I can remember very clearly seeing the first teaser trailer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a golden ring floating in the darkness, and a voice over beginning with: “one ring to rule them all…”
It’s amazing to think it’s been ten years since the Lord of the Rings trilogy was launched, and it was indeed a hell of a gamble that paid off big time.
Credit has to go to Bob Shaye, founder of New Line Cinema, for having the cajones to back Peter Jackson, who hadn’t had a hit film, as well as the guts to make three films, betting his company in the process.
“Bob is a very smart businessman. Very cautious, very careful, but he also works a lot of times by the seat of his pants. He’s intuitive,” says Sara Risher, former president of production at New Line.
“A lot of times he’ll bet on things because he thinks something is gonna be good without any proof because he just knows he likes it, and he thinks other people will (too). He’ll gamble if his gut tells him, that’s what he did on Lord of the Rings. And Bob had a lot of cool ideas. He was in touch with the zeitgeist maybe more than any studio type.”
What appealed to New Line about Lord of the Rings was it was a built in franchise. At the time they were trying to get their own franchises set up with Freddy Vs. Jason, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask, and as Bob Shaye recalled in Peter Jackson: A Filmmaker’s Journey, “When it came to getting sequels, our tent poles weren’t holding up the tent very well.”
If you were familiar with Jackson’s previous work, he was a great choice to helm the trilogy – not that mainstream Hollywood thought so.
Many believed Jackson couldn’t handle a project that big, and only two companies would meet with him about the trilogy: PolyGram / Working Title, who were about to be sold to Universal, and New Line. New Line production executive Mark Odersky was Jackson’s champion at the company, and behind his back people in the industry called the Rings trilogy “Mark’s folly.”
So it had to be a delicious victory to prove everyone wrong on that one. The series reportedly made close to three billion worldwide, and Return of the King would win 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Now Lord of the Rings is headed to Blu-Ray, with extended versions of the trilogy also hitting theaters across the country.
As Peter Debruge wrote in Variety, “If anything, [the movies have] gotten better with age, which I never would have guessed at the time they bowed… So accomplished is Jackson’s vision, so robust and detailed is the Middle Earth that he creates, we take for granted the fact he’s spun this world from scratch.”