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.
After a year-long negotiation to renew the rights to Lord of the Rings movies, games and merch, Warner Bros Discovery confirm a long-term deal has been reached with new owners Embracer Group that will see multiple Middle-earth theatrical movies in the future.
Today on the Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) quarterly earnings call, CEO David Zaslav announced that a new licensing deal has been signed today to allow New Line Cinema to produce more Lord of the Rings films.
There have been rumors in recent weeks that Amazon Studios, who hold only rights to make a LOTR TV series, were offering up to $1 billion to secure movie rights alongside the Hobbit rights Amazon got with their $8 billion purchase of MGM studios. But that offer is now moot — the cinematic legacy of Middle-earth continues on with New Line Cinema and WB.
Studio heads of WB confirms they will never remake the heralded trilogy, but continue to expand the Legendarium:
But for all the scope and detail lovingly packed into the two trilogies, the vast, complex and dazzling universe dreamed up by J.R.R. Tolkien remains largely unexplored on film. The opportunity to invite fans deeper into the cinematic world of Middle-earth is an honor, and we are excited to partner with Middle-earth Enterprises and Embracer on this adventure.”
Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy
“We understand how cherished these works are and working together with our partners at New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures, we plan to honor the past, look to the future, and adhere to the strongest level of quality and production values.”
Lee Guinchard, CEO of Embracer’s Freemode
Fans can look forward to the anime feature film The War of the Rohirrim next year in 2024, which is already halfway through production, and untold new stories beyond. LOTR is staying home with the studio that gave Peter Jackson the freedom to make the most awarded films in history.
Deadline Hollywood just posted a brief statement from Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens regarding the announcement.
“Warner Brothers and Embracer have kept us in the loop every step of the way,” the Oscar-winning trio said. “We look forward to speaking with them further to hear their vision for the franchise moving forward.”
It seems significant that the trio say they have been kept updated on the progress of negotiations. One wouldn’t do that for no reason. Of course, part of that might be because Boyens is currently working as Executive Producer on The War of the Rohirrim for Warner Bros. But, still one wonders…
Moviescore, a site dedicated to tracking film music, reports that New Zealand composer and award-winning music editor Stephen Gallagher has been tapped to score the music for Kenji Kamiyama’s The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
Gallagher is probably best-known to Tolkien fans for his work on The Hobbit where, as well as working as music editor on all three films, he composed the songs ‘Blunt the Knives’ and ‘The Torture Song’ for An Unexpected Journey.
Perusing IMDB reveals that Gallagher has previously composed music for a range of documentaries and short films, but arguably this is his most prominent compositional role to date.
He also has a decades-long career as music editor spanning big productions like Avatar: The Way of Water, District 9 and Wolf Warrior 2 to niche films such as Amy Berg’s West Of Memphis and Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Last year, he won an Emmy Award for his sound work on Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back.
IMDB states that he’s currently based at Park Road Post Production in Wellington — a facility that’s owned by Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films.
The War of the Rohirrim is slated to release on April 12, 2024. Director Kenji Kamiyama is also currently co-directing on the final season of Ultraman with Shinji Aramaki which will debut on Netflix sometime in 2023.
A speculatory post-script.
I was idly chatting with TORn staffer Justin about the leak/confirm and he wondered if the selection of Gallagher could indicate a return to the style of music that was the hallmark of the Rankin Bass animated features. After all, Blunt the Knives in An Unexpected Journey is very much a homage to the sing-along style of the animated Hobbit of 1977.
Personally, I’m inclined to say no.
I feel that both Blunt the Knives and The Torture Song (as sung by Barry Humphries) owe more to a combination of the children’s tale-nature of Tolkien’s novel and the comedic sensibilities of Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles, anyone?).
On the other hand, the tale of Helm Hammerhand is far grimmer. It’s also a little tempting to add that Kamiyama animes typically play the material straight, but then the quirky Tachikomas (AI spider tanks/mechs) of the Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex animated series are a spectacular outlier. Kamiyama leverages them in multiple ways: surreal comics, action heroes, philosophers, and ultimately as beings capable of self-sacrifice. The “cute” Tachikoma moments don’t devalue the serious ones. In fact, they make them more rounded characters (I dare say, more human — a crucial point to the story Ghost in the Shell explores).
