Many critics and fans saw it as a rehash of Braveheart in its themes and plot points, with Gibson playing up the Celtic heritage of Arthur and the Englishness of the Saxons.
Scottish comedian Billy “Big Yin” Connolly was hired as the bombastic Glóin,
To be fair something similar happened OTL and likely in this one as well. A Lord of the Rings adaption with the Beatles fell through and was reworked into the film Excalibur. So like OTL we have a bad idea to adapt LOTR into a weird script far from the source material being cancelled and adapted into a King Arthur story.You know, when I heard the Gibson-Rings proposal I was willing to burn this thread to the ground (had a 'thanks, I hate it' all ready to go for this), but then sanity prevailed and we got a del Toro/Jackson teamup with essentially the same production team as OTL. The line about how they adamantly refused to reuse prop armour (and presumably props) from other films was when I was satisfied with the implications for how the production was going.
Well done, Khan. You've taken what could have been a disaster and given us a better Hobbit with a setup for an equal Lord of the Rings
Hillbilly Hobbiton sounds *just* terrible enough to be real
I think you can blame Warcraft for Scots Dwarves OTL, not sure if that game is even made TTL or if the deal with Games Workshop actually worked and it was made as a Warhammer licenced game as planned. Speaking of, I've always been fond of Warhammer's Norwegian/Swedish versions.Given Conolly's ability to steal any scene going, TTL is probably going to think it has a definite origin for the idea that "dwarf" = "Scottish", which I think IOTL is generally agreed to have just sort of happened. (I always thought the idea of dwarves being Welsh -- as seen in The Soddit and some Discworld novels -- made more sense; they're associated with mines, and the ones in The Hobbit form a male voice choir!)
Yeah, Tolkien has long been considered unadaptable for decades since the basic story structure of film is so very different to the epic-length novels that are the source material (and for a studio to commit to a trilogy right out of the gate? preposterous!). I consider Jackson's LotR series as one of those unequalled landmarks in filmmaking, an event like the First World War where all the steps leading up to it might have been well understood, but having it all come together into a single instance marks a fundamental change in history. Just as the 20th Century becomes unrecognizable without WW1, cinema in the 21st becomes a very different beast without The Lord of the Rings working out similar to how it did. It's right up there with Star Wars for that reason.To be fair something similar happened OTL and likely in this one as well. A Lord of the Rings adaption with the Beatles fell through and was reworked into the film Excalibur. So like OTL we have a bad idea to adapt LOTR into a weird script far from the source material being cancelled and adapted into a King Arthur story.
Still waiting for 100% Viking dwarves, personally (longships and all) - the setting writes itself.I think you can blame Warcraft for Scots Dwarves OTL, not sure if that game is even made TTL or if the deal with Games Workshop actually worked and it was made as a Warhammer licenced game as planned. Speaking of, I've always been fond of Warhammer's Norwegian/Swedish versions.
Hopefully this doesn't butterfly away Boyd's friendship with Dominic Monaghan.Chapter 9: Hooray for Y’allywood (Cont’d)
Excerpt from Man of Iron: The Michael Eisner Story, an unauthorized biography by Anthony Edward Stark
Michael and Jane Eisner began to feel increasingly at home in Atlanta, despite their early culture shock. They were increasingly becoming active parts of the Atlanta social scene, and increasingly pleasantly surprised at just how cosmopolitan The Big Peach was becoming as wealth continued to pour into the city. Already a regional transportation hub since the early days of the republic, the expanding airport and highways and the new intermodal trans-shipping facility, tied into the growing intermodal network that began in Bristol, Tennessee, with “silicon holler”, was making the city an increasingly busy rail, air, and trucking hub linking the Atlantic, Gulf Coast, Northeast, and Midwest. Atlanta kept on growing, in size, wealth, and stature. The studios of Y’Allywood kept expanding both at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Banks and agencies were expanding to meet the growing industries. New faces from New York, Chicago, and LA and growing international immigrant communities were mixing with older faces from the Old Atlanta Gentry and a rising Black Urban Nouveau Riche class to create a uniquely “New South” culture, and the Eisners were becoming Big Fish in this growing pond.
