David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

A Change of Hobbit

Last week, fan site TheOneRing.net posted a letter from film director Peter Jackson stating that he’d been dumped by New Line Cinema. The studio, he claimed, was now seeking another director to film the cinematic adaptation of The Hobbit and an “unnamed prequel” to The Lord of the Rings.

Poster for The Hobbit by Peter PracownikTo say the LOTR fan community has gone ape shit over this turn of events is to drastically understate things. They’ve gone orc shit. No, Uruk-Hai shit.

Searching for the truth of a Hollywood monetary dispute is kind of like searching for WMDs in an imaginary country on the Bizarro planet. It can’t be done. Based on the evidence at hand — which is scarce — I’m sympathetic to both sides in the Jackson/New Line dispute.

On the one hand, Jackson, an unknown C-list director prior to the Rings film franchise, has made a gazillion billion dollars, earned a fistful of Oscars, and become the George Lucas of his generation because of these movies. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for him getting the raw end of a couple of rounding errors on the spreadsheet. New Line put up a hell of a lot of money for these movies, and I’m sure their berserker troll lawyers tilted the contractual playing field as far as they could before PJ signed on the dotted line (in the blood of his firstborn).

On the other hand, New Line has become a kingpin studio specifically because of Jackson’s films. This wouldn’t be the first time a Hollywood studio used sneaky accounting tricks to wipe out their profits in order to hide them from financing partners/directors/mafia dons. (See the little-known Eddie Murphy flop Coming to America.) They owe it to PJ to resolve this whole thing amicably. There’s a reason many of the biggest directors in the business bail out of the studio system as soon as they can: it’s crooked.

On the other other hand, it’s not like there aren’t any directors that could step into Jackson’s shoes on The Hobbit. Sam Raimi, Terry Gilliam, Stephen Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Alphonso Cuaron — there are plenty of folks around that could put together a great Hobbit film. The only people you’d need from Jackson’s cast and crew to do the prequel would be Ian McKellan, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, and Howard Shore. It would be nice to see cameos from Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom, and Cate Blanchett too — and there’s some justification in the book for them — but please spare us from the cavalcade of mugging walk-ons and in-jokes we all know this movie could turn into.

On the other other other hand — and this is the last word — why should Peter Jackson bother? His filmic legacy is set, he’s probably sick to death of Middle Earth by now, and he’s sitting on a pile of lucre ten times the size of the one Smaug sat on in the Lonely Mountain. Let New Line do whatever the hell they want with The Hobbit.

If you’ve read The Hobbit, or at least seen the Rankin-Bass TV adaptation, you should be able to see the irony here. The climax of the story, The Battle of Five Armies, takes place after Smaug the dragon has been slain and all of the rival factions get into a ruinous fight over who gets what share of the treasure.

So as far as fandom goes, I’d say it’s time to sit back and let the Five Armies of Ravenous Slobbering Lawyers duke things out. Don’t think for a minute that anything the studios do with The Hobbit will change J.R.R. Tolkien’s legacy in the slightest. He almost certainly would have disliked the Peter Jackson adaptations of The Lord of the Rings — his son and literary executor Christopher certainly doesn’t have a very high opinion of them — and his works will survive another generation or two in the public imagination just fine without them.

DVD cover for Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit(One quick side note: I have a huge sentimental attachment to the Rankin-Bass cartoon adaptation of The Hobbit. Why? Because that cartoon alone turned me on to the entire fantasy genre when I was 6 or 7. We owned the 3-disc LP version, and I used to sit in my room for hours listening to that record over and over again on my little orange plastic record player. John Huston’s Gandalf is absolutely magnificent, and you don’t get much more menacing than Richard Boone’s gravelly Smaug. I still get goosebumps when I think of the haunting melody to the dwarves’ song: “Far o’er the Misty Mountains cold/Through dungeons deep and caverns old…” Shut up, I do, I swear.)

(Another quick side note: Has anyone else figured out yet that the best way to get The Silmarillion to the big screen is through an animated musical a la Disney’s Fantasia? You divide it into three acts. Act 1: the story of Feanor and the Silmarils. Act 2: the story of Beren and Luthien. Act 3: the story of the fall of Numenor. You intertwine the story lines like Robert Rodriguez did for Sin City, and there you have it. New Line, call me.)

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  1. Kate Elliott on November 29, 2006 at 5:54 pm  Chain link

    I’m so with you on the Silmarillion as animated musical.

    As for The Hobbit, I can’t work up much concern one way or the other.

  2. tommyspoon on November 29, 2006 at 5:54 pm  Chain link

    Totally with you on the Rankin Bass “Hobbit”. By far my favorite animated film.

  3. Stephanie Leary on November 29, 2006 at 7:17 pm  Chain link

    You don’t think they should get Ian Holm back to play Bilbo?

    An animated, musical Silmarillion is a Silmarillion I might actually be willing to see.

  4. David Louis Edelman on November 29, 2006 at 7:37 pm  Chain link

    I keep hearing that LOTR fanboys want Ian Holm back to play Bilbo. That idea seems pretty ridiculous to me. The dude’s in his mid-70s, and the amount of makeup/CGI work it would take to get him looking 40ish years younger for an entire 3+ hour film isn’t worth the effort. I say, find a talented no-name young Brit with a passing resemblance to Holm and go from there.

  5. fighella on January 1, 2007 at 12:37 am  Chain link

    I am in the process of reading Peter Jacksons Biography. Good stuff!!

    I don’t think he should bother with The Hobbit.. but I think he wanted to turn it down rather than have them take it away… it just woulda been polite… (something like that)…

    I don’t think that The Hobbit movie will be as compelling either way, after what they did with LOTR, it’s going to be hard to get excited about the same thing… 15 Oscars, 15 Hours of Movies, DVDs, Rereleases all that stuff… Although it will make millions and billions of dollars…

    Anyways Thats my 2 cents.

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