For years, there have been rumours and stories that legendary rock group the Beatles toyed with the idea of making movies based on J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of those projects maybe you heard about, maybe you didn’t, but either way you simply can’t imagine it.
What you can imagine are Lord of the Rings movies made by director Peter Jackson because those actually happened. What also actually happened is that Jackson was in the unique position to talk to Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr about it because, as you’ve surely heard, Jackson directed a three-part mega documentary called The Beatles: Get Back which recently debuted on Disney+
And so, the Lord of the Rings and Beatles doc director told the BBC what he was able to find out from the last two living Beatles as they collaborated on the new documentary. “I’ve been scraping together little pieces of information,” Jackson said. “I’ve been interrogating Paul about it. Ringo doesn’t remember much.”
Jackson was able to find out that Denis O’Dell, the man who was in charge of films for the Beatles’ company Apple, had the idea for the group to tackle the fantasy epic and sent the group the books when they travelled to India in 1968. However, there was a minor hiccup. “I expect because there are three, he sent one book to each of the Beatles,” Jackson said. “I don’t think Ringo got one, but John, Paul, and George each got one Lord of The Rings book to read in India. And they got excited about it.”
How reading either The Two Towers or The Return of the King without having read the other books feels like a wholly different story, but that the group was interested seems like it would’ve been a sure thing. Then again, they were among the most famous people on the planet and still are. But that’s where a much bigger hiccup happened. “Ultimately, they couldn’t get the rights from Tolkien, because he didn’t like the idea of a pop group doing his story,” Jackson said. “So it got nixed by him. They tried to do it. There’s no doubt about it. For a moment in time they were seriously contemplating doing that at the beginning of 1968.”
Jackson said that in discussing the project, he told McCartney how he was a little let down he never got to see what the Beatles would have done with it and the music it would have inspired. But McCartney had a reply to that as well. “Paul said, ‘Well I’m glad we didn’t do it, because you got to do yours and I liked your film.’ But I said to him, ‘Well, it’s a shame you didn’t do it, because it would have been a musical,’” Jackson explained.
You can read more from Jackson on this story, including who each Beatle would have played and if they actually talked to prospective director Stanley Kubrick about it, over on the BBC.