And it seemed that the city and its surrounding counties would be forever under construction! Much of that construction was improving traffic into and out of Columbia Peach Grove Studios and Adventure Park, with the Ryman-run theme park side growing in size and gaining further fan appreciation with each year. The new James Bond 007 Action Spectacular was becoming a big hit and the Rocketeer Inverted Roller Coaster was, despite the underperformance of the film that inspired it, becoming a favorite destination for roller coaster enthusiasts for its unique ride experience. WCW themed attractions and live shows found a niche audience. Forrest Gump offered good fodder for live shows and a themed restaurant, but a lack of original IP remained a challenge. So Eisner made deals with other studios, bringing in a Gateway themed action and animatronics show (in concert with a Gateway TV Series on CBS) and a Men in Black themed dark interactive walkthrough attraction, both in partnership with Orion, and finally a Predator-based track ride in partnership with 20th Century (Eisner called it his “three aliens deal”). But still more was needed. Eisner was in talks with Paramount about the possibility of building a Star Trek based attraction, but was outbid by Universal, who wanted a Trek-based attraction for their Universal Studios Florida expansion. The great limiting factor of the Peach Grove Park, the lack of good IP, remained an Achilles’ Heel.
And then he discovered that Time Atlantic was putting the Kings Entertainment Company (KECO), which owned five theme parks including one in Canada and another in Australia, up for sale. Time Atlantic had acquired the company when they acquired its parent company, Taft Entertainment, in 1993. TAC had swept up Taft on the verge of bankruptcy primarily for its many local TV stations. They had little desire for getting into the theme park game. Instead, Eisner realized that the sheer cost and complexity of building a park from the ground up, as they had done with Peach Grove, was a specialized skill set in its own that required an existing (and expensive) set of specialized “Imagineers”. Instead, Eisner saw a bargain opportunity to give Columbia Parks a global reach with the stroke of a pen.
Inferno: Escape the Volcano inverted coaster, tied to the 1997 Columbia volcanic disaster film Inferno, opening spring 1998 at Columbia King’s Dominion in Virginia (Image source Theme Park Tourist)
“Goddamn, Mikey, you just made Columbia Parks a player!” Turner enthusiastically said of the deal, slapping him so hard on the back that it nearly bowled him over. The parks, which included King’s Island in Ohio near Cincinnati, King’s Dominion in Virginia near Richmond, Carowinds in North Carolina near Charlotte, Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, and Australia’s Wonderland near Sydney, got put through an immediate “Columbification” effort. In the short term this meant slapping the Columbia name on everything and giving every park a set of Hanna-Barbera walkarounds, or in the case of the King’s Dominion Volcano roller coaster then under development, retheming it to the 1997 volcano-themed Columbia disaster film Inferno. In the longer term this meant retheming many of the rides and expanding with Hanna-Barbera Lands and the like. The deals with Dollywood and Ryman were expanded with Opry-style theaters and Dolly-themed shows and attractions, even as Peach Grove was handed over to Kings to manage.
But that unique Columbia IP that would establish Peach Grove as something more than just “that other park” on the Southeastern Theme Park Trail, was still eluding them. Turner saw The Lord of the Rings as their “big thing”, but Eisner remained skeptical.
Outside of the halls of Columbia, work and private life began to merge on occasion as golf outings or horse races or barbecues or trips to the Atlanta Symphony or Peach Grove Opry led to business deals. Even private dinners could become business opportunities, such as when a dinner party with Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and her husband Carl Thomas Dean led to Dolly and Jane Fonda reminiscing about their roles together on 9 to 5 and figuring that they should call up Lily Tomlin and see how she was doing. Jane Eisner mentioned how she’d always wondered what happened to the characters. Michael Eisner spun the idea into a sequel, 1998’s minor hit What a Way to Make a Living. Set 20 years after the events of 9 to 5, it followed Judy, Violet, and Doralee and their families, all now successful career women on their own, as they come back together to deal with their former boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Dabney Coleman), now a slimeball politician and using his power to try and sabotage them out of revenge. They even brought in Christina Hendricks as Doralee’s daughter Sue Ellen to run a honeypot sting on him.
