Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings project needs to be a success. By some degree the most expensive television series ever made, it will arrive at an incredibly perilous time for the platform. People have too many streaming options and not enough money, and if Lord of the Rings fails to bring in a decent number of subscribers, it might spell curtains for Amazon Prime Video.
Luckily, though, the world’s greatest authority when it comes to adapting JRR Tolkien texts to screen is still around. Peter Jackson has not only made six Tolkien movies at this point – winning 17 Oscars and taking almost $6bn at the box office in the process – he also stands at the cutting edge of visual effects and entertainment-based AI. If you were going to make a Lord of the Rings TV show, it is an absolute no-brainer that you would first consult Peter Jackson.
Bad news, though. Not only does Peter Jackson claim that Amazon effectively ghosted him, first asking for help and then never following up, he also wants to professionally wipe his brain of everything to do with Lord of the Rings.
The first part is, sadly, down to matters of important business. Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien estate meant that its TV show had to be distinct from Jackson’s trilogy, which effectively prohibited his involvement. But the latter part is a bit more nuts.
On a recent episode of the Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, Jackson revealed that the most galling thing about making the Lord of the Rings trilogy was not getting to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a fan. “It was such a loss for me not to be able to experience them like everyone else was, that I actually did seriously consider going to a … hypnotherapy guy to hypnotise me, to make me forget about the films and forget about the work I’d done over the last six or seven years, so at least I could sit and enjoy them,” he said.
That “hypnotherapy guy” was reportedly Derren Brown, and Jackson apparently consulted with him about blank-slating his own brain of nine hours of cinema. Sadly, however, the mind-erasing did not happen, largely because it appears to be a genuinely impossible thing to do.
But, honestly, the balls on the man. Imagine wanting to see something so badly that you’d be willing to scrub your brain of all prior knowledge of it. And imagine doing it as the person who made the thing you want to scrub. I’ve been thinking about this for hours, and I genuinely can’t decide whether Peter Jackson’s plan is admirable or utterly obnoxious.
It’s obnoxious, because – at least in the way I have chosen to interpret the plan – he wanted to experience the genius of his own work without the baggage of remembering what it was like to make it. He wants to experience the giddy thrill of sitting in a cinema 20 years ago and having his mind blown by a film they said could never be made. He wants to experience the rush of “Who made this?” that we all feel when we see something extraordinary. He wants to scurry home, look the film up on IMDb, realise that someone called Peter Jackson was responsible for conjuring such a spectacular world, then spend the next few weeks luxuriating in the low-budget horror movies that helped to guide his vision. Which, since he is Peter Jackson, is weird.
But also, I’m slightly in awe of his guts. Because what if he erased everything he knew about Lord of the Rings, then sat down and watched Lord of the Rings, and absolutely hated it. It happens: when I went to see The Return of the King, a decent percentage of the audience walked out partway through the pile-up of endings the film had. What if it turns out that he will follow them?
Worse, if Jackson was able to wipe his memory of Lord of the Rings, he would also be removing the memory of the challenges he encountered making it. And those challenges almost certainly made him a better filmmaker. It isn’t impossible to assume that the lessons he learned on Lord of the Rings were utilised at some point during the making of Get Back. And a world without Get Back really would be a crying shame.
So, in short, well done to Peter Jackson for not defying the laws of nature and erasing part of his own brain to watch Lord of the Rings. That said, if you ever wanted to erase the parts that went into making The Hobbit, you’d probably be fine.