Thoughts on a Silmarillion Film Pt 6: A TV Show in 6 Seasons

In my last article in this series, I stated why I’d be more interested in seeing The Silmarillion done as a high-quality, multi-season TV production than in the form of a series of films (even a trilogy of trilogies). In this one, I’ll lay out (at a high level) how I’d see the TV show playing out.

In short, I see The Silmarillion being done in 6 seasons of 10 episodes each. Here’s a look at what each season would encompass. Over the next few posts in this series, I’ll elaborate with more specifics on each season.

silmarillion-cover-cr2

Season 1 – The Awakening of the Elves: Season 1 would be primarily concerned with the journey of the Elves to the Blessed Realm under peril from Melkor. Basically, Chapter 3 would be in focus here. Everything before (Ainulindalë, Chapters 1 & 2) is background and would be handled as flashbacks/intro/stage setting. It would end on something of a high note, with the Elves arriving safely in Valinor and Melkor defeated and imprisoned. However, there would be a note of dread about the awakening of Ungoliant, and the secret machinations of Melkor to corrupt and destroy the Elves no matter the cost.

Season 2 – The Darkening of Valinor: Chapters 5 thru 8. Season 2 would take place almost entirely in the Blessed Realm, and would focus on Melkor’s manipulations, ending with the destruction of the Two Trees, the theft of the Silmarils, the murder of Finwë, Valinor in darkness, and Melkor and Ungoliant on the run.

Season 3 – The Pursuit of Melkor: Chapters 9 thru 13. Season 3 focuses on the Oath of Fëanor, the kinslaying, the break with the Valar, and the bickering of Melkor and Ungoliant. It ends with the death of Fëanor.

Season 4 – The Wars of Beleriand: Chapter 16 thru 18. Season 4 picks up some time after the death of Fëanor, after the Noldor have established themselves in Beleriand, and with the arrival of Men. This season would focus on the battles against Angband leading up to the Battle of Sudden Flame and ending with the death of Fingolfin.

Season 5 – Beren, Lúthien, Túrin: Chapters 19 thru 21. Season 5 focuses on Beren and Lúthien for the first half, and then, from that high point, descends into even greater tragedy with the Battle of Unnumbered Tears and the story of Túrin and the fall of Nargothrond.

Season 6 – The Journey of Eärendil and the End of the First Age: Chapters 22 thru 24. Season 6 focuses on the fall of Gondolin and the ever-increasing desperation of the peoples of Beleriand. It ends with Eärendil’s journey and the War of Wrath.

Let me just close with this: I truly hope this happens one day. I think The Silmarillion contains material that could make for utterly compelling TV. If put in the right hands (a show runner that respects the source material and Tolkien’s vision), it could be one of the best shows ever.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

Advertisements

Thoughts on a Silmarillion Film Pt 5: The TV Option’s Novel Effect

Having explained why I think 9 movies is the right number for a Silmarillion films series (Quenta only) as well as just what those 9 movies would be, I’ll now explain why I think a TV series would be the BEST way to bring the Silmarillion to life in a visual format.

In the last decade or so, the potential for high quality, multi-season storytelling on TV has emerged with a vengeance. At this point, I see fewer than a handful of movies (in the cinema or otherwise) every year, because most of my viewing is spent digesting the highly engrossing long form storytelling that I consistently see in shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards. I find this sort of visual storytelling to be far more enjoyable because of its immersive nature. With a typical movie, I have about 2 hours to get lost in a world, and as soon as I am, I have to pull myself back out again, usually at about the point that I am just beginning to truly enjoy it. With a show like Breaking Bad, I can come back to the same alternate reality on multiple occasions, and even choose to continue my watching adventure when the credits roll at the simple click of a button.

silmarillion-cover-cr2

A Matter of Escape

Thus, I see one overriding reason why The Silmarillion would be best served by a high-quality TV series: the peculiar ability of that format to allow the viewer to escape into the First Age of Middle-earth. After all, Tolkien named the phenomenon of escape as one of the key attributes of good literary fantasy, explaining how important it is that the reader (or in this case viewer) forget themselves and enter in to the reality of the secondary world. Only the very best movies can help a viewer get past the “willful suspension of disbelief” and into the mindset of “enchantment” in the space of two hours. A TV series, as anyone who has binge-watched Battlestar Galactica can tell you, will leave you captivated and hungry for more and more. [1]