And when the High Concept buddy cop film Cowboy Justice starring Mathew McConaughey as the Wyoming Cowboy who joins the NYPD Mounted Police alongside Carl Weathers as the old school NYPD cop underperformed due to spotty direction and editing, Eisner and Tartikoff resurrected the idea as a TV procedural dramedy series with Scott Bakula and Ron Glass which proved very popular with a wide audience. It aired right after the new Donald P. Bellisario series JAG about a Navy Judge Advocate General legal team. In general, the mix of “cops, jocks, soldiers, rappers, angels, and cowboys” seemed to be a winning formula for CBS on the whole, attracting a mix of wide audiences and niche audiences, while the addition of several Black- or Hispanic- or even Muslim-led series brought in a diversity of audiences in keeping with both Eisner and Tartikoff’s attempts to make CBS more “hip” and Turner’s New South prerogatives.
The studios were doing well. Braveheart and Forrest Gump had stabilized things, My Tennessee Mountain Home had become a super-profitable breakout hit. And Beauty and the Beast, done in partnership with Bluth Animation and Pathé (now a part of the Penguin empire), had nearly broken $200 million at the box office and given Heart of Ice a run for its money. An enthusiastic Eisner greenlit Bluth’s next idea, an adaption of The Velveteen Rabbit, for release in 1999.
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Coming 1999 (Image source Don Bluth Wiki)
Other films beckoned. Lucifer’s Hammer went into production with Roland Emmerich as director. Eastwood and Wallace agreed upon a new World War 2 film that followed the adventures of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in the dark days following Pearl Harbor after failing to agree on a direction for a film about Pearl Harbor itself (reportedly Eastwood wanted something along the lines of Tora Tora Tora while Wallace was pushing for a romance angle ala From Here to Eternity). The resulting film, No Return, went into production scheduled for a 1999 release, though Eastwood refused to allow a tie-in ride at the Columbia/Kings theme parks, calling the idea “revoltingly disrespectful”.
But the Big Bet that absorbed most of Eisner’s time (and provided the majority of his work-related stress) was The Lord of the Rings saga. Eisner and Saul Zaentz went into early pre-production in 1996, hoping to have the first film out by 1999. Eisner suggested Mel Gibson to direct and potentially star as Aragorn based upon his work on Braveheart, but Zaentz was hesitant, fearing that Gibson would try to take over the production or make it into an R-rated bloodbath. After some initial talks, Gibson suggested focusing entirely on the story of Aragorn and paring the story down to a single film about the Return of the King of Gondor to claim the throne and defeat Sauron in battle, reducing Gandalf to a Merlin-like mentor figure, and leaving the Hobbits and the One Ring out of it entirely. The Gibson film treatment reportedly included Aragorn getting tortured by Ring Wraiths at one point and was loaded with Christ imagery that “even C.S. Lewis would have found excessive”. Eisner was receptive since it would lead to a more tightly focused and affordable film and also avoid the distribution rights issue with UA regarding The Hobbit, but Zaentz outright refused the highly unorthodox idea, knowing that it would outrage the Tolkien fans and family alike.
Gibson instead began working on a King Arthur adaption based upon his rough ideas. This eventually became The Once and Future King, staring Gibson as Arthur, Julia Roberts as Guinevere, Brad Pitt as Lancelot, Alan Rickman as a scenery-devouring Mordred, and Sean Connery as Merlin. It was epically anachronistic, with renaissance-era castles, armor, weaponry, and tactics even though it was overtly set in the year 699, though such anachronism was to be expected in an Arthurian tale and practically tradition by that point. Many critics and fans saw it as a rehash of Braveheart in its themes and plot points, with Gibson playing up the Celtic heritage of Arthur and the Englishness of the Saxons. While incredibly violent and self-indulgent, the star-studded film none the less made a good profit when released by Columbia in 1998 and led to medieval battle recreations at Stone Mountain Battlefield using all the armor developed for it and to an Arthur-based dark ride at Peach Grove.
