January 18, 2015

How Should The Silmarillion Be Filmed?

As I explained in my last post, "What's Next For The Middle-earth Franchise?", it's only a matter of time before The Silmarillion becomes available to filmmakers.  That amount of time could pass very quickly or in several decades.  Nevertheless, we will eventually see tales from the Silmarillion mythology on the big (or small) screen.  During the past month I've thought a lot about The Silmarillion and how it could be successfully adapted.  In the rest of this post I share some of my thoughts on how I think it should be handled and discuss some of the more difficult challenges one very (un)lucky director would have to overcome.

Winning the Fanbase...

Enthusiastic LotR Cosplayers
In discussions of Peter Jackson's films (or nearly any other movie for that matter) one must always remember that film industry exists to make money - it's a business.  Movies, especially ones like LotR/Hobbit, are incredibly expensive to make and a lot of pressure was put on Peter Jackson to produce a product that would get people to the theater.  In other words, the films had to be Hollywoodized.  Some changes were necessary to simply tell the stories on film (a different medium) while others were included to appeal to certain demographics and draw in different types of customers (e.g. Legolas moments for teenage girls).  Such changes to the stories deeply upset many Tolkien book fans though.  Tolkien fans in particular have been noted for having a unique sense of ownership and attachment to the stories and this was most evident every time a new Peter Jackson film came out.  Just go to the top movie fan sites and debates over the films come up in nearly every comment thread!

So how does all this relate to the Silmarillion?  Well, as anyone who's tried to read The Silmarillion will tell you, it's awfully difficult to follow at first.  There are so many names and the language is very archaic.  In addition to that, there are numerous "side stories" and paragraphs that seem like footnotes.  Many chapters read like a history book.  Any adaptation would have to take some liberties to appeal to general audiences.  But, to do that would trouble most of the Sil. fans because the people who actually got through The Silmarillion and still cared about it often times became the most ardent purists.  Many purists don't even like the idea of a film adaptation at all!  Any director/producer who takes on The Silmarillion would not only have to be sure to stay true to the "core of the original" as Tolkien put it, but also every fine detail, at least within realm of reason, to win the approval of the fanbase.  Otherwise, without a strong and healthy fanbase the franchise will fail.  In addition to working hard on the final product the filmmakers should make every effort possible to include the fans during pre-production to generate positive buzz.  One way they could do this would be to hold some kind of writing contest about adapting The Silmarillion.  The screenwriters/producers/directors could then select winners based on quality of writing and differences of opinion and invite them, along with the leading Tolkien experts/bloggers of the time, to be consultants when working on the script and conceptual design.    

Who should make it?

Peter Jackson on the set of "The Hobbit"
Not Peter Jackson.  Don't get me wrong, I've really enjoyed his Middle-earth films, but any Silmarillion project needs to be able to stand apart and I think he would bring too many attachments to his LotR and Hobbit series.  He could act as a consultant, but I'd like to see new directors and producers handle the stories.  Furthermore, since his adaptations are highly controversial within fan groups I think a new, fresh project helmed by a different director could have a better chance at appeasing some of the purists who were turned away over the LotR and/or The Hobbit movies.  Whoever that new director is, he/she needs to be an excellent director (duh!) and also be extremely knowledgeable and passionate about Tolkien's mythology.

Not as a TV series...

The idea of a Silmarillion TV show has become quite popular among some fans.  I, however, don't think it could be done that way simply because there isn't one unifying character or group of characters that play a substantial part throughout all the major tales of the Quenta Silmarillion.  It's much too episodic for that.  There would be nothing to encourage viewers to tune in next week.  Some have suggested taking some of the longer chapters and turning those into different shows and spin offs, but that would be even more dangerous than a feature film!  The Silmarillion is long, but not long enough for a full season of television - it would invite way too much fan fiction.  That's why I think the big screen may be a better option...


The main stories that make up The Silmarillion are episodic, yet they all contribute to the larger story of the Noldor and their attempts to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth.  A series of films would therefore have to be connected, but they should also be able to stand on their own.  Something akin to Marvel's Cinematic Universe could appeal well to both a studio and audiences.  All the stories can be told independently, but they are all influenced by each other and contribute to the same larger tale.  It could be a Silmarillion Cinematic Universe (SCU).  It couldn't be as long as Marvel's simply because the source material covers only some 300 pages and not decades' worth of comics.  I think a 6 film series that focused on the major characters/narratives would be most successful.  With this in mind, below is my outline for a possible SCU:

Film 1: The Rebellion of the Noldor 

The Kinslaying at Alqualonde by Ted Nasmith
Starting with the Ainulindale in an extended prolog, this film would focus primarily on the story of Feanor and his two step-brothers, Fingolfin and Finarfin and their rebellion against the Valar.

