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SYFY WIRE The Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson used his 'Get Back' doc to ask The Beatles about their failed Lord of the Rings project

Once upon a time, the Fab Four wanted to be The Fellowship of the Ring.

By Matthew Jackson
Peter Jackson YT

It's no secret that attempts to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings for the big screen were underway in some form for years before director Peter Jackson finally got his hands on the project. Two decades ago, Jackson's version debuted with The Fellowship of the Ring, and the trilogy went on to become an Oscar-winning masterpiece, but even setting aside other adaptations like Ralph Bakshi's animated version, there were other attempts along the way, including one that came directly from the biggest band of all time. 

Yes, at one point in the 1960s, The Beatles considered making a film project out of The Lord of the Rings shortly after discovering the books and, like many free-spirited people in that decade, getting swept up in their narrative. That this happened is not new information, but that didn't stop Jackson from using his own Beatles film project to grill the surviving members of the band about their attempt. 

Speaking to The BBC last week about Get Back -- his epic Disney+ docuseries about The Beatles' make-or-break sessions that later became the Let It Be album -- Jackson recalled using his time with Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (who both serve as producers on the series) to ask them about their Lord of the Rings efforts. 

"I've been scraping together little pieces of information. I've been interrogating Paul about it. Ringo doesn't remember much," Jackson said. "What I understand is that Denis O'Dell, who was their Apple film producer, who produced The Magic Christian, had the idea of doing Lord of The Rings. When they (The Beatles) went to Rishikesh and stayed in India, it was about three months with the Maharishi at the beginning of 1968, he sent the books to The Beatles.

"I expect because there are three, he sent one book to each of the Beatles. I don't think Ringo got one, but John, Paul and George each got one Lord of The Rings book to read in India. And they got excited about it."

So, what happened? The Beatles certainly had considerable power and influence in the entertainment world in 1968, but not enough power and influence to sway Tolkien himself, who wasn't a fan of the band and didn't like the idea of them playing in his literary sandbox.

"Ultimately, they couldn't get the rights from Tolkien, because he didn't like the idea of a pop group doing his story," Jackson said. "So it got nixed by him. They tried to do it. There's no doubt about it. For a moment in time they were seriously contemplating doing that at the beginning of 1968."

Though Jackson noted that Paul McCartney himself was glad The Beatles didn't make a Lord of the Rings film so Jackson himself could ultimately make one more than three decades later, Jackson also lamented that the death of the project meant we missed out on an entire Beatles concept album inspired by the story. 

"Paul said, 'Well I'm glad we didn't do it, because you got to do yours and I liked your film.' But I said to him, 'Well, it's a shame you didn't do it, because it would have been a musical,'" Jackson recalled. "What would The Beatles have done with a Lord of The Rings soundtrack album? That would have been 14 or 15 Beatles songs that would have been pretty incredible to listen to.

"So I've got two minds about it. I would have loved to hear that album, but I'm also glad I got the chance to do the films. But those songs would have been fascinating."

Get Back is now streaming on Disney+, no Tolkien songs included.