As for The Lord of the Rings, Turner suggested that they approach Amblin and use it as a back door to ILM or the Disney I-Works, but Eisner wanted to keep things in-house. As it happened, they were soon approached by New Zealander director Peter Jackson, who contacted Columbia after hearing that they were making a Tolkien film. A big fan of the books, Jackson desperately wanted to be involved, even if only for the special effects. He sent them a quick effects demo of a Troll done by his WETA Digital company. They were duly impressed. And when Kong: King of Skull Island screened to huge success in 1995, with Jackson behind the effects and second-unit direction, Eisner considered offering him the director’s chair for The Hobbit, for which Turner had finally managed to work a distribution sharing agreement with UA after some “serious nut-twisting”.
However, the Columbia Pictures board was hesitant to give a potentially make-or-break tentpole feature to an “untested” director, so instead Eisner found up and coming Mexican “Otherworldly Horror” pioneer Guillermo del Toro, who’d just made a minor splash with In the Mouth of Madness, with its monstrous Old Ones serving as an excellent demonstration of his ability to work with cutting edge effects. “If he can handle a giant land squid, then a dragon should be no problem,” Eisner noted. However, Eisner did add the eager Jackson to the production team, and del Toro gladly took him on as a second unit and “backup” director.
The Hobbit was, Eisner felt, the perfect test-film. Prior fantasy films such as the Willow series had generally performed to only modest success (and marginal profits) and Eisner remained hesitant to support a risky high fantasy trilogy, particularly one likely to cost close to a hundred million dollars a film to make. If The Hobbit underperformed or flopped, they could put the rights to The Lord of the Rings into turnaround. It was also an inherently less risky film than the complex and multifaceted narrative of The Lord of the Rings. The story was simple and straight forward and could be fashioned into a simple three-act narrative with several great set pieces, only a few of which would be inherently expensive to produce due to extras, extended location shoots, elaborate sets, or special effects. Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh approached writer Stephen Sinclair, but it would be his partner Philippa Boyens, a Tolkien fan herself, who would become the principal screenwriter. After some thought, they decided to keep the songs and go for a family friendly PG film. “The kids can see this at ages five-to-eight and then be a few years older for the T-rated Rings films, assuming the first film succeeds,” Eisner told del Toro and Jackson.
Del Toro and Jackson would go into pre-production on The Hobbit in early 1997, scouting locations in Jackson’s native New Zealand and working with artists Alan Lee and John Howe to develop concept imagery. WETA was working overtime trying to advance the art of computer effects to a level where half of the scenes that del Toro wanted would be even possible. The appearance of 1997’s Star Wars: A Darkness Rising demonstrated the potential of computer effects and WETA worked to reverse-engineer the methodology in their minds. They also partnered with London-based Thunderbird Digital, the Gerry Anderson company, who’d been one of the few companies outside of the “I’s” that had mastered the art of digital puppetry and practical animatronics. Gollum and Smaug’s face would both be attempted using Digital Puppetry techniques, with Gollum ultimately being made primarily with simple visual motion capture but Smaug done mostly with Digital Puppetry.
Eisner got his son Breck, a recent MFA grad from the University of Southern California film school, a job as Jackson’s Production Assistant, a job that Breck found “exhausting, but educational.” Production began in full in late 1997, the spring season for New Zealand. They built partial villages for Hobbiton and Laketown and found locations for the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood Forest, and Lonely Mountain, and built sets for Rivendell and Smaug’s treasure room on sound stages in New Zealand. Effects experiments for trolls and goblins and Smaug and giant spiders were conducted, determining the right mix of practical and digital techniques for any given scene. As Eisner feared, costs built up fast (simply hand-making all the suits of armor proved costly all by itself and they flat out refused to recycle Braveheart and Once and Future King armor), but Turner, visiting them with Eisner in April of 1998, was enthralled. In fact, in addition to designing the outdoor set for Hobbiton in New Zealand for filming, Turner had the crew flown to Atlanta to build a near-exact replica in the hills at the edge of Peach Grove Studios as a theme park attraction. It became colloquially known as “Hillbilly Hobbiton” and quickly became a Mecca for fantasy geeks too poor to afford a trip to New Zealand. Eisner dispatched central casting to find lots of little people willing to live and work in Atlanta to play Hobbits, though he was soon admonished by HR to stop calling them “midgets”, which was considered a slur.