Decompressed Storytelling

I could see The Silmarillion being told well in at least 6 seasons of 10 1-hour episodes. This would amount to 60 hours of visual storytelling. If one compares this to 9 3-hour films (what I suggested here), that’s 33 hours more in which to tell the story of Middle-earth’s First Age. Given that 9 films probably sounds like a whole heck of a lot, and one could theoretically pump out 9 seasons in the same amount of time it would take to rush 9 films, the TV option has the advantage of allowing for protracted instead of compressed  storytelling. In my next post, I will explain exactly how I would break it down by season.

Now, if one simply thinks of this as an opportunity for more swordfights and carnage, then one misses the point. What is needed is character development and the ability to flesh out the glory and bliss of the Blessed Realm (as well as the realities of Doriath, Gondolin, and Nargothrond) in a convincing way. [3] Breaking Bad was the series it was because we were able to witness Walter White’s descent into drug-lord depravity on a step-by-step basis, as the result of many little decisions beginning with the  sort of intentions with which most of us could sympathize. What if we had the time to see Fëanor developed in this way, to see the lack within the motherless child morph into a pride to rival Melkor’s? Indeed, what if we saw more of Sauron’s seduction, or were able to see firsthand the limitations and imperfect decisions of the Valar?

As I’ve said before, The Silmarillion, though unified overall, is not really a normal, straight-ahead story like The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. It’s a compendium of unified legends, and to truly do it justice, one needs to give it the time it takes to develop it properly.

NEXT: How I’d do The Silmarillion as TV series.

What do you think of my assessment? Do you agree that a TV series would be the better way of doing The Silmarillion? I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below.


FOOTNOTES
1 – Binge-watching is similar to the phenomenon of binge-reading after all. How many people read The Deathly Hallows in a day or two because they just had to know how it all ended?
2 – Quenta Silmarillion only. Should the series be a success, I could of course see a similar TV series being developed for the Second Age. And yes, I would love to see a stab taken at some of the peripheries of the Third Age as well.
3 – Remember, Quenta Silmarillion takes place over the course of uncountable years PLUS an extra four hundred years in the First Age proper. For those who felt Jackson’s Fellowship did the book a disservice by compressing the 17 years into 17 minutes, the re-telling of Valinor’s tales in the space of one movie would be unthinkable.

Thoughts on a Silmarillion Film Pt 4: The Tolkien Cinematic Universe

To truly do The Silmarillion  justice would require 9 films. That may seem like too many, but The Silmarillion is as dense as a scone made of neutron stars. Making 9 films of The Silmarillion would NOT be like expanding The Hobbit to 3; on the contrary, I think Tolkien might argue that 9 would be too few.

Now even a few years ago, the prospect of a 9-film series would have seemed like madness, but anyone paying attention to Hollywood trends in the last few years knows that this thing called the Marvel Cinematic Universe has happened, and right now we are 12 successful films and a gazillion dollars into that bad boy with no end in sight. And oh, by the way, Star Wars Episode VII hasn’t even been released yet and already there are 5 films in the “happening” category, with who knows how many more planned. [1]

Still, while I really do want to see stories of The Silmarillion come alive on a screen of some size, I’m also a hardcore Tolkien fan, and want to see justice done to the stories. I think 9 is the right way to do it, and in this article, I will outline just what I think those 9 films should be.

silmarillion-films

In my previous post in this series, I broke The Silmarillion into 3 trilogies and spoke about the prologue trope that Jackson established with Galadriel’s opening narration in The Lord of the Rings. With that one device (and as I understand it late addition), Jackson set himself up for success. With Tolkien’s works, we must be drawn out of our world and into his. Solid intros are necessary for this reason, and also because there is so much that just wouldn’t fit into the normal flow of a film but that still deserves to be told.

