The Beatles And The ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Film That Never Was

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With news that The Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson is set to make a new Beatles documentary, it got many grey heads to remember that back in the day, the Fab Four had high hopes of obtaining the film rights and starring in their own version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece.

It sounds strange now to think of anyone but Andy Serkis playing Gollum, Ian McKellen playing Gandalf, and Elijah Wood playing Frodo, but in the dizzy days of the 1960s, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were planning to do a turn as some of The Lord of the Rings’ most enduring characters. Lennon was going to be a fish-eating psychopath, Harrison would have been a hat-wearing wizard, Macca would have been the hobbit with the heavy load, and Ringo would have been his affectionate sidekick, Sam Gamgee.

According to Vintage News, the idea was first mooted in 1963 when the Beatles signed up to a three-movie deal with United Artists. After making A Hard Day’s Night and Help, the chirpy Liverpool natives had ambitions to do something a little different with their third movie and that was an adaptation of Tolkien’s epic about magic rings and the terrible power they possess.

All four of the Beatles had read the book as teenagers in the 1950s and were determined to honor it by turning it into an epic psychedelic adventure, which was both groovy and mind-blowing. They planned to get visionary director Stanley Kubrick on board for the ride, in the belief that the cinematic pioneer’s expertise and innovation would bring an added ingredient to the table and add some sizzle to what they were cooking up.

Yet Kubrick threw a spanner in the works. Although he was a fan of Tolkien’s book, he believed its layered complexity would not translate well to the silver screen and opted to pursue his groundbreaking science fiction classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead.

Peter Jackson looking at the camera.
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Unfortunately, worse things were to come. When the Beatles approached Tolkien and asked him to sell them the rights to The Lord of the Rings so they could get busy filming, the author flat-out refused. He wasn’t even willing to negotiate with the band, who, to him, represented a musical trend he fervently disliked.

And so ends the tale of what would have likely been an interesting film, just for Lennon’s potential take on Gollum alone. The soundtrack, on the other hand, would have been epic. Beatles songs such as “The Long And Winding Road” and “Carry That Weight” could have been written to mean something else entirely.