So, if Kamiyama could see a way that a quirky, lyrically focused tune would serve the needs of the Helm story, he absolutely has the chops to pull it off.
Neverthless, I think it’s probably better to calibrate musical expectations more in line with the thoroughly grounded nature of Kamiyama’s acclaimed adapatation of the fantasy story Serei no Moribito. If nothing else, it’s still difficult to get folks to take anime as a serious artform that’s not “just for kids” without hobbling your production with a bunch of cutesy tunes. I’m surer Warner Bros. will be keenly aware of that.
Here’s a somewhat overlooked piece of news from a little while back! On June 15, voice actor Alex Jordan announced that he had a part in the Warner Bros Animation/New Line Cinema feature The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
However, it seems that his name was inadvertently omitted from the orginal English voice cast list given to Deadline at the same time. As a result, knowledge of Jordan’s involvement pretty much slipped under the radar.
More interestingly, Jordan has provided the name of the character he will be voicing — an completely original character by the name of Lord Frygt.
Seemingly a strange name, but Scandanavian friends on TORn’s IRC channel tell me that Frygt is a Danish word that means “fear”. One could interpret it as Lord Fear or Lord Fright.
At first I wondered, if the use of Danish could be related to the use of Anglo-Saxon to name the other original character we’ve heard of so far — Helm’s daughter, Héra.
Is it meant to be a Dunlending word? Unfortunately, the only Dunlending word we know of is “forgoil”. It seems to impossible to judge by extrapolating our knowledge of Tolkien. But Dunlending is supposedly related to the language of the Haladin, so it seems more likely it might be Rohirric? I’m no language expert so if anyone knows better, let me know!
A name like Lord Fear seems a little ominous as a name for someone of the Rohirrim. Could it be a Dunlending person instead? That seems a little unlikely since the leaders of the Dunlending faction are the Rohirrim lords (and outlaws), Freca and Wulf.
Instead, perhaps it’s meant to be an appellation give by either the Rohirrim or the Dunlendings to something else. Because I’m reminded of something that Philippa Boyens said when I interviewed her in June just after the casting announcement:
I can give you a little tease and let you know that, although we said this isn’t about The Ring and this isn’t about the Dark Lord … there are the White Mountains and there are creatures [out there]. We know that there were orcs around this area.
She also confirmed that these creatures she’s referring to are definitely not the dead men of Erech.
I think Lord Frygt will emerge as some non-human being feared by either the Dunlendings, or by the Rohirrim. Or both.
The War of the Rohirrim will be released in theatres worldwide on April 12, 2024.
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.
Executive Producer Philippa Boyens is pretty pleased with the casting for The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
“It’s exciting — we’ve been sitting on it for a little bit,” she says. “[But] it all seemed to come together in an organic way, which is what you want, I think. Suddenly, the right people come to the role.”
Boyens says that bringing in Otto as narrator was not an immediate decision. Rather it was one that gradually emerged.
She explains that Éowyn eventually felt like the natural way into the bloody and grim tale from Rohan’s past.
“Her voice was familiar,” she says. “And then I think it started to come easily for the writers.”
She hopes that it will also help locate the story for film fans who are unfamiliar with deeper cuts from Middle-earth’s history.
Yet that was not the only reason — an oral tradition felt fitting.
“It’s also so fragmentary, what we are dealing with in terms of the source material. It’s little bits of references here and there … so the oral tradition felt kind of right. The oral tradition of her telling the tale, passing the tale on.”
She doesn’t divulge to whom. But one guesses it is likely her grandson, Barahir. Tolkien not only names Barahir in The Lord of the Rings (solving any potential rights-access issues that would arise with her son, Elboron), he is also an in-world scholar and the author of The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.
Helm Hammerhand: a complex and epic role
Boyens says that both the film’s director Kenji Kamiyama, and Warner Bros SVP and producer Jason DeMarco, were well aware of Brian Cox from his recent voice role in the English dub of Blade Runner: Black Lotus.
“They’re huge fans, of course,” she says.
“Weirdly, years ago — and this is me aging myself — I tried to go and see Brian’s performance as Titus Andronicus.”
