Unconfirmed rumors are circulating that Universal is talking with Tolkien Estate about creating a Middle-earth theme park. The rumors emerged on New Year’s day on the Orlando United forum where a user reported claims that Universal Studios asked Warner Bros. to raise the topic with Tolkien Estate. At this point, it is unclear whether the user has insider knowledge, or is simply reporting what others have said.
From the source post:
“…here is how I heard that it played out. Universal asked Warner Bros. to approach the Tolkien family since the Tolkien’s trust WB with the success of the LOTR series. WB described how Universal was willing to work with JK Rowling and how the 2 of them (WB and JK) held Universal’s feet to the fire to uphold Rowling’s vision of the IP. And I believe that the Tolkien’s may have actually talked to JK Rowling. This was before Universal said a word to the Tolkien’s. So after WB stoked the fire, Universal entered the picture with an impressive plan.
As of now there is a lot of hammering out to go, but Universal has gotten a lot farther than Disney ever did.”
Tolkien aficionados would recall, of course, that the professor had a notoriously low estimation of the creative works of Walt Disney. Letter #13 in Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien makes his position clear:
“It might be advisable [...] to let the Americans do what seems good to them — as long as it was possible [...] to veto anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing).”
That’s not to say that Universal would fare any better with Tolkien Estate in any quest to create a Middle-earth theme park. The Estate is well-known to be wary of merchandising, and is currently engaged in a legal stoush with Warner Bros. and Saul Zaentz, alleging that the companies are merchandising beyond what was contractually agreed upon in the 1969 rights deal.
Micechat, a site that specialises in theme park news, claims Universal “is very close to acquiring the rights to develop and produce attractions based on the successful Lord of the Rings franchise of films”. So we might see whether there’s anything to this rumour quite soon.