This would be the most difficult film to pull off in my opinion.  The story of Feanor is not exactly an uplifting tale, it's quite tragic really (like many of the Sil. stories).  His story and character just kind of runs down and he ends up dying as a very bitter man elf.  Some kind of resolution to his story would have to be built in, probably most successfully with his brothers.  Otherwise, the whole thing would feel like just a setup for the later installments and wouldn't do well on its own.

Also, the elves would have to be very relatable as characters.  In the LotR and the Hobbit movies (and books) the elves have this otherworldly quality to them, they kind of float and endure above everything that's going on around them.  Since the elves are the only main protagonists to appear in this film the audience needs to be able to sympathize with them (they need to be very human in that regard).

From a conceptual point of view, a filmmaker would have to establish the world and tone of a young Middle-earth and Valinor.  The sheer number of characters would have to be cut down (there's not enough time to develop all of Finwe's grandchildren into good secondary characters) and you'd have to visually distinguish the ones you kept (i.e. distinguishable costumes/hair and make-up).

The Burning of the Ships by Ted Nasmith
Speaking of characters, I think Galadriel should be brought out as a minor character, but the filmmakers would have to be very careful not to bring out too many LotR connections.  This film needs to be viewed as and succeed independently of LotR.  Through the marketing especially the public needs to understand that this series is not going to be just like a money grab trying to cash in on the success of LotR (a sentiment that plagued the reception of The Hobbit films).  As the series continues more and more allusions to the later Ages could be included and featured (e.g. Barahir's ring, Elrond, Elendil, etc.).

Lastly, before I movie on I must discuss the music.  Music plays an integral part of the Silmarillion (Middle-earth is created through song after all) and a good composer would be integral to the telling of the story and the series as a whole.  Building on the foundations Howard Shore established, a Wagnerian/Shore styled score would serve as one of the main connecting elements running through all six (and really all 12) films.  It's critical that basic, underlying musical ideas for the Elves (Firstborn) as a whole, the different types of Elves (Vanyar, Noldor, Sindar, Avari, etc.), Men (Followers), Valar, and Morgoth were established in this film so that they could be built upon and developed as the series continued.

Film 2: Beren and Luthien 

By Moonlight in Neldoreth Forest 
by Ted Nasmith
This installment has the potential to be one of the strongest of the six.  The story of Beren and Luthien is one of the most pivotal and central tales to the entire Silmarillion mythology and is the one Tolkien perhaps spent the most time developing.  From a more business perspective, there is plenty of action, drama, and (obviously) romance that would help this movie appeal to many different demographics.

The film would have to be careful with its use of magical elements (this is Tolkien, not Harry Potter) and be careful of avoiding cliches.  Thingol is a very dynamic and complex character.  He shouldn't be villainized and/or appear as simply the stereotypical, overprotective father getting in the way of Luthien's feelings or something like that.

Parts of this movie would, and should, be very reminiscent of the Aragorn and Arwen stuff from LotR and the Woodland Realm from the Hobbit.  In terms of set design the conceptual designers would have the difficult task of designing Menegroth as the precursor to Thranduil's halls.  Menegroth needs to be distinct from that location, but still connected visually through the architecture and atmosphere.

In terms of further connections to LotR, this movie would subtly introduce Aragorn's lineage (with the Ring of Barahir) and also include Sauron as a major figure in the second act.  We could even see Galadriel and/or Thranduil in short cameo appearances as well.  

Huan's Leap by Ted Nasmith

Film 3: The Children of Hurin

Idealistically, in addition to using chapter 21, "Of Turin Turambar," from The Silmarillion, this movie would be able to draw upon material from The Children of Hurin book, the expanded narrative Christopher published posthumously in 2007.  Even though it's one of my absolute favorite Sil. legends it's a heart wrenching tale and deals with some difficult subjects so it may not easily appeal to general audiences the same way Beren & Luthien would.  But, there is a very prominent dragon involved so that may help give it a boost.

Sketch of Hurin and Morwen by Alan Lee

Film 4: Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin

Tuor Reaches the Hidden City of Gondolin by Ted Nasmith

Following Turin's death, his father Hurin accidentally reveals the location of Gondolin, a secret Elven stronghold, to Morgoth.  To make things even more interesting, it's Turin's cousin, Tuor, who is directly involved in the affairs of that city during the time of its demise.  In addition to that, this film would set up a very important character that would feature in the next installment, Earendil.  Nevertheless, despite having a clearer place in the events of the First Age, this film should be told as it's own story and not as the middle part of a trilogy.  It's a great story in its own right and the final act features one of Tolkien's most dramatic and epic battles (hopefully material from the Book of Lost Tales II could be included for those sequences too).

