Various commenters on my recent post about Peter Jackson’s upcoming movie version of The Hobbit lament the fact that it is impossible to make a movie based Tolkien’s Silmarillion, the book that describes the history leading up to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The idea that the Silmarillion is impossible to film has become conventional wisdom. But I’m not sure it’s true.
I don’t doubt that it’s impossible to make a movie version that incorporates the entire Silmarillion. It covers several thousand years of history with numerous stories that are only loosely connected. But it is surely feasible to make movie versions of some of the individual stories, several of which are self-contained and have well-developed characters. The Tale of Beren and Luthien is an obvious choice. It’s a great tale of love and adventure, one of Tolkien’s own favorites among his works. The story of Turin Turambar is a great heroic tragedy, and could also work as a standalone movie (though Hollywood might not like the absence of a happy ending). Turin’s story has now been published in an expanded version based on Tolkien’s previously unpublished notes: The Children of Hurin. I blogged about it here and here. There is easily enough good material there to make a movie version.
These stories are almost as compelling as The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Moreover, there is a built-in audience for movies based on them, since there are so many Tolkien fans out there (including many new ones attracted by the earlier LOTR movies). Once you drop the assumption that a Silmarillion movie must cover the entire book, it becomes a much more feasible project.
I doubt that either Peter Jackson or any other Hollywood bigwig reads the Volokh Conspiracy. Even if they do, they are probably (rightly) skeptical of film-making advice from legal scholars. Still, I hope they would consider the idea of a Silmarillion movie, on the off-chance that they do hear about it.
UPDATE: As at least one commenter points out, a TV series based on the Silmarillion or one of its component parts might also work. Indeed, it might be even more appropriate than a movie, since it would not have to be limited to just 2-3 hours and could tell a longer story.