New Line Cinema renews its 25-year-old license with Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE) who are now owned by Embracer Group. From the fan perspective, nothing has changed: Warner Bros & New Line are still producing THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM starring Miranda Otto as Eowyn and Brian Cox as Helm Hammerhand.
New projects have not been hinted at, but fans are speculating if Peter Jackson will deliver his promised Super-duper-extended “Unicorn Edition” LOTR featuring deleted scenes like Eowyn’s wedding, Frodo-Gollum nightmare, and more. Peter Jackson is a newly minted multi-billionaire after selling Weta Digital’s toolsets to Unity, and winning Emmy Awards for his Beatles documentary GET BACK.
TORn Tuesday reported over seven years ago that PJ has a secret vault with a “warts and all” documentary, featuring original Aragorn footage. With his documentary awards for GET BACK and THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, maybe the first new LOTR project ready to go is a doc?
Unconfirmed rumors for this new WB & LOTR movie deal have a three-year timeline in place — which would be similar to the time-restrictions put in place with Amazon’s TV deal where they had to be in development within two years and in production within five years. This puts the 25th anniversary of Peter Jackson’s LOTR into play as a way to celebrate the past and herald the future.
Prime Studios and New Line play nice, for now
During production of the billion-dollar-budget RINGS OF POWER series, a cooperation deal was put in place between Amazon and WB. All episodes of Season 1 of Amazon’s show include a full screen logo credit for New Line Cinema, with the characters and some weapons bearing a striking resemblance to the aesthetic established by Peter Jackson’s movies. There have also been rumors that Prime Video will be the streaming home of THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM after its global theatrical run (instead of WB owned HBOmax).
But, it seems the CEO of WB’s owner, David Zaslav, does have a competitive bone to pick with Amazon’s CEO, with The Hollywood Reporter reporting that he “even name-checked Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, almost as if to tease Amazon with the threat of new “Lord of the Rings” properties… and suggested that a move to launch new “Lord of the Rings” movies would take away some of the momentum that Amazon had enjoyed from its launch of a series based on the novels.”
Amazon is solely in the Middle-earth TV business
Jeff Bezos and his team at Prime Studios negotiated directly with the Tolkien Estate for rights the family still held outside of anything New Line, MEE or Embracer have exploited in the past: rights to TV shows. Amazon currently must stay in that lane, but can create as many TV shows as they want with a minimum of 8 episodes per season. Amazon has announced five seasons of The Rings of Power, greenlit the first three, written the first two, are filming Season 2 now in the UK. They intend to make spinoff shows.
Prime has has only licensed the same exact two books that Embracer & Warner Bros has (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), crafting any spinoff from any word or phrase from prologue to appendices. They have uniquely included current figurehead of the Tolkien estate, Simon Tolkien, in the development process, and he alone can approve usage of extra material from other books — such as The Silmarillion or The History of Middle-earth — on a case-by-case basis.
As secretive as Amazon is, word got out that they nearly went with a Young Aragorn show pitched by the Russo Brothers — fresh off their $2 billion Avengers Endgame run — which begs the question, why not both? Would Amazon greenlight another LOTR TV show now that more “friendly competition” from Warner Bros. is coming to cinemas?
Will there be a reboot of The LORD OF THE RINGS?
As of now, absolutely not. Nobody in control wants to reboot the most award-winning film of all time. The Tolkien Estate have mandated that the TV rights are not allowed to remake the movies. Despite WB’s record of reboots and multiverses — last count there are seven Batmans in the cinematic zeitgeist — there seems to be an effort to keep Middle-earth as one cinematic universe to rule them all. Even the new feature film spin off THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM is an expansion of the Peter Jackson MeCU. There are plenty of new stories to mine from the books, and no remakes are expected in film or TV format.
Is Peter Jackson returning?
Unknown as of today. Peter Jackson put out a statement though:
“Warner Brothers and Embracer have kept us in the loop every step of the way. We look forward to speaking with them further to hear their vision for the franchise moving forward.”
Philippa Boyens, his co-producer and co-writer of LOTR who shared in Oscar glory, is currently producing THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM with New Line Cinema. The new film is still “in the Jackson family” with Weta Workshop, John Howe, Alan Lee, and many other Hobbit veterans involved. Could all the local commotion re-ignite Peter’s passion for Middle-earth? Would he come back in a supervisory role, similar to how Kevin Feige produces and manages all of MARVEL films? Only time will tell.
Where can I stream everything LOTR?