Film 5: The Voyage of Earendil

Earendil the Mariner by Ted Nasmith
By the time of Earendil nearly all of the elven realms have fallen (the destruction of three major kingdoms are featured in the story of Turin and Tuor) and Morgoth has pinned his foes on the coast.  In a final attempt to save his family and people, Earendil tries to sail west over the sea to Valinor to petition the Valar for help.  After hearing his pleas the Valar decide to aid the elves and then they, along with a host of Vanyar elves and Earendil, come back over the sea and destroy Morgoth and his servants in the War of Wrath.  In this chapter all the themes and narrative elements regarding Feanor and the Noldor are wrapped up.  It's really the end of the Silmarillion story.

In addition to having a great character story with Earendil and his wife, the inclusion of young Elrond and Elros (his sons) and treachery among the elves in Middle-earth, this film would probably be the most visually stunning.  The War of Wrath was an enormous event featuring Ancalagon the Black (a dragon so large that he destroyed a mountain when he fell), a flying ship, and the literal destruction of the entire western portion of Middle-earth.

Film 6: The Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor)

The Ships of the Faithful by Ted Nasmith
While The Silmarillion proper (the "Quenta Silmarillion") would be told in the earlier 5 films, this would serve as a "bridge film" between the Silmarillion series and Peter Jackson's, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films.  Earendil's son, Elros (brother of Elrond), chose mortality and established the human kingdom of Numenor on an island of the same name between Middle-earth and Valinor.  His people were permitted by the Valar to sail wherever they would, but they could not go west to Valinor, the Undying Lands.  Over their several-thousand year history they become jealous of the elves' immortality and their desire for unending life grew stronger and stronger.  Towards the end of their existence their King brought Sauron to Numenor.  But Sauron didn't appear dark and menacing like in later (and earlier) stories.  He appeared fair and offered "wise" counsel to the people.  His involvement only made matters worse and by his recommendation the King assembled a great armament and the Numenoreans sailed in war against the Valar.  That was, of course, the cause of their destruction as the Valar destroyed the entire fleet and the island of Numenor as punishment.  However, there were a small group of people who remained faithful and escaped the deluge.  The principal figure of this group was Elendil, Aragorn's ancestor.  This bridge film could focus on him and his family during Numenor's demise and their later establishment of the Kingdom of Gondor.  The film could conclude with the Last Alliance of Elves and Men as featured in The Fellowship of the Ring film, thereby tying the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings stories together and also resolving Elendil's feud with Sauron.  During this film the Rings of Power and the White Tree, two more strong ties to LotR, would feature prominently as well.

The Eagles of Manwe by Ted Nasmith

Like the MCU, not one director would have to be responsible for overseeing all the films.  Each of the stories have their own unique tone and having 2 or 3 different directors cover the series under the leadership of the same producer (like Kevin Feige at Marvel) could help keep the franchise fresh, original, and yet connected.

(Plus, just imagine having twelve feature-length Middle-earth films that all fit together!  Middle-earth movie marathon weeks would be really something then!)

People always say The Silmarillion is unadaptable, but for a long time the same was said of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Personally, I think The Silmarillion can be told through film, but unless it is handled very, very well I think it will be a disaster.  The screenwriters would have to be especially careful not to inject too much of their own material and ideas.  The conceptual designers have to remain true to the aesthetic of the different races/realms.  The action sequences can't supersede the character's stories.  The music has to be absolutely beautiful, building upon Howard Shore's work but also taking on a life of its own and giving life to the stories.  Ultimately it absolutely has to remain true to the story's "core" and Tolkien's vision for his mythology or else the entire magic of it is lost.

How do you think the Silmarillion should be adapted though (if at all)?  Feel free to comment and share your thoughts below!


  1. I like your summary; that's the basics-six movies-I concur. Of course, that's covering a lot of ground each and there wouldn't be time to take hours on a specific battle, for instance.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, some of the narratives would have to be pretty tight. The only places where a director could really focus on a major battle would be in the Tuor and Earendil stories. Some of The Silmarillion's grandest battles such as the Dagor Bragollach and the Nirnaeth Arnoediad could really only feature in extended flashback or prolog scenes.

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  3. "Anonymous" left a thoughtful comment on this article, but it contained some foul language. So, I've posted the exact comment below, but with an "*" in place of the two swear words. Please remember to keep your comments clean everyone!

