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Screenrant get the Beatles' interest in The Lord of the Rings wrong

Chen G.

Mar 30, 7:29pm

Views: 1199
Screenrant get the Beatles' interest in The Lord of the Rings wrong

Screenrant's Craig Elvy posted a piece on the Beatles' interest in The Lord of the Rings in the 60s, which - like so much written on this subject - is wrong.

The Beatles' interest in adapting The Lord of the Rings came from Denis O'Dell, who had helped produce the band's previous big screen musical efforts. [..] After hearing O'Dell's idea, The Beatles themselves were keen on pressing ahead, having been fans of the original books.

This isn't quite true. O'Dell seem to have been the driving force behind the project, but when sat down to talk the Beatles into it, they hadn't read the books: Donovan did, and convinced them to do so.

In the years since, it has been confirmed that Paul McCartney would've portrayed protagonist Frodo, John Lennon would've been Gollum, George Harrison was set to play Gandalf and Ringo Starr would appear as Samwise Gamgee.

There are conflicting reports on this: It seems the project first appealed to O'Dell because he could have the Fab four as the four Hobbits. McCartney later said they bickered over the project because John wanted the lead (i.e. Frodo).

Unfortunately, two major obstacles would halt the project in its tracks, the first being a struggle to land a big-name director. John Lennon was reportedly the driving force behind The Beatles' Lord of the Rings movie and was eyeing Stanley Kubrick to direct the feature. While Kubrick also had an affinity for the source material, he was skeptical about the feasibility of bringing Tolkien to live-action.

The article already stated that O'Dell was the driving force: not Lennon. O'Dell didn't "eye" Kubrick. He talked about Richard Lester, who directed the band previously, but in conversation with Arnold Picker from United Artists it was agreed a star director was needed.

O'Dell first choice was Sir David Lean (and, naturally, his writer at-the-time, Robert Bolt). It was a sound choice, given Lean's status and his experience with complex book adaptations and large-scale productions.

Furthermore, Lean was a fan of the Lester-directed Beatles feature, A Hard Day's Night. He was, however, busy with Ryan's Daughter.

Only after Lean proved unavailable did O'Dell contact Kubrick, who didn't "have an affinity to the source material." In fact, he hadn't read them. Fortunately, he had the whole voyage from the US to England to do so, partially at the behest of his daughter, who was a fan. Once he read them, Kubrick found he did like the books, but said it was "unfilmable." This statement shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value, though. Its possible Kubrick just had other projects in mind, like his Napoleon epic.

That didn't quite stop the project dead, though, as O'Dell had spoken to Michaelangelo Antonioni next, but nothing came out of it. Other filmmakers like Heinz Edelmann pitched it, but as O'Dell has it, the Beatles simply lost interest.

Another major setback came directly from Tolkien himself. According to Peter Jackson, The Beatles' journey to Mount Doom was killed off completely because Tolkien at this juncture still held the rights to his story and, not being an especially big fan of the band, refused to let four musicians on copious amounts of drugs adapt his life's work.

This comes from a later account given by McCartney and it seems wrong. According to O'Dell, this interest occured in 1968-1969, while Tolkien was making a deal to sell the rights to United Artists, and would therefore have no say in who was to star in an adaptation of his work. Heck, even John Boorman's 1970 script was made when the idea of casting the Beatles was around. Their breakup having been made public and their choice not to regroup killed it.

Chen G.

Apr 4, 5:49pm

Views: 1070

I'm not so sure that what I wrote about Tolkien's objections to the project was true.

While Jean-Rodolphe Turlin maintains that Tolkien would not have had a say in the matter,* Kristin Thompson says (in Stuart Lee's A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien) that Tolkien did threaten to terminate his dealings with United Artists if the Beatles would helm the project.

Nevertheless, when John Boorman came in board after the rights were settled, the idea of the Beatles as the four Hobbits still lingered.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Apr 4, 6:01pm)