At long last, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series has jumped from the printed page to a high-budget video production. Sony (NYSE:SNE) will portion up the 14 books into a multi-season timeline, aided by an all-star team of screenwriters. The final destination is Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the first season of this fantasy epic's one-hour episodes will follow Moiraine as she goes looking for the Dragon Reborn, who is destined to battle the forces of evil at this world's version of Armageddon or Ragnarok. Getting the band together would barely scratch the surface of this rich and deep story world, giving Amazon and Sony a sprawling fantasy platform fully comparable to the award-winning Game of Thrones series.
Here's what we know so far
We have known for some time that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. writer Rafe Judkins will act as Wheel of Time's showrunner and creative center. Fresh additions to his team include writer Darren Lemke from Lost and Shrek Forever After; producer Mike Weber of Riddick and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle fame; and Harriet McDougal, who served as editor for the entire Wheel of Time series.
As a longtime Wheel of Time fan, I'm thrilled to see this creative team coming together much like how Moiraine pushes Rand, Mat, and Perrin into their epic adventures. Don't worry about those unfamiliar names -- if Sony and Amazon do this right, those characters could become as well-known as Daenerys, Tyrion, and Littlefinger.
As an Amazon shareholder, I'm both nervous and excited about this project. The obvious goal here is to come up with a fantasy epic for the ages, trading blows with names like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings.
What's in it for Amazon?
It helps that Wheel of Time has shifted over 90 million units of the printed material, exceeding the 70 million copies of A Song of Ice and Fire, which forms the narrative basis for Game of Thrones. Then again, it might not be entirely fair to compare the total unit sales of 14 books against five. This early report held no signs of the studio's casting strategy. Expensive, established stars could give this new series an audience-building foot in the door, but Game of Thrones proved that a high-quality production can create new stars out of a mostly little-known cast.
We don't know exactly how much Amazon is paying for this show, but the company is no stranger to huge production budgets. For example, Amazon is investing as much as $500 million in a Lord of the Rings series that doesn't even explore the core material of that legendary series -- it's a combination of spin-off and prequel stories set in the same world.
Amazon is also notoriously tight-lipped about how many subscribers its Prime service has attracted. Consequently, we can't even judge the success (or lack thereof) of a new series based on how many Prime subscribers the company added or lost during the premiere's quarter. But a significant portion of Amazon's Prime members really do seem to sign up just for the video service, so the upcoming onslaught of high-fantasy epics could make a real difference to the company's bottom line.
Fingers crossed, because the meaty promise behind Wheel of Time finally getting some screen time could be undone by a shoddy production or poor marketing efforts, but I do expect some exciting sword-and-sorcery entertainment from this announcement. Get that right, and the money will follow.