    Since the completion of the Hobbit i've also been thinkin on the Silmarillion and other works by Tolkien. In my mind. It's gonna happen. 100%. Too many people liked these movies and the hard fantasy genre in general. LOTR proved fantasy was a viable option for film, Game of Thrones acted on that success making a darker more mature (but not as in depth) look at fantasy, but after a few more years that shows going to finish too.

    The next umpteen years are going to be dominated by sci fi. Star wars getting its new treatment, new series like Gaurdians of the Galaxy and even the superhero movies like Avengers are pretty much sci fi. So people ARE gonna start to get bored of it after a while. People are going to start thinking...damn...you know i miss LOTR the hobbit, Game of Thrones, Narnia, (Shannara is another tale being told on tv), Witcher would be a GREAT one to adapt. But they aren't going to be satisfied. All were going to get are dumb attempts at good fantasy movies like The Seventh Son and other simliar crap. Eventually people are going to be picketing in the streets for more Tolkien.

    Your article shows there is clearly more than enough material - but its gonna take one brave * young director like Jackson was back in the 90s during pre production, and a studio willing to risk 'everything' to put even the first movie out. It'll be the gamble of the ages in cinema. But it will happen. The Tolkien world just needs to rest and simmer down for a good while. 5-10 year at least imo. By then hopefully some of the disputes and right issues will be resolved and we will hop on the computer on day and read the first 'rumor' articles - which almost always end up turning into confirmation articles.

    If they fail, it'll be the end of the studios, directors, and anyone involved. If they succeed where Jackson failed. They'd be the most expensive, engaging, heartbreaking, epic, * most beautiful visual experiences ever made. A new bar for 'art' as a whole.

    Patients and time will tell now. But oh yeah... it'll happen, and i can't wait either way.

    1. Top Ten Metaphorical Reasons the Silmarillion Movie has to be Made.
      10. Bigger Wars-the War of Wrath, described by Elrond to make the confrontation of the Last Alliance look small.
      9.Bigger War Wreckage-the War of Wrath sank the Beleriand sub-continent, after all, with episode upon episode of virtually endless destruction.
      8. Even Bigger War Wreckage-in the Second Age the whole scheme of the universe was abolished when Illuvatar destroyed Numinor and the accessibility of Valinor from our universe. Can you imagine panning back from tidal damage to continental destruction to whole disruption of the shape of the world (and Solar System).
      7. Unluckier Protagonists-Turin...there should be something said for a hero who sticks himself out through hellish times, just so we know, if fighting is what we're in for, we have the option to not give in, even against the hopeless.
      6 More Prodigious Good-while Morgoth makes a sore out of Middle-Earth, we can still know that the other gods dwell in the super-surreal justice, and tranquility, and beauty of Valinor in Aman.
      5. More beautiful elven queens-let's not forget that Luthien Tinuvial's grace and beauty launched the most astounding quest in all of Middle-Earth time. A challenge to be met only by a mighty filmmaker!
      4. Bigger Archvillan-Melkor...let's face the facts, if you end up going on long enough you will eventually encounter the ultimate evil.
      3. Bigger Monsters-everyone knows that, in movie series, the monsters keep getting bigger and bigger...well, Tolkien gave us a biggest monster in Ancalagnon the Black. We'll see what super-eureka moves Earendil is given to make by our fimmakers before Ancalagnon uses Vingelot for a toothpick.
      2. We Get to See the Iconic Towers of the Bad Guys get Knocked Down for a Change. Yup, you know what happens in the end of the Ancalagnon airfight...Tolkien wrote that first, and the victim was Morgoth!
      1. The Silmarils will be released from holding in a subterranean vault. Rather like the Silmarillion's vunerable self would be!!!

  4. There would surely be an almost limitless opportunity to do service to the world depicting the events and peoples of the First Age, if the people in charge of the properties were to get over their snit. This won't happen, but in the next several years there will be the resources, the professional expertise, the financial backing, the talent, and the sincere heartfelt dedication and interest of the hoards of people involved to create other great, epochal, cinema of middle earth-in the event that doing so becomes less enough legally entangled. That this will almost certainly not happen will go down to be one of the major crying wastes of our day.

  5. I like your suggestions. I also think it would great if they went back and made films of some of the side stories from both "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" such as Balin's expedition to reclaim the old kingdom of Moria, and maybe, just finally old Tom Bombadil. :)

  6. I think it would be good to add a 7th movie, which would include how Elendil built his kingdom and the events leading up the the Last Alliance. The battle should be much longer and more detailed than the one in FotR.

    1. Thanks for the comment Nathan! I cover that as part of my idea for the Akallabeth movie, but if a good team of writers could think of a great story then I would be all for spending more time in Middle-earth!