According to Variety’s sources, the argument stems from disagreement about whether the studio has met ongoing obligations needed to maintain the long-term license that it has held since the late 1990s.
In a statement to Variety, a Warner Bros. spokeswoman said:
New Line Cinema has maintained the theatrical film rights, both live-action and animated, for over two decades now. We are currently in production on our anime film ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim’ and look forward to bringing audiences back to Middle-earth.
As Variety points out, license deals such as this “often involve producers conducting a certain level of development and production activity by pre-determined dates, among other clauses.”
However, it is the Saul Zaetnz Co. (through its subsidiary, Middle-earth Enterprises) that holds the rights to exploit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit “in movies, video games, merchandising, live events and theme parks.”
Variety adds that this includes limited matching rights should the Tolkien Estate make movies or other content based on two Tolkien books published after his death: The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.
The Saul Zaentz Co. also recently announced that it will auction all its Tolkien IP rights. Universal and Warner Bros. are both reported to be interested.
The Warner Bros. animated Middle-earth production, The War of the Rohirrim, is set to debut on screen on April 12, 2024.
The feature-length film is set to focus on the story of the Rohirrim king, Helm Hammerhand, as outlined in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings.
Warner Bros. says that it will “explore… the untold story behind the fortress of Helm’s Deep, delving into the life and bloodsoaked times of one of Middle-earth’s most legendary figures; the mighty King of Rohan — Helm Hammerhand.”
Acclaimed filmmaker Kenji Kamiyama (especially known in anime circles for his work on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) is directing, while Philippa Boyens (co-screenwriter for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) is executive producer.
The writing team of Phoebe Gittins and Arty Papageorgiou have penned the screenplay based on a script from Jeffrey Addiss & Will Matthews. The “Lord of the Rings” returning creative team also includes Oscar winner Richard Taylor and Tolkien illustrator John Howe, while animation is being done by Sola Entertainment.
If you don’t know Sola Entertainment, they have previously worked on the 2D-styled Tower of God (for streaming company Crunchyroll), Bladerunner Black Out: 2022, plus 3D efforts Blade Runner: Black Lotus and Ghost in the Shell SAC: 2045.
On the works so far, Executive Producer Philippa Boyens says: “I’m in awe of the creative talent who have come together to bring this epic, heart-pounding story to life, from the mastery of Kenji Kamiyama to a truly stellar cast. I cannot wait to share this adventure with fans of cinema everywhere.”
Warner Bros. also revealed that animation work has been underway since last year at Sola Entertainment, and voice casting will be announced very soon.
It’s probably not well known, but Kamiyama did an interview late last year with Japanese media outlet Akiba-Souken where he touched on his work on The War of the Rohirrim briefly.
TORn has the following translation of relevant pieces from that article and Kamiyama’s comments:
What makes anime an anime?
Kamiyama is busy working on a number of projects, including directing the spin-off anime “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” from the blockbuster movie “The Lord of the Rings.”
The soon-to-be-released “Star Wars: Visions – Ninth Jedi” is based on Kamiyama’s own ideas, he wanted to go back to the original story of a young man travelling the countryside, who gets involved in the battle over the Galactic Empire. Kamiyama was given the official Star Wars history lecture but also freedom to create his own story and setting within that realm.
Kamiyama is currently working on “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.” He says that “First of all, the existence of the live-action version of the “Lord of the Rings” series created by J.R.R. Tolkien’s original work and director Peter Jackson is tremendous. For Hollywood, there is no national policy for the film industry, but it has become a core industry of the region.”
“I feel that the small scale of Japanese animation is good, and that it has a different dimension from ‘true’ (ie live action) movie production,” he says.
“However, working on “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” has the difficulty and fun that makes me realize things like ‘probably Hollywood is making movies like this’.
“It’s completely different to working on other projects. Because we are focusing on making it as ‘entertainment’, it is possible to create works that guarantee a certain level of quality depending on the budget scale and staffing. There is a lot of discussion about the screenplay, the process is similar to building a stadium or a bridge. I think “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” will create a new level of animation production.”
Newly-announced 2D animated feature to be produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Adult Swim team.
