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It's no secret that Amazon had to dip into Smaug's accumulated treasure trove underneath the Misty Mountains in order to bankroll The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which is finally slated to arrive on Prime Video early next month after several years of anticipation. According to TIME, the first season alone cost the studio an estimated $468 million — a price tag that far exceeds the the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones ($90 million) and the most recent season of Netflix's Stranger Things ($270 million).
By the time Rings of Power reaches the end of its planned five-season run, the most expensive television show in the history of the medium will have crossed $1 billion in production spending. That's a lot of lembas bread. As the old saying goes, "You've gotta spend money to make money," but if Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is to be believed, the company's highly ambitious adaptation of the sprawling fantasy mythos created by J.R.R Tolkien goes beyond the bottom line.
“Middle-earth is such a beloved world, and telling the story of the forging of the Rings of Power is a privilege and a responsibility," Bezos, whose net worth is valued at a whopping $168 billion (his company is valued at just over $468 billion), said in a statement provided to TIME. "I hope we do Tolkien’s work justice. It goes beyond making a commercially successful show. Everyone working on the show read these stories as kids and our hearts are in it."
“The jewels of the crown are the big tentpole shows that invite in the whole family,” added Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios. “And this is the crown jewel.”
The risk becomes even greater when you consider that co-showrunners/executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay are relative greenhorns within the context of Hollywood. Beyond a stint at J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company (where they tuned up screenplays and failed to get a number of projects — including a fourth Star Trek movie — off the ground), they don't have much experience as the curators of a property that literally has billions of dollars riding on its success.
Their only advantage is a deep love and reverence for Tolkien. Payne, for instance, opened up The Rings of Power SDCC panel by speaking Elvish. "Amazon is taking a humongous swing betting on us, who might not, from the outside, look like the safest bet," McKay explained. “That’s good, I think. Storytelling is too safe these days."
Perhaps there was no one better to comb through the lengthy bonus material included at the end of Return of the King, which details the Second Age of Middle-earth (the thousands of years between the fall of Morgoth and the formation of the Fellowship).
"It's based on the appendices which come at the end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then also, poems and songs and stories and half whispered rumors and histories that are found scattered throughout the text," Payne said during a Television Critics Association panel attended by SYFY WIRE. "Tolkien is sort of a treasure hunt where there are some places where he'll give little summaries and you'll get bits, but often it's a whispered thing that someone will say and a little nugget there, and a little nugget there."
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power lands on Prime Video Friday, Sep. 2.
Looking for some fantasy content to tide you over? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.