Thursday, May 3, 2018

How Weinstein Almost Ruined "Lord of the Rings" with Quentin Tarantino

Scene from Lord of the Rings
Nowadays it's tough to imagine a world without Peter Jackson directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Clocking in at over 12 hours in extended edition, the series has become the peak of the modern epic, pushing visual effects in new and exciting ways. It also created a faithfulness to the source material that was ambitious while also earning billions at the box office along with earning over a dozen Oscars and a Best Picture in just three years. But news has recently broke of just how different things could've gone. Had the producer Harvey Weinstein had his way, things would be different for Jackson. He wouldn't even be there and the film wouldn't even be what it is now seen as.

In a recent book by Ian Nathan called "Anything You Can Imagine," he explores the history of the Lord of the Rings production, which has since become the stuff of lore. All three films were shot at once and gave a significant boom to the New Zealand film industry. It's a film that also essentially defined the special edition box sets and proved that long films didn't mean that a film was, well, boring. It could be sweeping and immersive, capturing a side to J.R.R. Tolkien's iconic trilogy that had yet to be captured on film. That is, in its ideal form. There hadn't been a production like Jackson's undertaking. But that was almost different in 1998 when Weinstein and Jackson had a bit of a problem with just how to approach the massive source material.

For starters, Weinstein believed that Jackson was wasting $12 million on making it a franchise. It needed to be more streamlined. It needed to clock in at around two hours and jam all three stories into one. It's an approach that had been done before in animated form, but Jackson's live action version wanted to do things differently. Weinstein believed that if he didn't get his way, he would replace Jackson with a much more prestigious talent. He was going to pull someone from the Miramax line-up that had helped to define the company as quintessential indie cinema. In fact, he was the person that the phrase "The House that Quentin Built" was referring to: Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino. 

It was a move that was sure to disappoint anyone wanting a faithful adaptation. All things considered, Tarantino has only adapted one film (Jackie Brown) from other source material, and even that didn't seem like the perfect reason to give him a fantasy franchise. Would it be full of profanity, gun violence, and stylized editing? Based on Tarantino's career following 1998, it's hard to see things going any different. In fact, Tarantino was likely better off sticking to his own vision, if just because the world of Tolkien doesn't seem like a perfect fit. Luckily the eventual selling to Newline Cinema meant that Jackson got to keep the gig and make the film he wanted.

Though it's not the only piece of news related to Weinstein to come out in the past few weeks. Tarantino has also added his name to a list of dozens of actors and filmmakers who feel that they are owed significant amounts in royalties. Cate Blanchett also believes that Carol's box office suffered because of the reputation the producer was receiving. In the world of Lord of the Rings, two actresses have come forward to admit that they were blacklisted from working on the film. They were Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, who at the time were rumored to be "a nightmare on set." It was his way of ruining careers, and thus serves as some of the basis for current lawsuits. Even months laters, The Weinstein Company has yet to be properly sold despite buyers who have tried.

Lord of the Rings is one of the most iconic and impressive film series of the 21st century. It is in part because of the craft and time it took to make every frame matter. As much as Weinstein deserves hate for what he's done in terms of sexual harassment, it's easy to see this as another poor choice on his part. He was the "guru" after all, producing the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love around the same time. Yet this was a time where his advice to go cheap was a complete failure. Luckily, he didn't last long and the film that was made instead turned out to be a groundbreaking production that many have imitated, but few have gotten nearly as right. This may be minuscule in the grander picture, but who wants to see Tarantino's take on Tolkien? It would be interesting, but likely a bigger failure than one could even fathom. 

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