In this post, I am going to outline the 9 films as I see them. I will do so according to these attributes:

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: A one sentence summary of the plot.
  • INTRO: What backstory should introduce this film.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: There is no single protagonist in The Silmarillion nor even a mere handful. However, different tales within The Silmarillion focus on a single protagonist or group of protagonists, and so I will identify these for each film.
  • 3 ACTS: Most films follow a 3-act structure. I will identify those 3 acts for each film.
  • KEY SUBPLOTS: There are dozens of subplots throughout The Silmarillion. I will mention the major ones that would go well in each film.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. The Long Defeat: Why Christopher Tolkien must act to secure the best visual treatment for The Silmarillion.
  2. A Majestic Whole: Is cinema the best visual medium for The Silmarillion?
  3. A Trilogy of Trilogies: Why 9 is the right number of films for The Silmarillion and what the core of the story is.

Trilogy 1: The Dawn of Middle-earth

Film 1: Journey to the Blessed Realm

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: The Valar must bring the Elves to Valinor and protect them from the destructive Melkor.
  • INTRO: The Music of the Ainur & the Ancient Battles with Melkor.
  • 3 ACTS: (1) Oromë discovers the Elves. (2) The Defeat and Chaining of Melkor. (3) The Departure of the Elves for Valinor.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Fëanor, Finwë, Thingol, Oromë, Melian, Melkor, Manwë.
  • SUBPLOTS: Melkor’s threat to the Elves; the 3 Tribes and the sundering of the Elves; Thingol & Melian.

Film 2: The Darkening of Valinor

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: Melkor is freed from bondage and works secretly to gain revenge against the Valar and the Elves.
  • INTRO: Intro to the Valar, the long ages past since film 1, & the creation of the Silmarils.
  • 3 ACTS: (1) The Unchaining & Treachery of Melkor. (2) Melkor & Ungoliant Strike. (3) The Cleansing of Valinor.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Fëanor, Finwë, Fingolfin, Galadriel, Yavanna, Olwë, Manwë, Melkor.
  • SUBPLOTS: Fëanor vs. Fingolfin; Sauron; Galadriel’s early story.

Film 3: The Fall of the Eldar

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: Fëanor and the Elves pursue Morgoth in the hope of regaining the Silmarils.
  • INTRO: Melkor Throwing Down the Lamps (flashback through the eyes of Manwë).
  • 3 ACTS: (1) The Pursuit of Melkor. (2) The Oath of Fëanor & the Kinslaying. (3) The Flight to Beleriand.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Fëanor, Manwë, Fingolfin, Galadriel, Yavanna, Olwë
  • SUBPLOTS: The peaceful nature of the Teleri; Melkor’s treachery to Ungoliant; Nienna’s Tears; the descendants of the Two Trees; the friendship of Thingol, Olwë, and Finwë.

Trilogy 2: The War of the Jewels

Film 4: The Siege of Angband

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: The Elves of Beleriand must join forces to defeat Morgoth and recapture the Silmarils.
  • INTRO: The Hiding of Valinor and the Creation of the Sun and the Moon.
  • 3 ACTS: (1) Fëanor battles Morgoth. (2) The Noldor and Sindar clash. (3) The Glorious Battle.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Fëanor, Morgoth, Fingolfin, Thingol, Melian, Maedhros.
  • SUBPLOTS: The Coming of the Dwarves; Thingol vs. the Noldor.

Film 5: The Battle of Sudden Flame

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: Morgoth secretly plots the destruction of the Elvish forces besieging his stronghold.
  • INTRO: The Founding of Nargothrond & Gondolin; the Coming of Men.
  • 3 ACTS: (1) The long siege and the looming threat. (2) The Battle of Sudden Flame. (3) The Death of Fingolfin.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Fingolfin, Barahir, Finrod, Beren, Morgoth.
  • SUBPLOTS: Ulmo’s influence; Elves & Men clash; Finrod & Barahir’s friendship; Thingol’s isolationism.

Film 6: The Tale of Beren and Lúthien

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: A mortal warrior and immortal princess must obtain a Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth.
  • INTRO: Melkor seduces Sauron; Thingol and Melian’s courtship. (flashbacks)
  • 3 ACTS: (1) B&L meet. (2) Beren’s mission. (3) The Silmaril obtained & Lúthien’s choice.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Beren, Lúthien, Finrod, Huan, Thingol, Melian, Sauron, Morgoth.
  • SUBPLOTS: Sauron’s treachery to Gorlim; Thingol’s pride; Finrod’s death; Celegorm & Curufin.