The rumors are true: Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema held onto the feature film rights to Middle-earth and are expanding Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth Cinematic Universe with a new 2D animated movie ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.’ Directed by Kenji Kamiyama, who is celebrated for his work on ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’ and ‘Ultraman,’ the studio has brought on the Emmy-winning writers who universally delighted fans with ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ (creators Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews) to collaborate with Philippa Boyens.
Adult Swim’s Toonami executive Jason Demarco is on board as Producer. Besides being one of the leading creatives to bring anime to America, he is a huge Lord of the Rings fan and recently produced a Blade Runner anime series.
Wait, I thought Amazon had all the Tolkien rights now?
What we’ve heard from those who know, and reading the carefully worded press releases from both Amazon and WB over the last few years, here’s what is going on with the rights to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings… The big thing is the fans win.
Allegedly the Tolkien Estate has brokered the rights to Middle-earth in such a way that Warner Bros. keeps feature film & motion picture rights, while Amazon can make all the TV series they want. In the first press announcement of the Amazon deal it was explicitly noted that Amazon intended “5 seasons minimum plus spinoff shows” — a clear sign that the monumental price would be recouped through many TV shows. Both companies own rights to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and *anything* mentioned in the Appendices. Amazon cannot make movies, and WB cannot make TV series. The most interesting part of this new ‘War of the Rohirrim’ anime is that WB is known for direct Blu-ray releases (their excellet D.C. Comics animated films) and TV series like the popular Harley Quinn. It seems neither WB, New Line nor Adult Swim have ever released a major anime film theatrically worldwide so this will be a first as legally they probably have to release it theatrically.
Will it be set in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth Cinematic Universe (the MeCU)?
YES. Warner Bros Animation head says “We’re honored to partner with much of the incredible talent behind both film trilogies” a direct acknowledgement of the intention to stay in PJ’s MeCU. Oscar-winning writer of LOTR & Hobbit Philippa Boyens is credited as a consultant on this production.
The anime story is centered on an earlier King, Helm Hammerhand, who left his legendary mark on the history of Rohan such that his kin still talk about him centuries later. “The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the deep…” for the first time in this movie!
Our Staffer and Livestream Host Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway has the most direct recommendation for those wanting details from Tolkien himself. Clifford states: “The most salient details of the Ninth King of Rohan are readily found in your copy of The Return of the King in APPENDIX A: ANNALS OF THE KINGS AND RULERS — just jump to Section II “THE HOUSE OF EORL” and find the paragraph opening with: ‘Of the Kings of the Mark between Eorl and Theoden most is said of Helm Hammerhand’ (page 346 HMCo Hardcover edition). And no, absolutely no, Helm Hammerhand did *not* become a Nazgul as depicted in the video game Shadow of War. Also there is a very brief note of reference Christopher Tolkien made: look at Unfinished Tales, Part Three: The Third Age, Section V “The Battles of the Fords of Isen” and see his endnote #4 if you’re as nerdy as I am about this.”
Kenji Kamiyama directed Ghost in the Shell and Eden of the East, and wrote for Blood the Last Vampire. Three of the best animes ever made. Now I’m incredibly excited about this, it’s like I had an early Christmas
“All of us at New Line feel a deep affinity for the extraordinary world J.R.R. Tolkien created, so the opportunity to dive back into Middle-earth with the team at Warner Bros. Animation is a dream come true. Fans know Helm’s Deep as the stage for one of the greatest battles ever put to film and, with many of the same creative visionaries involved and the brilliant Kenji Kamiyama at the helm, we couldn’t be more excited to deliver a fresh vision of its history that will invite global audiences to experience the rich, complex saga of Middle-earth in a thrilling new way.”
Warner Bros. Pictures Group COO Carolyn Blackwood and New Line president and CCO, Richard Brener
Harken back in time and you will recall that “The Hobbit” Rankin/Bass 1977 telefilm is billed as an American production but indeed was animated in Japan by TopCraft (much of this animation team would later go on to form Studio Ghibli, the standard-bearers of the greatest anime films ever). The team now working on ‘War of the Rohirrim’ is some of the top talent in the industry today. Casting is currently underway for voice actors, so we expect this new film to be released in theaters worldwide in 2023 or later.