Friday, 2 December 2022

Alternate Lord of the Rings

So the same friend who accused me of living under a rock for the past 10 years for not knowing about the Willow sequel has set me a new challenge. (People asking me to blog about things! This is like the heady days of G+.) This time, the task is to cast a film version of a book, and choose somebody to direct. To make it more interesting, you can choose living and dead people, from any stage of their careers.

I'm going to be deliberately perverse here and begin with The Lord of the Rings. The Peter Jackson trilogy has its moments, but ultimately left me a bit cold - but even if you like it, it's fun to imagine what it would have been like with different actors and director. 

As director, I would go with Kurosawa Akira. His dynamic style would be perfect for the fight and battle scenes, and his penchant for axial cuts would really capture the drama and seriousness of Tolkien's vision. (Also, if I really have carte blanche, here, can you imagine a Japanified version of LOTR set in a kind of fantasy sengokujidai with samurai Aragorn and oni (or tengu) orcs?)

As Gandalf I would have Sean Connery, circa The Name of the Rose. I didn't mind Ian Thingy as Gandalf, but Connery has the kind of wry humour and twinkle in the eye that every good Gandalf needs, combined with the hard edge that lies below the surface of the character. (You could also go Alec Guinness, but he would really be too 'on the nose'.)

As Legolas I would have a young Yul Brynner - way more weighty and interesting than Orloondo Bland, and more other-worldly to boot. An elf should look like he isn't quite human and in fact comes from a vaguely superior species. Yul Brynner fits the bill. 

As Gimli I would have Walter Brennan circa Rio Bravo, because come on. 

Aragorn is harder because Viggo Mortensen really was inspired casting. Aragorn is too serious a figure to be played by a Harrison Ford-style leading man, and needs an undercurrent of melancholy. So I'm going to go with Peter O'Toole circa Lawrence of Arabia, who again often felt as though he belonged in another world.

Don't you think a young Michael Caine would have been great as Frodo? You would have to do some 'cinema magic' a la Elijah Wood to make him seem like a hobbit, but Caine's capacity for wide-eyed sincerity would be a great fit, and he also had the acting chops to pull of the darker stuff towards the end.

Sam - there is a part of me that wants a younger version of Barry from Eastenders in this role, but I recognise this may slightly alienate my non-British readers. I actually think Mackenzie Crook would be a good left-field choice, but ultimately you would have to say Martin Freeman wuz robbed when he never got the part in the first place and had to settle for Bilbo later on? 

Boromir - I am tempted by Russel Crowe here - able to portray a douty warrior, threatening turncoat, and repentant sinner all in one. But I kind of want to go with Oliver Reed instead for his sheer brooding menace.

Pippin and Merry are harder because they are so interchangeable but a double act of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan - younger, of course, than their stint in The Trip - would be fabulous for this. Both would add a little lightheartedness when called for, but both are also capable of seriously good acting when required - and could bring some steeliness to the final chapters (which Kurosawa would naturally want to film). 

You will, I daresay, express you own opinions in the comments!


  1. Barry from Eastenders? Chortle. That's inspired!

  2. Oliver Reed as Boromir is a great call. The first movie I'm going to ask the AI to generate is a 70's LotR.

    Alex Garland's Childhood's End, with Mads Mikkelsen as Stormgren, David Warner's voice as Karellen. Then peak Roger Moore as Rupert Boyce, a younger Martin Freeman and younger Olivia Colman as George and Jean, and Chadwick Boseman as Jan. Maybe Tilda Swinton for Rashaverak, but that's too obvious a choice and I'm open to persuasion.

  3. Oliver Reed is an inspired choice - my mind goes to The Three Musketeers and his thin-lipped taut Athos.

    Hywel Bennett played Ricki Tarr in the BBC 70s Tinker Tailor - he could perhaps do Sam, but he's maybe a little too tightly wound.

  4. Brennan as Gimli is inspired.

    1. Rio Bravo is all time favourite of mine.

  5. A resounding YES to Kurosawa’s Lord of the Rings!

  6. hmm. my dream LOTR trilogy would probably have Peter Greenaway as the director, and definitely post-Prospesro's Books Greenaway with all the digital visual maximalism that entails. love that shit. Or, if I can be afforded the luxury of different directors for different parts of the film only to splice it together as an Exquisite Corpse anthology after the fact-- Derek Jarman for the scenes of Frodo and Sam going to Mount Doom, staged all in the homoerotic brutalist minimalism of his Edward II adaptation. and of course John Waters for all the scenes of the Shire, if he couldn't deliver a fantastic vision of the innate repression of the British pastoral fantasy idk who could 😅

    Tilda Swinton could be divine as an entirely different sort of Gandalf from what Ian McKellen delivered, a fully otherworldly angelic being inhabiting a human form instead of just, like, a dude. On that note, Peter Lorre as Frodo would be fantastic, I'd love to get a sense that Hobbits are "separate" from humans and not just lil sneaky dudes. Similarly, Crispin Glover as Sam, why not lol. I have fewer ideas about Pippin or Merry, thought, people who can do zany comedy while also keeping a level of surrealism present. Robin Williams? ooh and maybe Vincent D'Onofrio, MIB-era. all of them doing a vague Peter Lorre impression next to the actual Peter Lorre. fuck yeah hobbits.