Trilogy 3: The Fall of Beleriand

Film 7: The Ruin of Beleriand

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: As the forces of Morgoth overrun Beleriand, the Elvish kingdoms must come together or fall.
  • INTRO: Aulë makes the dwarves. (flashback)
  • 3 ACTS: (1) The Battle of Unnumbered Tears. (2) The Fall of Nargothrond. (3) The death of Thingol.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Thingol, Melian, Turgon, Maedhros, Húrin, Huor, Fingon, Morgoth.
  • SUBPLOTS: The Feud of the Nauglamir; Dwarvish ways; the treachery of the Easterlings.

Film 8: The Fall of Gondolin

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: Though hidden for years, Gondolin is threatened after the fall of the other Elvish kingdoms.
  • INTRO: The History of the Hidden City (incl. Maeglin’s story).
  • 3 ACTS: (1) Fleeing from Doriath. (2) Tuor’s Happiness in Gondolin. (3) The Fall of Gondolin.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Turgon, Túrin, Tuor, Maeglin, Ulmo, Idril, Morgoth.
  • SUBPLOTS: Túrin stuff [2]; Turgon’s pride; Ulmo’s influence.

Film 9: The War of Wrath

  • PLOT-IN-BRIEF: Eärendil undertakes a desperate and perilous journey to Valinor to obtain the aid of the Valar against Morgoth.
  • INTRO: Beren & Lúthien epilogue.
  • 3 ACTS: (1) Eärendil & the havens of Sirion. (2)The Voyage to Valinor. (3) The War of Wrath.
  • MAIN CHARACTERS: Eärendil, Elwing, Eönwë, Maedhros, Maglor, Morgoth.
  • SUBPLOTS: Maedhros, Maglor, and the end of the Silmarils; the birth of Elrond & Elros; the destruction of Beleriand.

So that’s my outline for 9 Silmarillion films. I have to be honest, even at 9 films, I feel like a lot of important stuff has been excluded. But if I had the opportunity to see these 9 films over the course of a decade or two, I would be absolutely ecstatic.

As for the stories of the Second Age, I’ll have to cover those another time.

NEXT UP: Part 5 – A Silmarillion TV Series

Do you agree with my assessment of The Silmarillion‘s core? Do you think a film series could work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Footnotes

1 – What’s beautiful about this is that it portrays Tolkien as something of a prophet. After all, it was Tolkien that showed a writer could successfully concoct a “secondary reality” (as he called it) and be incredibly successful in doing so. The Star Wars and Marvel “secondary realities” are just two examples of this phenomenon in contemporary culture. Star Trek has been going down this road for some time, and the number seems to be growing every day.

2 – The story of Túrin is one of Tolkien’s proudest achievements, but in terms of the overriding plot of The Silmarillion, it’s a detour. I think it would be great as a standalone film or two, sort of like what the Star Wars folks are looking to do with the Anthology films, but in terms of these films, I think Túrin needs to be relegated to the place of a subplot. Having said that, you may now threaten me with bodily harm in the comments below.

Thoughts on a Silmarillion Film Pt 1: The Long Defeat

This is my first post in a series on the idea of a Silmarillion film series as well as other visual takes on Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

silmarillion-cover-cr2

The Hobbit film trilogy is now behind us, and so it would seem are the days of Middle-earth on film. (*) Yet just as the reader who comes to the end of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit will inevitably consider taking up The Silmarillion, so too will Hollywood consider taking up Tolkien’s tales concerning Middle-earth’s First Age, and many Tolkien fans will pine for them to do so. (**)

A few months back, The Tolkien Library asked “Will we ever see The Silmarillion on the big screen?” and basically answered the question “No way.” Citing Christopher Tolkien’s disgust with Peter Jackson’s adaptations and Jackson’s own admission that the Tolkien Estate seems to have no interest in discussing it, the cause does seem rather hopeless. Yet, at the same time, the potential for incredible financial gain from anything bearing Tolkien’s name (and most certainly anything taking place in Middle-earth) leaves me feeling the need to posit the following:

Christopher Tolkien must act before his death to ensure that the film rights for The Silmarillion fall into the most capable hands possible. 

Continue reading “Thoughts on a Silmarillion Film Pt 1: The Long Defeat”