United Artists passed on the animated adaptation and brought on director John Boorman (Excalibur, Deliverance, Zardoz) and screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg for a live-action adaptation. This time the Fab Four would be playing the four hobbits, and the entire story would have been condensed into a single film with an intermission. The movie would have been shot in Ireland, and would have featured a duel of words between Gandalf and Saruman (a la Sandman #4, Hughes notes) as well as a model of Middle-Earth that filled an entire studio.
Neither of these came to pass, of course. The Beatles were on the rocks through 1969. The band officially called it quits in 1970, and the production on Boorman's project fell into shadow. David Hughes shares a few thoughts with us after the cut.
When Gandalf is vanquished, the text is 'He fell beyond time and memory.' We puzzled about how you put that on film.
-- John Boorman (quoted in Tales from Development Hell)
How serious do you think The Beatles were about doing Lord of the Rings together, especially since the end of the band was looming by the time United Artists got the film rights? Could the One Ring have bound them all?
David Hughes: I very much doubt it! (I also doubt that I can resist a "One Ringo to Rule Them All" pun.) It was probably one of dozens of film projects they flirted with during their anything-not-to-get-bored phase. But you cannot read the chapter of the book without picturing John as Gollum saying "Me precious."
Any idea who Yoko would have played?
I suspect she would have told John not to be so silly and that would be that.
If Lord of the Rings With The Beatles did get made, would you rather have seen the animated Heinz Edelmann version or the live-action John Boorman version?
Where films are concerned that's usually a good question, however I look at it like this: would I rather have seen Timothy West's King Lear, or the Croatian-language production with Rade Serbedzija (the costume shop proprietor from Eyes Wide Shut), or the new revival with Gladiator's John Shrapnel? The answer is, of course, I'm glad all of those productions, and many more, existed -- I wouldn't even consider Peter Jackson's version to be definitive.
more tales from Hell to come...
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David Hughes is the author of Tales from Development Hell, The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made, The Complete Kubrick, and The Complete Lynch. He is also co-author of Farscape: The Illustrated Companion with Paul Simpson, and has written about film for The Guardian, Empire, GQ, and numerous publications.
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