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Can Peter Jackson save ‘The Hobbit’ from those nasty orcs…er, actors?

October 4, 2010

Peter Jackson: Hobbit...or orc?!?

If Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher are wondering how to follow The Social Network, their acclaimed take-down of Facebook, they might consider the drama surrounding Peter Jackson and his efforts to bring The Hobbit to the screen down in New Zealand.

Yeah, I know few successful movies are made about movies being made, but hear me out on this one: Jackson, who transformed filmmaking with his risky and stupendously popular three-movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, has been struggling to produce The Hobbit as a two-picture prequel.

When I say “struggle,” I mean Jackson is wrestling with difficulties on the scale of  Ishtar or Heaven’s Gate.

You’d think production of The Hobbit, which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote before LOTR, would have commenced, oh, around 2004, right after the triumph of the The Return of the King, which grossed something in the neighborhood of $1 billion worldwide. But due to Hollywood and publishing factors too tiresome to go into, ownership to the film rights was muddled.

So Jackson turned his attention to his childhood dream of filming an utterly unnecessary remake of King Kong that turned out actually to be an exciting and intelligent movie, providing you arrive at the theater about an hour after the picture starts. Then he adapated Alice Sebold’s bestseller The Lovely Bones, which I haven’t seen due to the high-treacle content of the previews.

Apparently relishing his new status as a Hollywood heavyweight (even as he shed something like 200 pounds of personal girth), Jackson has become a producing fool, working on a failed Halo adaptation, producing the low-budget masterpiece District 9 (a smart and enjoyable sci-fi movie). And he’s producing Stephen Spielberg’s new movie, Tintin.

Around 2006, the rights issues apparently settled, Jackson turned his attention to producing The Hobbit, which was to be filmed as two movies, back-to-back, just as the three LOTR pictures were, using the same New Zealand production facilities. World nerdom cheered when Guillermo del Toro, the genius Mexican fantastist (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) was announced as director.

All seemed fine after that to those of us living on the top of the world, where news from New Zealand is a bit of a rarity. The first cloud blew over the MIddle-Earth horizon in May when Del Toro quit the project, citing production delays. Sad face.

In the past week the the flood of bad news from Wellington has threatened to wash the entire project away. The Hobbit  has become the focus of a labor dispute over the unionizing of actors on the project

Jackson became so frustrated he threatened to take the production to Eastern Europe, which, you got to admit, makes him appear a bit more Sauronian than Gandalfian. It began to seem the world would never again be able to return to Middle Earth with Jackson as its cinematic guide.

Over the weekend, New Zealand’s prime minister John Key, alarmed about the potential  blow to the Kiwi film industry, offered to mediate between the actors and Jackson: “If you can’t make The Hobbit here, frankly, what movies are you going to make here?” he asked.

Also over the weekend, a major workshop, Porstmouth Miniatures Studio, where Jackson’s company manufactured, filmed and stored miniatures from his movies, burned to the ground. It was one of the few production facilities of its kind in the world.

And then voila: Today’s news that the real problem, continuing tussles over rights, have been ironed out, and an agreement with the actors’ union is imminent, too. Filming will begin in January with Peter Jackson at the helm. Expect a 2012 debut for the first picture.

Those who love LOTR, can only applaud these developments, if cautiously (January is a long ways off). I’d love to see Jackson’s version of The Hobbit, complete with Ian McKellan repeating his turn as Gandalf.

But maybe even more, I’d like to see what Sorkin and Fincher could do dramatizing the behind-the-scenes story. And let’s see, who to play Jackson? Maybe …Elijah Wood?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    October 4, 2010 4:07 pm

    A fire destroying the miniatures studio is heartbreaking. I’m glad that wasn’t the last straw. It feels right to have Jackson directing ‘The Hobbit.’ He and Tolkein are a good fit as fable tellers and believers in basic humanity. Del Toro was a strong choice, but I’m not sure he has Jackson’s talent for putting horror and humor in the same story.

    Too bad for Eastern Europe on this one. It would be cool if places like Romania and Albania got film industrues going. Who knows what those countries even look like? Their cities and landscapes and people have to be some of the most filmically under-represented parts of the northern hemisphere. Iceland probably has more screen time!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 4, 2010 10:15 pm

      I agree that Jackson is the right hand for this particular tiller, but Del Torro has proven, with Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy 2, that he too is adroit at humor and horror. Okay, there’s not so much humor in Pan’s Labyrinth, but it’s one of the greatest adult fantasy films of all time — and it’s about a child!

      I extend my sympathies to Eastern Europe, but after LOTR New Zealand is the first choice for MIddle-Earth.

      You know, right, that Cold Mountain was filmed in Romania? It passes very well for Appalachian North Carolina. House of Flying Daggers was also filmed substantially in Romania — rural China is too polluted.

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