Hillbilly Hobbiton at Columbia Peach Grove Studios and Park (Image source NewZealand.com)
Casting for The Hobbit became a fulltime job. Del Toro and Jackson wanted to focus on non-superstar actors, for example pushing back on David Bowie, who expressed an interest on playing Elrond. Eisner wholeheartedly supported this as a cost-reduction effort. Christopher Lee approached them, hoping to play Gandalf, but del Toro didn’t feel he projected the right “warmth” and he was instead asked to voice Smaug and retained to play Saruman in the future Lord of the Rings film series. Ian McKellen was approached for Gandalf, but too busy playing Cetu Thorpe on Star Wars, so instead, Richard Harris was hired to play Gandalf. Del Toro and Jackson decided early on not to hire little people to play the hobbits and dwarves except in background shots, but to instead use forced perspective techniques to imply the differences in stature between the races of Middle Earth. After a long search, Billy Boyd was brought in to play the lead Bilbo Baggins, Australian actor Hugo Weaving was hired to play the lead dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, Scottish comedian Billy “Big Yin” Connolly was hired as the bombastic Glóin, Ken Stott as the amenable Balin, and Stephen Fry as the rotund Bombur, among others. Stellan Skarsgård was hired as Lord Elrond, Antony Sher as Thranduil the king of the Forest Elves, John Rhys-Davies as the shape-shifting Beorn, Brian Blessed voiced the Great Goblin (performed through a combination of animatronics, prosthetics, motion capture, and digital puppetry), and Russel Crow brought in as Bard the Bowman. Finally, Timothy Spall voiced and performed Gollum, another character brought to life through a combination of digital and practical puppetry, prosthetics, motion capture, and animatronics.
Filming commenced in January of 1998 for some location shots, switching to sound stages during the New Zealand winter before returning to locations and pickups in the spring and summer. With so much riding on this one film, set for a Holiday 1999 release after the ongoing effects work pushed back the planned summer release, and thus running right up against Star Wars Episode II, Eisner hoped that all would work out.
 Recall that Six Flags claimed Great America. Ironically, Hanna-Barbera Land and Hanna-Barbera’s Marineland were already sold off by KECO in the 1980s per our timeline.
 Mohammed to the Mountains would win an Emmy for the special two-part episode “Terror” following the triple rocket attacks on airlines by Al Qaida in 1997, where the citizens of the town have to deal with the stresses and prejudices of the moment. In the end, Bernie Casey’s Terry, who has up to that point been Mo’s biggest critic, steps up to his defense. Casey, Ahmed, and Chris Elliott all get Emmy nominations, with Casey winning.
 More on this coming soon.
 Hat tip to @nick_crenshaw.
 Jackson at this point isn’t quite at the point where he’d be a first choice to direct, but wasn’t in our timeline either, making his selection at the time a huge gamble that thankfully paid off. And while there was certainly the opportunity for a simple Second-Order Butterfly here (I very nearly went there), I decided that just going more or less per our timeline wouldn’t be very interesting. Instead, Jackson is a part of the team and likely doing a lot of the location shoots (so expect similar epic panoramic visuals), but del Toro will be bringing his eye to the visuals and effects, so there will be an interesting mesh of styles here.
 Sorry, Serkis Freaks, but the specific circumstances that led him to his groundbreaking role as Gollum are pretty butterfly-prone while Spall is making an earlier name for himself in Hollywood with some memorable supporting roles in blockbuster films like the X-Men Trilogy. Serkis is currently, per our timeline, doing theater work and will possibly appear here eventually.
