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Warner Brothers, New Line, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal, Sony, MGM, Dreamworks…just like Disney, they all have their stories about the ones that got away - the big hits, the blockbusters, the wildly successful franchise films that they had the opportunity to make, but passed on.
Disney, like many other studios, apparently passed on such doozies as "E.T." and "Star Wars".
While I have yet to buy a single piece of related merchandise, I've gone to see all three "The Lord of the Rings" films on the big screen, seeing "The Return of the King" three times (so far), which is no small feat for someone who usually doesn't find the time to see most films I want to even once in theaters. I will be buying the extended boxed set of "The Lord of the Rings" when it comes out on DVD.
And what did I think each time I sat in the theater for over three hours each time? No, not "My butt's asleep" or "Man, Peter Jackson makes George Lucas (one of my childhood heroes), look like an amateur,"… well, okay, I did think that last bit. But what else did I think? "Why didn't Disney have this?"
Did you happen to catch who two of the Executive Producers of the "Best…Trilogy…EVER!" are? I'm referring to Miramax honchos Bob and Harvey Weinstein. That's right… the guys who run the Disney-owned "independent" studio, listed right there in front of the world as Executive Producers on a film trilogy released by New Line Cinema, which is owned by TimeWarner.
I remember reading or hearing somewhere -there are those solid, well researched sources again- that Disney could have had the trilogy. Just think what could have been with Tolkien + Peter Jackson + Walt Disney Imagineering + WDW Resort! The majesty of Minis Tirith, the eeriness of Moria, the cutesy charm of Hobbiton, the beauty of Rivendell…you get the idea. Gandalf's fireworks every night! Snack carts all over Isengard! Creepy Orc parades!
Well, maybe not those last two, but there are some awesome possibilities for "lands", ride-throughs and other attractions, shows, shops, restaurants, and lodging. Imagine being able to get a room for a week in Rivendell, and going for a drink at a pub in Bree, or being able to push your nephew into a river of molten lava (scratch that last past).
Then again, I know there are people who wouldn't have wanted Disney to meddle with Middle Earth, fearing casting such as Gilbert Gottfried as Gollum, Drew Barrymore as Eowyn, and Corey Feldman as Samwise Gamgee.
Warner Brothers, another TimeWarner film company, also had the presence of mind to strike a deal for films based on the Harry Potter books. The books and films feature some fantastic settings, particularly the school Hogwart's, that just beg for theme park adaptation. Like "The Lord of the Rings", the films have been staying close to the books, winning the acceptance of many of the literary fans. And like "Rings", some Potter fans who are also Disney fans suspect Disney wouldn't have done as well as TimeWarner.
Who knows for sure? I just know what we did get, and know that Disney didn't do it.
These missed opportunities don't just happen on the big screen.
Since Disney owns the ABC Television Network, it can also pass on television programs three times - once as a producer, and again as a network broadcaster, and finally in purchasing syndicated programs for the local broadcast stations and cable channels it owns. I've read somewhere (how's that for fact checking?) that Disney and/or ABC passed on Jerry Bruckheimer's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation". As you probably know, Bruckheimer has produced many hit films for Disney's labels, and ABC has needed some more hit shows.
Why did Disney let those hits and many others slip through its fingers?
First, remember that all studios and television companies, at one time or another, pass on what later turn out to be insanely successful projects.
Often the projects come to them simply in the form of a treatment or even just a pitch. Even with a full, decent script and a capable director signed on and some great actors attached, it takes vision and a lot of trust to see a worthwhile film coming out at the other end of the production process.
Cinema and television are both collaborative processes, and roughly half of the take of a film stays with the theaters, not ever reaching the studio. Politics, favors, grudges, alliances, contracts, and other deals can tip a project from one studio to another.
As with Harry Potter, many of these merchandisable, franchisable, theme parkable (stay with me) films originated in print form first. "Shrek" did. "Spiderman" did. Fortunately, Disney is in the publishing business now, and it can now get in on some of these properties on the ground floor.
That's exactly what Disney should do.
Disney should look to publish books that it can turn into films, stage productions, television shows, interactive games, and theme park attractions. Even having passed on some of the great hits of my generation, Disney is still sitting on plenty of properties it hasn't yet synergized completely. That's something I've written about a lot on previous editions of this column, and I don't need to detail everything again here.
In other words, there's no use crying over spilled milk. Just keep an eye out for the good cows, and use the milk you do have to make some great ice cream, instead of letting it spoil.
-- Ken Pellman
Ken Pellman grew up on the original "Star Wars" trilogy, but with a Lit-major mother who has always loved The Lord of the Rings. He has been a Disneyland annual passholder and cast member. In addition to being a writer, Ken works in public relations. Learn more about Ken at http://www.Pellman.net and reach him directly at Kenversations[at]flash[dot]net.
Kenversations is most often posted on the fourth Wednesday or Thursday of each month.
The views, opinions and comments of Ken Pellman, and all of our columnists, are not necessarily those of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.
--Posted January 22, 2004
©2003 Ken Pellman, all rights reserved. Licensed to LaughingPlace.com.