Many places! Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBOmax all have the LOTR trilogy Extended Editions streaming free with your account, depending on your country in the world. THE RINGS OF POWER is exclusively streaming on Prime Video and not for sale on DVD. Lord of the Rings has a fresh coat of paint in a 4K Blu-ray release from WB, which is also the version you can buy on iTunes and other digital platforms. The Hobbit movies are streaming on HBOmax, as well as the 1977 Rankin Bass classic animated Hobbit. We like to use JustWatch to see where Desolation of Smaug is currently available on any given month.
Are there really five new LOTR video games coming out?
Yes! Embracer Group, in addition to owning the LOTR rights, is a huge video game developer with tons of studios. They have announced five new LOTR games for 2023, each unrelated to the others, including:
Return to Moria
Heroes of Middle-earth
Untitled Weta Workshop game
? unannounced ?
The Lord of the Rings has a long history of innovation in the video game space. LOTRO, the online MMO, is still going 15 years strong with new expansions and a larger player base than ever before. The console and PC Shadow of Mordor series introducing the Nemesis System and became one of the best of the PS4 generation games. Nearly all LOTR games are unrelated to any LOTR films — though some of us old nerds hold Return of the King fondly in memory.
Separately, Magic: The Gathering is now selling a brand new licensed LOTR card game.
Who is Embracer?
Embracer Group is the new owner of rights that JRR Tolkien himself sold off in 1968. The Swedish gaming and rights holding company purchased these rights in 2022 from Saul Zaentz Company, which was used to create the Oscar-winning LOTR films. These rights, which JRR Tolkien later regretted selling off, are perpetual rights to do anything with everything in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books. This includes all merch, board games, card games, movies, theme parks, toys, albums, weapons, alcohol, video games and more. Everything except make TV shows.
Because Embracer owns merchandising rights, Amazon has to go through them to make any merch for RINGS OF POWER just as all the movie merch for LOTR and The Hobbit included “licensed by Saul Zaentz” or Middle-earth Enterprises. Through Embracer, LEGO just announced a new 6,000 piece Rivendell set based on Peter Jackson’s movies that will no doubt sell out.
Prime Video has announced that Charlotte Brändström, Sanaa Hamri, and Louise Hooper will each helm multiple episodes for Season Two of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Readers will, of course, recall that Brändström directed a pair of Season One’s episodes: (1X06/“Udûn” and 1X07/“The Eye”).
Hamri, an acclaimed music video director who has collaborated with artists such as Mariah Carey, Prince, and Snoop Dogg, recently completed executive producing and directing The Wheel of Time’s second season. Hooper has directed episodes of The Witcher, as well the season finale of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.
The announcement states that Hamri and Hooper will each direct two episodes, with Brändström to oversee the remaining four and serve as co-executive producer for the eight-episode season.
Season 2 is currently in production in the UK.
The Rings of Power Season Two’s directors
Charlotte Brändström is an award-winning director and graduate of the directing program at the American Film Institute. She recently finished directing a pilot for Netflix Sweden titled The Unlikely Murder, and her other directing credits for television include The Outsider for HBO; Jupiter’s Legacy, The Witcher, and Away for Netflix; The Man in the High Castle for Prime Video; and Outlander and Counterpart for Starz. Brändström also directed the entirety of two European limited series: Conspiracy of Silence for Viaplay and Disparue for FR2, and has also directed over 30 feature films, miniseries, and movies-of-the-week. Additionally, Brändström is an international Emmy award nominee for Julie, Chevalier de Maupin.
Sanaa Hamri is a renowned film, television, music video, and commercial director from Tangier, Morocco. She recently completed executive producing and directing The Wheel of Time’s second season for Prime Video. Previously Hamri was executive producer/director for FOX’s hit series Empire, and her other episodic television directing credits include Shameless, Rectify, Nashville, Elementary, Glee, and Desperate Housewives. Hamri is also an acclaimed music video director, and has collaborated with numerous hip-hop/R&B musicians including Prince, Common, Lenny Kravitz, Rhianna, Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, and Mary J. Blige. She has also won an NAACP Image Award for India.Arie’s “Little Things” video, as well as an MTV VMA for Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.” In addition, Hamri directed Mariah Carey’s sold-out five arena concert documentary, The Adventures of Mimi, and has also directed the feature films Something New, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, and Just Wright.
Louise Hooper is an acclaimed British drama director, known for the 4-part limited thriller Flesh and Blood, starring Imelda Staunton and Stephen Rea; and Cheat, the 4-part drama starring Molly Windsor. Her additional directing credits include the first season finale of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, The Witcher, Inside No. 9, and Treason. Hooper began her career directing BBC Arts documentaries, working with David Lynch, Helmut Newton, Arthur Miller, David Attenborough, and Björk, and has also received a BAFTA nomination for directing Our Gay Wedding: The Musical.