The film series is known today as one of the most successful trilogies ever and brought the fantasy writing of acclaimed author J.R.R. Tolkien to the mainstream. However, there was a time when the director’s vision for the vast, expansive storyline struggled to pass the standards of disgraced movie mogul and convicted rapist, Weinstein.
In an essay penned by Drew McWeeny for Polygon, he alleges that power struggles between Jackson and Weinstein led to the original script for the series, which at the time was only two movies, being leaked to him in an effort to get another studio interested in the project in a way that Weinstein and his company, Miramax, were not.
McWeeny describes Weinstein as someone who didn’t understand the fantasy genre, especially Tolkein. In fact, he characterizes the former movie mogul as someone who only obtained the rights to the books to appease Jackson so that he could utilize his directing talents on future projects. As a result, he reportedly kept the fact that he was only willing to spend $75 million on the franchise in total a secret from Jackson.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is gifted with an elven cloak that can hide him from his enemies so that they would see “nothing more than a boulder where the Hobbits were.”
McWeeny reports that Jackson found it difficult to properly tell the story in two movies and reached his breaking point when Weinstein eventually asked him to condense the already overflowing epic into one four-hour movie. When he refused, Weinstein reportedly put the film in turnaround, meaning Jackson could shop it to a new studio provided the new home was willing to cover his losses.
McWeeny notes that he is likely one of the few people to ever read the script for the project when it was designed to just be two movies. He says that he got the script while he was working on Ain’t It Cool News, a hub for Hollywood movie buzz in the early days of the Internet. While he doesn’t know exactly who leaked the script to him, he is confident it was not Jackson himself.
In his essay for Polygon, he says that all the major beats of the story were there, but the rushed plotline left out a lot of character development and world-building that ended up making the franchise so successful. Still, it was clear there was something great in the pages.
Peter Jackson and Harvey Weinstein reportedly disagreed on the direction of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies.
“The hope was that positive buzz created for the project on Ain’t It Cool News would be noticed and potentially save the project from the limitations Weinstein was enforcing. New Line Cinema was interested in taking on the project, and leaking the script to Ain’t It Cool News was an attempt to push the film toward that studio,” he writes.
After the online buzz, New Line Cinema managed to obtain the rights to the movie, with Weinstein getting a perfunctory executive producer credit. Unlike Weinstein, however, the new studio gave Jackson a green light to make the movie he wanted, even encouraging him to go for the gold and make three movies.
“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy went on to rake in tons of money and earned a total of 17 Academy Awards across three pictures. Years later, Jackson would be tapped to direct three movies based on Tolkein’s “The Hobbit.”