With The Hobbit finally going into production in New Zealand we’re looking at the production, cast and Director over the next 9 days to get the ball rolling.
More than perhaps any other name, Peter Jackson is synonumous with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. So how was it that the man himself insisted, after 11 years of pitching to see the Hobbit made into a film, that he not pilot it onto the big screen. And how is it after Industrial disputes, financial wrangling with New Line Cinema and the Tolkien estate, struggling Studios pulling the plug and a major director dropping out due to delays, Peter Jackson is back at the helm? Read on to find out….
Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh first expressed interest in filming the Hobbit in 1995, at the time envisioning it as part one of a trilogy (the other two being based on Lord of the Rings). Jackson’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, discovered that while Saul Zaentz had production rights to The Hobbit, production rights still belonged to United Artists. United Artists deliberately retained the rights to the Hobbit because they expected Jackson and Weinstein to try to make that instead of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, expecting to make a quick buck out of selling the rights. This convoluted and confusing arrangement, in which all parties with all aspects of the rights have to be in conjunction with each other or have a project planned that would justify the cost of paying out to gain said rights, something that can be hard to quantify, is what keeps most films the public want made in development hell. But it is pretty inevitable given the amount of money a successful project could gain.
On location in New Zealand for The Two Towers
Jackson launched a lawsuit in 2005 with New Line Cinema (the eventual studio behind the Lord of the Rings), claiming he had lost revenue from merchandising, video and computer games releases associated with The Fellowship of the Ring. Refusing a specific settlement and requested an audit to see whether New Line had deprived him of any money. Although Jackson wanted the matter resolved, he saw the dispute as minor and presumed that New Line would allow him to make The Hobbit. In January 2007, New Line’s co-founder Robert Shaye scuppered these plans, accusing the director of being greedy and stating that Jackson would never direct another film for New Line.
By August of the same year, Shaye was furiously back-pedalling after a series of very serious flops for New Line saying “I really respect and admire Peter and would love for him to be creatively involved in some way in The Hobbit.” The following month New Line was fined $125,000 for not providing the requested accounting documents.
On December 16, 2007 – New Line announced that Jackson would be executive producer of the Hobbit and its sequel. New Line and MGM would co-finance the film and MGM would distribute via 20th Century Fox ( an unprecedented deal with a major studio proving, unsurprisingly, how far the stock of Tolkien material had gone up). Each film budgeted to cost $150 million, almost $60 million more than each of the original LOTR trilogy.
Jackson at the time, made it clear that he chose not to direct as he would have been unsatisfying to compete with his previous films. So in February 2008, much to the disappointment of the viewing public and scores of fans around the world, Peter Jackson bowed out of heading the two final installments of the Tolkien canon.
Guillermo Del Toro was confirmed as Director in April 2008, following working with Jackson on the shelved Halo film project some time before. Jackson remained heavily involved, video conferencing with Del Toro, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh to complete the script.
Jackson announced that the scripting for the Hobbit would not be finished until early 2010, with scripting days rolling on for 12 hours at a time. Jackson, tellingly had kept the Rivendell scale model and the Bag End set live for the Hobbit in the intervening years, using Bag End as a guest house (seriously, orderly queue starts here!) Guillermo was quoting as saying that every week, they were discovering new things about the script and it was becoming clear that development was taking significantly longer than anticipated.
Jackson and Del Toro had a positive working relationship, disagreements resolved to the benefit of the script. Del Toro was insistent that he could direct the film in its entirety however Jackson, through personal experience on the original LOTR films offered to take the position of second unit director. While Del Toro has the same love of scale models and painted backdrops as Jackson – Del Toro was looking to move towards animatronics – enhanced through CGI in some cases but saw it as an opportunity to move animatronics 10 years into the future. This may very well have worked, however the animatronics in previous Del Toro films (such as Hellboy 2) are very clear to anyone who is looking. However, overwhelmingly the styles and creative output of the two men are very similar and the response from the public was positive at Del Toro’s involvement following successes such as Hellboy and classics like The Devil’s Backbone.
In 2010, Del Toro left the project, due to delays, saying that MGM’s financial problems had led to the Hobbit still not being Greenlit. “There cannot be any start dates until the MGM situation gets resolved… We have designed all the creatures. We’ve designed the sets and the wardrobe. We have done animatics and planned very lengthy action sequences. We have scary sequences and funny sequences and we are very, very prepared for when it’s finally triggered, but we don’t know anything until MGM is solved.”
A still from Jackson's latest film - Tintin
Two days later, Del Toro announced his departure on TheOneRing.net that “[i]n light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming”, he would “take leave from helming”, further stating that “the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project. (…) I remain an ally to it and its makers, present and future, and fully support a smooth transition to a new director.” The internet went wild at the prospect of a new director and a faltering of the project everybody wanted to see. However, MGM had put all its major releases on hold including the lucrative Bond franchise. Jackson’s name was being thrown around however also mentioned were Neill Blomkap (a short film maker with only one feature, the excellent District 9, produced by Jackson, under his belt), David Yates (safe handed director responsible for the most recent Harry Potter films), terrifyingly Brett Ratner (Rush Hour trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand) and Dave Dobkin (director of Clay Pigeons, Shanghai Knights and the Wedding Crashers) – however Jackson was responsible for Braindead, Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and The Frighteners (directly before LOTR) so few saw Lord of the Rings coming though Jackson was clearly a capable effects director before hsi triumph with the trilogy of trilogies.
Finally, on June 25, 2010, Jackson was reported to be in negotiations to direct the two-part film. On October 16, 2010, New Line Cinema and a newly joined Warner Bros. confirmed absolutely that the Hobbit was to proceed with Jackon as the director. As well as that, both companies confirmed that The Hobbit was officially greenlit and would begin principle shooting in February, 2011. In about 7 days time….
Its been a long journey for Sir Peter Jackson. From that first meeting at New Line Cinema in which it was insisted by the studio itself that it needed to be a film for each book to the glory days of the releases, mired by the financial disputes between New Line and the Tolkien estate (to the tune of $24 million no less according to reports) and now after considerable delays and frustration, Jackson has returned to the helm of the new Tolkien film. Although Del Toro would certainly have done an excellent job nobody doubts the integrity and determination of the original director to heave into view another magical and monumental installment of the tales of Middle Earth.
There and Back Again : A Wanderers tale by Peter Jackson….
Jackson relaxing on the set of Lord of the Rings - shots of Jackson enjoying himself have been in short supply these last few years