What if Lord of the Rings came out in the 1950s?

Suppose JRR had never written the novels (or I guess just not The Hobbit). Some unknown film studio called New Line Cinema advertises a new film called Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The advertising draws in enough of an audience to get it noticed.

(Of course, all references to years and any other evidence of the future are removed.) The actors, director, and all others are unknowns in the film industry. No explanations are given for the advanced special effects. If cornered, the production crew will claim that the filmmaking techniques are top secret. If questioned about the strange ending, the crew will gladly say that a sequel is coming in a year.

How would audiences react? How about critics? Would cinemas of the day even be able to show it? How many cast and crew would have to face Joe McCarthy?

Well, of course the book did come out in the 1950s.

You seem to be asking how would people have reacted to the movies if they had come out back then, and if they had never read the book. I would think that they would have been very impressed. The movies stand up very well on their own. I don’t think you need to have read the book to enjoy them.

Also, I do not see why Joe McCarthy would have had any problem with it. There is nothing remotely communistic about LOTR. Indeed, although Tolkien always insisted that it was not an allegory, it would not be too hard to read it as a depiction of the struggle of the freedom loving west (basically, in LOTR, the further west your homeland, the more morally admirable you are) against Stalinist totalitarianism.

I am not saying that that is the correct reading of LOTR, but it is a plausible (if simplistic) one that someone like McCarthy might well have latched on to. I do not see any way of reading it as pro-Communist.

Why would McCarthy be against it? Tolkien is on record of having to defend against his book being an allegory about WWII, with our heroes being the Allies (and the Ring as the A-bomb). Nothing seems remotely communist or un-American about it

If made in the fifties, it would be a cheap, low-budget affair with second-rate FX, would play in drive-ins in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and would rate a 2 paragraph mention in 1000-page cult movie encyclopedias.

If you took the current films and time-traveled back to 1953, they would be a sensation… and you wouldn’t be able to explain how the film was made without sounding like an asshole.

“CGI? What’s that?”
“Computer graphics interface. Much of what you see was made by computers.”
“Look, son, if you’re telling me that IBM made those flying things, you’re full of shit. Now tell me how the movie was made!”

Yeah, McCarthy probably wouldn’t have been against it. But imagine JRR not being around to explain that it’s not an allegory.

What would audiences have thought? What sort of merchandising would there need to be? Would fanboys go to see it again and again?

This is the scenario under discussion.

And why asshole?

ETA: I missed your ETA.

There would be no merchandising, and no one would go to see a movie twice (that didn’t happen until Star Wars). Not with that newfangled television to watch.

It’s too new. Audiences would initially be put off in the first few minutes by all the cuts/edits. They’d still be used to longer takes and stagier films. It would be quite jarring at first. They would have to give it a chance first, and I don’t know if they would.

This isn’t true. Plenty of people watched movies multiple times before that. I certainly did.

And it’s not just that “only a few” did. I have advertisements from 2001 a decade earlier urging people to see the movie more than once. A lot of re-releases were predicated on the idea of people seeing the film agauin (especially common before films were re-run frequently on television. If you wanted to see a James Bond movie again before 1976, you had to do it in the theater – and they did re-run them in pairs through the 60s and early 70s)

Computer Generated Imagery.

Because Joe McCarthy had a problem with everything and everyone, maybe? I mean, it’s not like most of the folks he denounced were actually communists, either.

Ray Harryhausen was making movies in the 1950’s. I suspect that if LoTR had been released then it would have been viewed as a bizarre masterpiece of stop-motion animation.

I remember running through a little fantasy number about somehow showing Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong to Willis O’Brien in the late '50s or so. Straight up be able to show him, look - this movie was made in the distant future. Everybody still loves Kong. This is the best effort to date at that time, but most people still agree that it’s not a patch on* your* work. Would just so love to see how he would react to that.

Semi-related earlier thread.

There’s always a built in conceit in questions like this that assumes if faced with an impossible object or thing from the future that people will simply stare in goggle eyed wonder. The reality is that at any given point in time since the industrial revolution there are plenty of very smart people hovering around that are very familiar with the limits of existing technology, and that before too long someone with real power would call shenanigans on the thing being the product or extension of any existing technology.

At that point the gloves come off and the powers that be and the state will start demanding answers or unpleasant consequences will ensue.

If someone popped up today with a real anti-gravity flying car that could not be explained by any derivation of existing research or technology how long do you think it would be before the state demanded some hard answers.

Quite a lot of the effects of The Lord of the Rings are practical. In fact, to me it made the film feel older than it really was. The stuff that isn’t practical are mostly creatures. And while it would take a long time, stop motion and puppets could probably do it. On '50s-era projectors and film, I don’t see it looking too fantastic.

I think we can just focus on the stylistic problems, and not worry about people figuring out that something is up.

I think that much of the movie would be improved if you removed the CGI. If you could do that (replace the more fantastic scenes with puppetry or costumes), it would be an absolute marvel. I wonder how much of the camera trickery you could pull off in the 50s.

I will say that the first time the Frodo goes into the spirit world when he puts the ring on would have most audiences in the 1950s crapping their pants.

This is kind of at the heart of my question. I understand that people were feinting at the original Kong. I wonder if they’d have had a similar reaction to LotR.

Most CGI-using movies nowadays would knock the socks off of a 1950s audience. I tend to agree with astro as to what would happen next.

Slight tangent: Ken Grimwood’s wonderful sf novel Replay has its involuntarily-time-travelling main character use his knowledge of future movies, and his awareness of the greatness in store for Steven Spielberg, John Williams, George Lucas etc. to sign them up young and make a blockbuster environmentally-minded underwater adventure in the early 1970s.

It’s true; if you look closely, you can see him flinch.