Game of Thrones broke a lot of records over on HBO: it became phenomenally popular in an age when conventional wisdom held that audiences were splintering, and it brought movie-quality fights and special effects to TV. I mean, watch the Loot Train Attack and tell me that doesn’t look as good as anything at the movies.
A few years later, and networks everywhere are trying to get their own version of Game of Thrones, and no one is trying harder than Amazon. Their first big splashy fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, is airing its first season right now. And they have another giant fantasy series in the hopper: a show based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, set thousands of years before the story we know.
The Lord of the Rings show made headlines for being tremendously expensive. Amazon spend $250 million just to get the rights, and then made another $250 million for the first couple of seasons. For reference, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy from the early ’00s cost $281 million total. Amazon is already up to half a billion right out of the gate.
Is Amazon spending the same amount of money on The Wheel of Time? Clearly the show isn’t cheap. There have been four episodes released so far; two have had battles and one an encounter with the creeping horror that haunts the ruined city of Shadar Logoth. And speaking of Shadar Logoth, do you realize they built that whole elaborate set just to use it in one episode? Same for Emond’s Field. And then there are the sweeping vistas, the elaborate costumes, the horses, the gaggles of extras…the depth of Jeff Bezos’ pockets is not exaggerated.
The Wheel of Time is “the most expensive redheaded stepchild ever”
All that said, according to showrunner Rafe Judkins, The Wheel of Time is getting a pittance next to The Lord of the Rings. “[A]lthough we have a big budget, the ambitions of the books are huge in terms of how much you see,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
"Like, our budget is tiny compared to Lord of the Rings. I’m always like (laughs) we’re the most expensive redheaded stepchild — ever. Yes, we have money, but our money is not unlimited. I wish we were a show that could just light money on fire, but we really can’t. So, you know, the budget constraints are something that’s constantly affecting how we adapt and how we tell the story the best way that we can."
The budget constraints, such as they are, account for why the first season of the show is skipping over some major locations introduced in the first book, at least for now, and not introducing all the characters just yet. On that latter point, it can be tricky to hire an actor to play someone now if they’re not going to be important in the narrative for a while. “It’s beautiful foreshadowing in a book because you so often are meeting these people or seeing these places that end up playing a huge role later,” Judkins said. “But to [only] meet a person who plays a huge role later in a TV show means you have to hire an actor, and you can’t hold them from doing anything else in their career for four years just so they can come back to you [when you need them]. It’s just not feasible. And same thing with places.”
And the eternal push and pull of the book-to-screen adaptation continues.
Honestly, I would rather they pour more money in The Wheel of Time and less into The Lord of the Rings, since Wheel is an adaptation of a story we haven’t seen onscreen before while the LOTR show, while set in a different time period, will still have things in common with movies that have come out over the years.
But that’s me. New episodes of The Wheel of Time drop on Fridays while The Lord of the Rings premieres in September of 2022.
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