When the first installment of Peter Jackson’s ”The Lord of the Rings” trilogy premieres in London this week, J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandson Simon will be in attendance, but Simon’s father Christopher will not. The trilogy was made not only without any consultation with the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien (who died in 1973), but also amid disagreements among the author’s family as to whether the movies should even be made. Last week, 42-year-old Simon said, ”It was my view that we take a much more positive line on the film and that was overruled by my father.” The British press reported that Christopher Tolkien, 77, refused to see Simon or take his phone calls to discuss the production.
Peter Jackson, who directed and cowrote the three films, says that the Tolkien disagreement over his movies is part of a wider family rift. ”He and his father have been estranged for many, many years,” Jackson told EW.com. ”The press have painted it like the film has caused this, but I know that when we met Simon three years ago, he and his father were not on speaking terms then. There’s a history to it that we don’t really know about.”
In any case, Jackson says, he’s glad that the Tolkien estate wanted nothing to do with his project. ”They had an opinion that if they were in any way connected to the film, on some sort of consultation basis, then it would be seen by everybody as the official Tolkien estate adaptation. And they felt that, if they had no power or authority over the filmmakers, they didn’t want to be seen as making it the official film. From our point of view, having to make three movies as complicated as these and having to run every decision by the Tolkien estate would have been an absolute impossibility.”
Christopher Tolkien finally spoke out over the weekend, saying that he doubts any film of his father’s epic could work. ”My own position is that ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ is peculiarly unsuitable to transformation into visual dramatic form,” he said in a statement. ”On the other hand, I recognize that this is a debatable and complex question of art, and the suggestions that have been made that I ‘disapprove’ of the films, whatever their cinematic quality, even to the extent of thinking ill of those with whom I may differ, are wholly without foundation.”
Even the late author himself has been dragged into the fray. Tolkien biographer Michael White says he believes the author would have hated the current film on principle. ”He hated all things Hollywood,” White says. ”I think he would have just closed his eyes to it.” (White, though, seems to have no compunctions about capitalizing on the film, since his book ”J.R.R. Tolkien” is being published tomorrow, in time to ride the wave of ”Rings” hype.)
”They can have opinions about the movie,” says Jackson, ”but to have an attitude about the fact that the film got made in the first place is a little bit unfair to the people that own the rights because the rights were sold by J.R.R. Tolkien himself in 1968. He cashed the check, and he enjoyed the money before he died. The people who bought the rights off Tolkien should be allowed to make the film that they paid for.”