    Doug Bradley in full Pinhead mode as Legolas would be a dream, idk it'd be nice to get a sense of how FUCKING OLD elves actually are. but again, otherworldly. John Belushi as Gimli would be fun, amp up the comic relief on that one. Bill Murray as Boromir, Murray can absolutely do more groundedcharacter work if he gets the chance and Boromir's whole vibe can really come through in a multifaceted way. And for Aragorn I nominate Mahershala Ali, honestly why not. Vaguely ageless and dripping with pathos.

    Kenneth Branagh as Wormtongue, bring a massive Shakespearean heft to the role, that'd be fun and unexpected. and for Saruman I'm gonna go really left-field and say Tommy Wiseau, a being who's actually been corrupted on a spiritual level by contact with pure evil but also massively egotistical and honestly pretty believable as some kind of mad genius. That or Robert De Niro going full Italian mobster, accent and everything, Saruman's a mafioso now, the Uruk-Hai have pinstripe suits and tommy guns and eat spaghetti and gabagool, deal with it nerds 🤌

    Robert Pattinson as Gollum (self-explanatory)

  7. Now I'm just imagining a Pippin and Merry version of this scene from The Trip

  8. Kurosawa is a brilliant choice for this and your casting sounds great. I thought about this once with the additional specification that the film would've been made in the 70s and been this alternate universe's Star Wars. So why not Mark Hamill as Frodo? My Aragorn would've been Christopher Lee, but I can't recall the rest. Michael Palin, Terry Jones & Eric Idle as the supporting hobbits?

    1. Mark Hamill as Frodo is a good one. Then you really would have to have Alec Guiness as Gandalf, I think. Or Olivier?

    2. Yes. Olivier as Gandalf, Peter Cushing as Saruman, and Bob Hoskins as Gimli against your Brynner as Legolas. And Sean Connery in 1975 would've made a great Boromir, I think.

    3. Christopher Potter5 December 2022 at 04:46

      I'm already envisioning a Kappa Gollum, somebody type it in to an A.I. illustrator

  9. For director, may I suggest Michael Curtiz: the man had an absolute genius for conveying fairly complicated setting information to the audience quickly and efficiently.
    As to the cast, since we have all actors from the history of cinema to work with, I suggest casting Christopher Lee as Gandalf, the way he wanted when Jackson first hired him.
    Aragorn: Gary Cooper. Everybody forgets Gary Cooper.
    Legolas: Your idea of Yul Brynner is inspired, but I'm going to suggest a genuine superior being: Bruce Lee.
    Gimli: If Jackson could cast a hulking Welshman, how about a hulking Englishman -- Nigel Greene?
    Boromir: Basil Rathbone (or Edward Fox)
    Frodo: Malcolm McDowell
    Sam: Richard Attenborough
    Merry & Pippin: No idea, except that a "comedy duo" is a bad idea.

    1. Good call on Curtiz. I can see Danny Kaye (and Gene Kelly?) as Pippin or Merry.
      Gregory Peck has the gravitas for Gandalf and I would love to see him take a swing at his version of the kind of warmth that McKellen brought.
      Burt Lancaster would have done magic with Theoden, not only with both the sickly and rejuvenated aspects but as a man transformed by the afflictions of Saruman and Grima, not one simply returned to his previous state by Gandalf.
      And speaking of Curtiz and Lancaster, how about Paul Henreid as Saruman?

  10. More than anything, I'd love to see a take on The Lord of the Rings that owes *nothing* to the Peter Jackson films (or to John Howe and Alan Lee, for that matter). I'd be delighted by a much more 'exotic' interpretation, and I'd also love to see one heavily influenced by Tolkien's sources (e.g. The Bayeux Tapestry, Beowulf and the Eddas). But any fresh take would be welcome - no matter how faithful to the text or freewheeling it was.

  11. It's widely reported that Sean Connery was offered the role of Gandalf, but turned it down because he didn't "get it."

  12. Oliver Reed should obviously play Tom Bombadil.

  13. Hell, now I really want to watch that. Could we have Kirk Douglas as Eomer? Charles Laughton as Denethor? Audrey Hepburn as Arwen, old Charlie Chaplin as Bombadil, Marlene Dietrich as Galadriel...

  14. Daniel Day Lewis as Boromir or Aragorn, he has this tragic aura that would've work well.
    Lee Van Cleef as Saruman.