'Hobbit' Fans Have Long Road to Final Release
By Jane Boursaw Posted Jul 4th 2010 05:30AM
If you've been following the making of 'The Hobbit,' you know the project has been on a roller coaster ride since it was optioned in 2006. But the troubles date back to 1995, when Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh expressed interest in filming the story as part one of a trilogy. Frustrations arose over production and distribution rights, and Jackson and Walsh went on to adapt the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy with New Line Cinema instead.
A prequel to the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, 'The Hobbit' follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who journeys to the Lonely Mountain accompanied by a group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug. As of this writing, the story will be made into two films scheduled for release in December 2012 and December 2013.
After the jump, a rundown of where things stand.
Who's Directing 'The Hobbit'?
In 2008, Guillermo del Toro signed on to direct the project. Jackson was still writing and producing, and del Toro would bring a distinctive flavor to the story, while still maintaining the spirit of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. But in May of this year, del Toro dropped out, citing scheduling conflicts in his note to fans on TheOneRing.net.
"In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming 'The Hobbit,' I am faced with the hardest decision of my life," Del Toro wrote. "After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien's Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures."
It truly does seem like scheduling conflicts and not something more nefarious, as Jackson added that del Toro couldn't commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years. Then came the news that Jackson himself might direct both films. Awesome news, as he's already intimately familiar with the Tolkien universe, and if 'The Hobbit' is anything like the Academy Award-sweeping 'LOTR' trilogy, the final product is sure to be top-notch.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's not a done deal yet, and other names tossed around include David Yates, Brett Ratner David Dobkin and Neill Blomkamp. Things continue to move forward, though. Check out these leaked pictures of 'The Hobbit' sets, which are, apparently, being built in New Zealand.
What's the Story?
Things are still up in the air as to what will be covered in each film. Since the powers that be do not have the rights to 'The Silmarillion' and 'Unfinished Tales,' del Toro has said the story must be drawn only from what is mentioned in 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' books.
(Tolkien Nerd Alert! It seems they've already ventured into 'Silmarillion' territory, with the scenes in the trilogy that featured Aragorn wearing the serpent ring, as well as Aragorn's song in Rivendell about Beren and Luthien. But I digress.)
In a 2008 interview with MTV Movies, del Toro felt the two films should be viewed as one continuous journey, "a single piece of narrative," and that's what shaped his scriptwriting sessions with Jackson, Walsh and Phillippa Boyens. He also noted that Smaug would die in the first movie, which gives pause, since he doesn't really show up until the last half of the book.
In a 2009 interview, del Toro said he knew where he'd split the two films. "When you read the book, there is only one place to break it really, and everybody knows it ... There is a moment in the book where something is accomplished that allows us to say, 'Okay, on to the next one after this.'" My guess? When Bilbo dons the ring and helps the dwarves escape by stuffing them into barrels and sending them down the river.
Casting Bilbo, Thorin and Others in Middle Earth
In a June 2009 interview with BBC Radio, del Toro confirmed that three actors would be resuming the roles they played in the 'LOTR' trilogy: Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Gollum and Hugo Weaving as Elrond. Other than that, the Web's abuzz about who else might be cast. Cate Blanchett is rumored to be returning as Galadriel, as is Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. John Rhys-Davies has said he won't play Gimli again because his face can't take the punishment!
Prospects for the role of Bilbo Baggins include Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, David Tennant and Tobey Maguire. Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in the trilogy, likely won't return to the role, but might possibly narrate the films.
It's been reported that all 13 dwarves, Beorn and Thorin's father, Thrain II, will also appear. Australian actor Simon Westaway has auditioned for the role of lead dwarf Thorin Oakenshield.
Doug Jones, who played various characters in del Toro's 'Hellboy,' 'Hellboy II' and 'Pan's Labyrinth,' is reportedly interested in playing Thranduil, King of Mirkwood and Legolas' father, but del Toro said he wanted Jones for a different role. Now that del Toro is out as director, it's unclear whether this is still in play, although he's continuing as co-writer on the screenplays.
MGM's Financial Woes
'The Hobbit' has been under a dark cloud since 1995, when Harvey Weinstein discovered that Saul Zaentz had production rights to 'The Hobbit,' but distribution rights still belonged to United Artists, who kept those rights believing that 'The Hobbit' would be made rather than the 'LOTR' trilogy.
The studio was on the market at the time, and Weinstein's efforts to buy the rights were unsuccessful. Jackson and New Line Cinema went on to produce the trilogy, with rights to 'The Hobbit' set to expire in 2010. In September 2006, MGM, owner of United Artists, expressed interest in teaming with New Line and Jackson to make 'The Hobbit.'
At this writing, MGM, which owns 50 percent of the rights to the story, has been struggling financially, and according to the Wall Street Journal, Spyglass Entertainment may end up running the studio in a pre-packaged bankruptcy.
How does that impact 'The Hobbit'? Maybe not at all. Sources close to the film say that MGM's financial woes won't halt production, but you have to wonder whether the films will actually proceed if there's a chance the rights could end up in bankruptcy court. The James Bond franchise is also snarled up in the financial mess.
Smaug, the Dwarves, the Ring and Other Stuff
Del Toro had been working with makeup and comic book artists, as well as Weta Workshop, to maintain the continuity of the trilogy. While he's pretty tight-lipped about the story and characters, a few things have slipped through, including this: "My belief on the Wargs issue is that the classical incarnation of the demonic wolf in Nordic mythology is not a hyena-shaped creature ... The archetype is a wolf, so we're going to go back to the slender, archetypical wolf that is, I think, the inspiration for Tolkien."
Also, the magic ring Bilbo finds wasn't seen as the all-powerful force of evil revealed in the trilogy. Additionally, each dwarf will be distinctive, the Goblins are being redesigned, and the Mirkwood spiders will look different from Shelob.
As for Smaug the Magnificent, we probably won't have a clear picture of him until closer to filming, but del Toro said the dragon represents a lot of things, including greed and pride. "He's one of the few dragons that will have enormous scenes with lines. He has some of the most beautiful dialogues."
Note that there's also been talk of making 'The Hobbit' a 3D film.
The Status Right Now
Because of MGM's financial woes, 'The Hobbit' hasn't officially been greenlit yet. Filming was expected to take place throughout 2010, with a break in the middle of the 370-day shoot, giving del Toro time to edit the first film while sets could be altered and built for the second film.
At a May press conference, del Toro said they were ready to go, noting that they'd designed all the creatures, sets and wardrobes, done animatics and planned lengthy action sequences, but nothing could move forward until the MGM issues were resolved. Most of the lawsuits have been resolved, and they're still hoping to fast-track the first film for a December 2012 release, but with no director and no filming having taken place yet, that seems unlikely.
Your thoughts on 'The Hobbit'? What are you hoping to see in the two films?
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