She describes how this 1987 run of the Shakespeare tragedy directed by Deborah Warner has attained a legendary status.
“It was just one of those ones which was fresh and shocking,” she says.
“And it [the Andronicus role] wasn’t a role — this is from Brian himself — that many of the other actors were interested in taking on. But he connected to it. I couldn’t get a ticket, but I had a couple of friends saw it who were just blown away. And they talked about the way in which his rage was fuelled by this grief. And the underlying horror that was in the storytelling.
“And that kind of resonated with me when we were thinking about the Helm role. Because it just — it spans a lot of different emotions.”
She says the role — and the film — is about delving into Helm’s choices.
“And the mistakes he made as well. And then his acknowledgement of those mistakes. Was there an acknowledgement of those mistakes?” she asks.
At different points she notes Helm’s hot-temperedness, and how he almost certainly under-estimated the Rohirrim lord, Wulf, who after he is outlawed leads the Dunlending invasion of Rohan.
“[Yet], I saw the tales of him slipping out [of the Hornburg] during the siege and attacking the camp for his people as literally someone trying — even with their bare hands – to protect the people as the king should,” she adds.
“So he was a true manifestation of the king-protector.”
Helm’s heirs and the overthrow of Edoras
The grim reality, though, is that Helm is unable to protect his children.
His eldest son, Haleth, is slain when Edoras is overrun and taken by Wulf’s forces while Helm is forced to take refuge in the Hornburg. We touch only briefly on Helm’s other son but I conclude that his Hama’s fate will remain the same tragedy that it is in Appendix A.
Boyens describes the first as a shocking and powerful moment. Powerful, perhaps, for readers, to finally see things they’ve long envisaged through Tolkien’s descriptions; shocking for film fans to see the unexpected — Edoras besieged and overthrown.
On the other hand, Tolkien leaves the fate of Helm’s daughter unclear. In fact, he never names her even though Freca’s bid for her hand in marriage for his son, Wulf, is a key catalyst for war. Boyens concedes that we simply do not know a lot about her.
“Where we turn to, very deliberately, is to Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians. Alfred the Great’s daughter,” Boyens says, and proceeds to provide a rapid-fire education on an era of British history that I’d barely known of until now.
“She never ruled as a queen per se; she’s known as the Lady of Mercians. But she seems to step in when her people needed her.
“Æthelflæd was also really ingenious, which comes into play in the script. [It] was an idea that Kamiyama had, and they (he and the writers) played with that. I can’t tell you too much about it. But it’s about how you save your life when you have very little to work with?”
It’s a statement that seems to suggest that Helm’s daughter – who they’ve chosen to name Héra – will play some key role after the fall of Edoras to Wulf, and the death of Haleth.
“And I really don’t think that Professor Tolkien would hate this,” Boyens says. “Because I always see him as a bit of a Mercian himself being from the Midlands.”
Héra: so named as a nod to the Anglo-Saxon
Unsurprisingly, the name Héra is chosen for alliterative effect: Helm, Haleth, Hama, Héra. Yet Boyens reveals that wasn’t initially the case.
“Someone suggested another name and I went: “Nope, it’s gotta start with “H”, sorry”,” she says.
“Actually, Fran Walsh named her. I told her we were stuck. It’s actually Héra (I get a quick pronunciation lesson and discover the é functions a little like the “ai” in hair) — that’s why it has the accent. Not so much based on the Greek [goddess] Hera, but a nod to the Anglo-Saxon.
“And I like to think she wasn’t a character that [the writers] tried to create wholesale — pulling things out of thin air. Héra is very much drawing from sources that fit with the storytelling that Tolkien himself is drawing on.”
In case you’re wondering, Boyens confirms that neither Fran Walsh nor Peter Jackson have an official production role. It’s more that, since they’re long-time collaborators and have so much experience within Tolkien’s Middle-earth, they’re sometimes just a natural sounding board for ideas.
“I also want to give a shout out to Gaia Wise who voices Héra. I think you guys are going fall in love with her. She is fantastic, she’s amazing. She just had such innate sense of who the character is and how to play her. She was great.
“She had a very natural sense of fiery-ness, but without it being petulance defiance.”
