Saul Zaentz Talks Tolkien on Stage, on Film, and on Owning Lord of the Rings Rights
Saul Zaentz owns Gandalf. And Sauron. And the Hobbitses. And all the pots and pans and rings and Lembas bread and magical Elven mulch of Middle-earth. (Well, he owns the rights to put them on stage and screen and in video games coming soon to a store near you.)
But it was Shelob, the queen-beast of spidery horror, who was the highlight for the producer when watching a preview of The Lord of the Rings musical on Saturday.
"I enjoyed it (the show) very much and some of the things absolutely astounded me. I think the spider coming out and appearing ... I wasn't ready for it. Which is great, not being ready. A few of the other things just moved me a lot, by their ability at this stage. They haven't been working at it that long, to be where they are."
The 84-year-old, who started out as a music producer, acquired the film and merchandising rights to Lord of The Rings in 1977 and formed Tolkien Enterprises to look after those rights. Author J.R.R. Tolkien had originally sold the rights to United Artists back in 1966. An animated version of Tolkien's work, by director Ralph Bakski, quasi-failed in 1978.
"... animated couldn't do it. It was just too complex for animated to handle it, with the emotion that was needed and the size and scope. But we didn't know this."
It wasn't until a certain New Zealander came along that Zaentz thought someone might get it right. Back when Peter Jackson was getting ready to make his movie trilogy, Zaentz said he felt he could trust Jackson to do right by the material.
"When you saw his first picture, no his second picture, Heavenly Creatures, you knew you saw a director working there," says Zaentz, back in New York, after his quick trip to Toronto. "You didn't know how or why, you didn't know he would lead the digital field, you didn't know that at all, but you knew he was a director."