New Zealand was practically made for Fantasy filmmaking. It's probably the closest thing we have to Middle Earth IRL.I love the Allo-historical irony of Del toro getting to make the hobbit over Jackson. I also really like your reasoning for why the films were made in this order - it definitely makes a lot of sense for the more fiscally/risk-conscious Eisner to start out with The Hobbit instead of a full-on fantasy trilogy. And it just feels right that Tolkien's adaptations are filmed in New Zealand.
Seemed like an obvious place for them to go. Dolly would likely insist on it.I'm also glad to hear Mohammed to the Mountains is fighting back against rising Islamaphobia. I can only hope that it makes a lasting impression on those that need to hear it ITTL.
You know, when I heard the Gibson-Rings proposal I was willing to burn this thread to the ground (had a 'thanks, I hate it' all ready to go for this), but then sanity prevailed and we got a del Toro/Jackson teamup with essentially the same production team as OTL. The line about how they adamantly refused to reuse prop armour (and presumably props) from other films was when I was satisfied with the implications for how the production was going.
Well done, Khan. You've taken what could have been a disaster and given us a better Hobbit with a setup for an equal Lord of the Rings
Hillbilly Hobbiton sounds *just* terrible enough to be real
Yea, I succumbed to the Troll Side there, hinting at just how bad it could have gotten. Glad I got in a few squirms in the misdirection. But Zantz would never agree to something like that, and neither would the Tolkien family."Mel Gibson" and "Lord of the Rings" are two things which I hope to never again read together in a sentence. Like "Tarantino's Star Trek," but worse.
He makes them overtly Norman English rather than Anglo-Saxon in attitude (the Saxon King is essentially Longshanks 2.0), and some of Arthur's armies wear kilts and carry claymores, but the basic concept is at least historical-adjacent. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, yeah?Much as I hate to admit Gibson might be even vaguely historically accurate, this is probably closer than the portrayal of Arthur as the first King of England defending the realm from Germans. (The actually accurate version would be to acknowlege that the kingdoms and tribes of early Middle Ages Europe don't really map directly onto any modern nationalities, of course.)
Given Conolly's ability to steal any scene going, TTL is probably going to think it has a definite origin for the idea that "dwarf" = "Scottish", which I think IOTL is generally agreed to have just sort of happened. (I always thought the idea of dwarves being Welsh -- as seen in The Soddit and some Discworld novels -- made more sense; they're associated with mines, and the ones in The Hobbit form a male voice choir!)
It never ceases to amaze me how many cultural overlays the dwarves get in fiction. Tolkien gave them a Semitic-based language, which combined with other stereotypes ("Gold gold gold gold....") have led many to consider them Jewish, or occasionally Muslim. Scottish is common. The original AD&D artwork made them look very Viking in armor and weapons actually, @Migrant_Coconut, and of course Elves and Dwarves are originally from Norse mythology. Welsh is a new one for me, but that makes sense. Though I always thought that Llamedos was Discworld's Wales. Fun fact: "Llamedos" = "Sod em all" backwards. And speaking of which, while I've read Bored of the Rings I totally missed The Soddit...need to dig that one up.Still waiting for 100% Viking dwarves, personally (longships and all) - the setting writes itself.
Yea, allo-irony there. KECO lost the HB rights the second that Peach Grove broke ground, so the HB characters will vanish from CW in the early 1990s and return in the late 1990s.Funnily enough, many of the Cedar Fair parks my own Canada Wonderland had Hanna Barbara lands already, so I presume many will retain as oppose to add.
I didn't know that Excalibur began as a LotR project. Alt-History Rhymes in this case.To be fair something similar happened OTL and likely in this one as well. A Lord of the Rings adaption with the Beatles fell through and was reworked into the film Excalibur. So like OTL we have a bad idea to adapt LOTR into a weird script far from the source material being cancelled and adapted into a King Arthur story.
He was a bad singer in the 1990s, though (remember his version of "Forever", anyone? (1))...Stamos might not be my darling but I respect your choice and he is not a bad actor.