Mûmakil, mercenaries and money
While we’re discussing events at Edoras, conversation inevitably veers toward the Mûmakil that were prominent in the initial concept art released in January.
“In order to understand the use of those [ideas],” Boyens says, “you need to understand the character of Wulf and the position that Wulf is in — and had found himself in. And who he would be turning to.”
At this point she pulls in another fact, mentioning the great wealth of Wulf’s father, Freca.
“His father was not an insignificant Lord of Rohan. He had indeed grown fat and prospered,” she says, referencing Helm’s comment in Appendix A about Freca’s large waistline.
Boyens doesn’t expand any further, but my own guess is that The War of the Rohirrim will establish Wulf as the organising mind behind coordinated assaults on Gondor and Rohan, using resources wealth from his father to secure the assistance of Corsairs and Haradrim.
As Appendix A states:
Four years later (2758) great troubles came to Rohan, and no help could be sent from Gondor, for three fleets of the Corsairs attacked it and there was war on all its coasts. At the same time Rohan was again invaded from the East, and the Dunlendings seeing their chance came over the Isen and down from Isengard.
It was soon known that Wulf was their leader. They were in great force, for they were joined by enemies of Gondor that landed in the mouths of Lefnui and Isen.
A human struggle that becomes increasingly claustrophobic
If this sounds like a very human — and political — struggle, Boyens concurs. I suggest the absence of elves, dwarves and hobbits makes it a very different tale to The Lord of the Rings that most know.
She indicates that this was one of the reasons for choosing Helm’s story.
“It’s not about the Ring, it’s not about the Dark Lord. All of that is very peripheral to the story.”
She says it’s also the attraction of examining honour, revenge and familial ties — on both sides.
For Helm, there’s madness born of grief from the loss of the child. With Wulf, there’s his relationship with his father, and with Héra.
“He is his father’s son, but he has a different character. So he does actually offer [to wed] her and the writers asked: ‘Why?’ What was driving him? Was it just his father demanding that he do this? Was it his ambition? What was at play there?”
Even the historical grievances of the Dunlendings — that the lords of Gondor gave what the Dunlendings felt was their land to the Rohirrim — should come through in the film.
She says that all those things are in the Helm tale.
“When I talked to Kamiyama about it, it resonated with him. So that was the genesis,” she says.
“And there’s a moment in the film, which is incredibly gut-wrenching and powerful where Wulf commits himself to a course of action he cannot turn away from. And once he does that, the story darkens.”
She says it was here that the screenwriters Phoebe Gittins and Arty Papageorgiou really connected with Kamiyama.
“So, yes, it begins with these quite large-scale battles, but it actually becomes more intense and … claustrophobic,” Boyens says.
“And the nature of the film changes almost into a ghost story.
“As the siege takes hold, as the rumours of horror begin to spread. And I can give you a little tease and let you know that, although we said this isn’t about The Ring and this isn’t about the Dark Lord … there are the White Mountains and there are creatures [out there].”
Somewhat to my relief she squashes speculation that she might be referring to the Dead of Erech. Instead, she suggests that orcs inhabited the area — a historically more agreeable inclusion.
“Also, I can just add — and I thought it was, again, really interesting in the way that Kamiyama approached this — this was a long, cold winter that was hurting everyone.”
This suggests that there won’t be space to see Gondor’s own struggles. Gondor may come to the rescue in the end, but it seems the focus will be squarely on a life-and-death struggle within Rohan.
She won’t even confirm or deny the presence of Saruman the White in the film. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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.
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Following yesterday’s initial casting announcement from Warner Bros., Witcher actor Shaun Dooley and Laurence Ubong Williams have revealed their respective roles in the forthcoming feature-length anime, The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
Dooley is set to voice the Dunlending chieftain/Rohirrim lord Freca. Freca is the father of the key antagonist of the story, Wulf. His actions at Edoras lead to a crisis between the Rohirrim and the Dunlending that eventually lead to war.
On Instagram, Williams confirmed that he will voice Helm’s nephew, Fréaláf Hildeson. Similar to Éomer assuming the kingship after Theoden’s death at the Pelennor Fields, Fréaláf eventually becomes king of Rohan after the deaths of Helm and both his sons during the conflict with Wulf.