Some thoughts on Universal and the theme park rights to Lord of the Rings
Published: January 3, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Well, no kidding.
Middle Earth, coming to a Universal theme park someday? Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
That Universal wants the rights to Lord of the Rings is hardly a secret. We've had plenty of threads on this site where readers have offered their wishes and suggestions for what Universal should do with the franchise. By all accounts, Universal Creative and LOTR/Hobbit director Peter Jackson have a strong working relationship, dating to Jackson's work on the King Kong 360/3D experience at Universal Studios Hollywood. New Line Cinema, which produces the Lord of the Rings films, has worked with the Universal theme parks on Halloween Horror Nights attractions, and now is a subsidiary of Warner Bros., which is quite pleased with how Universal handled that other little film franchise it runs: Harry Potter.
The only connections missing are the blessings of Tolkien family, and of course, the little matter of money. Film rights are not theme park rights, and that deal would have to be negotiated separately, with all parties involved.
And that's where we've been. The Tolkien family's not taken an aggressive role in the development of Lord of the Rings, and apparently isn't all that happy with the resulting films (link in French). I've not heard any reputable reports about any potential relationship between Christopher Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, either, so I don't know if she'd be able to convince the Tolkien family to sign off on a deal.
But Universal Creative has impressed many people in the film industry with its handling of franchises such as Potter, Kong and Transformers. And Universal finally now enjoys stable ownership, with Comcast acquiring full control of the Universal Orlando Resort and demonstrating that it's willing to spend money to support its parks, with major expansions underway in Orlando, Hollywood and Japan. (Singapore lacks the room for any significant expansion, though it is getting a new Sesame Street dark ride this spring.)
Perhaps Disney can swoop in and write a bigger check than Comcast would be willing to put on the table. Perhaps the Tolkien family might decide that it'd rather not see a Lord of the Rings theme park land, no matter how credible Universal Creative and Comcast's money might be. But if those don't happen, Lord of the Rings at Universal seems a matter of "when" and not "if."