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Amazon most likely pilfered all of Smaug's tantalizing treasure from the Lonely Mountain to pay for its Rings of Power series, right? Currently planned as a five-season epic set thousands of years before J.R.R. Tolkien's original trilogy, The Lord of the Rings-inspired project (arriving this September) is expected to cost Amazon Studios upwards of $1 billion. That's pretty much a drop in the bucket for Jeff Bezos, a massive Tolkien fan and, coincidentally, one of the richest humans on the planet.
“He is personally a huge fan of Tolkien and incredibly passionate about all of it and very well-versed,” Amazon Studios head honcho Jennifer Salke told Vanity Fair, which published an in-depth exploration of the show's staggering production. “His desire to be ambitious —and for us to be ambitious with our content — has always been clear from the moment I got here. This fit perfectly with that big ambition, to take on something that would require the whole company working together to execute.”
With great budget comes great responsibility, which ultimately landed on the shoulders of showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, a duo with a limited Hollywood track record that includes co-writing the screenplay for 2016's Star Trek Beyond. Luckily, that very project put them on the radar of producer J.J. Abrams, who apparently went to bat for them when Amazon was looking for its creative leads.
“We were a little bit of a dark horse. And Amazon talked to absolutely everybody — whoever had any idea for Lord of the Rings," McKay recalled to Vanity Fair.
“We were passionate about the material and had a take that matched Amazon’s appetites and ambition," added Payne. He continued: "We felt like hobbits. We felt like two very small people in a very big world who had just been entrusted with something that meant so much to so many different people."
The showrunners also had the benefit of relying on Bryan Cogman, a veteran writer and producer on HBO's Game of Thrones, who boarded The Rings of Power in an advisory capacity. Who better to guide Payne and McKay than someone with intimate knowledge of how mega-expensive fantasy shows come together? And when production finally got underway, director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) was tapped to helm the first two episodes.
“I knew what they were going through and they knew what I was going through also, because can you imagine going back to such a beloved world and [facing] the high bar of the Peter Jackson movies? We were, all the time, very aware of the massive expectations," said Bayona, who also serves as an executive producer.
Given that the story picks up shortly after the fall of Morgoth and Sauron, the filmmaker saw the show as an opportunity to explore real-world themes of how war affects a society. In particular, Bayona looked to his native Spain, which suffered under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco for close to four decades.
"You notice the repercussions of war and the shadow of the past,” the director added while teasing the character arc for a young Galadriel (played by Morfydd Clark). “I think this is all about the repercussions of war. There is an idea that feels very faithful to Tolkien, which is intuition. Galadriel has an intuition that things are not fixed, and there is still something lurking.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power lands on Prime Video Friday, Sept. 2.