I'm often fascinated hearing about movies that never got made, or earlier versions of films that didn't get the green light back in the day because we didn't have the technology to do it.
Of course Lord of the Rings took a long time to get made, the technology finally came along that it could be made convincingly, and New Line was willing to bet the entire company on making three movies, knowing it would be too hard to cram into one film.
Back in the '70's, one of my favorite directors, John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance, Excalibur) was going to make Lord of the Rings for United Artists, and he dedicated several pages of his autobiography, Adventures of a Suburban Boy, to when he was going to helm the project.
Yes, Boorman was working on a treatment about Merlin and the grail he showed to United Artists, who weren't interested, but they asked if he would consider Lord of the Rings. "To compress the three volumes into a three-hour movie was a hugely ambitious undertaking," Boorman recalled, "but I was grateful to have the chance to try."
Boorman worked on the script with Rospo Pallenberg, who also co-wrote Excalibur, for six months, even drawing up a map of Middle Earth. Yet as often happens in Hollywood, the executive who wanted Boorman to make the movie in the first place left the company, and no one else at the studio had read the book. "They had neither the money nor the conviction to make it."
So Boorman took it to Disney and other studios, but no one was interested. He even tried to revive it at Tri-Star years later, but the deal fell apart when producer Saul Zaentz insisted on keeping the merchandising rights.
But here's one story Boorman doesn't have in his book, it's in Final Cut, which was written by former head of United Artists Steven Bach, who recalled that there were plans "for a multimedia musical extravaganza" that was going to star, and have a score by The Beatles! It fell apart when the band broke up in 1970, and Bach wrote, "The idea of Ringo Starr, say, as Frodo, has an irresistible appeal."
Bach also pointed out that The Beatles made all their movies, A Hard Day's Night, Help!, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be, at United Artists, and the idea of making Lord of the Rings a musical with their music was former studio president David Picker's idea. Bach thought this was "ahead of its time and might have been inspired showmanship."
Then again, slapping thirty Beatles songs together performed by The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton in Sgt. Peppers the movie was considered a can't lose deal as well, so who knows?