A Project (Formerly) In Limbo
One whole year. And nothing. Nada. Goose-egg.
Well, that can describe the forward momentum that the “Hobbit” film project has taken. But it can just as easily summarize the output here at Tolkien Geek.
What can I say, I’m embarrassed. Life is complicated and while I certainly had the inspiration back on August 2 of last year to move this thing along, too many other forces were pulling me in multiple directions both personally and professionally.
Before I continue let’s take a look at where the film project is one year later.
MGM is up a creek…and heading towards the Falls of Rauros.
Why are we even talking about MGM anyway? Well, MGM/United Artists bought the film rights for both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” from Tolkien back in 1969. It's a complicated tale, but suffice to say that, in the 1990’s, the rights to “The Lord of the Rings” ended up with New Line Cinema after changing hands several times. MGM, however, is still legally connected to the filming rights for “The Hobbit”, making the studio an integral part of this project.
Back in 2009, everything appeared to be coming together for Peter Jackson and company. However, it soon became clear that the future of MGM studios, currently weighted under a mountain of debt, was in doubt. Not only was “The Hobbit” in limbo, but the James Bond Franchise has been mothballed until the studio can figure this thing out. For almost a year anxious creditors have been pressing the studio to reorganize and liquidate some of its operations.
Recently, Spyglass entertainment (a studio which often pairs with other studios and has co-produced such recent films as "Dinner for Schmucks," "Get Him to the Greek," and "Star Trek." ) made a bid to purchase much of the ailing entertainment icon in a pre-packaged bankruptcy plan due to be filed sometime this month:
“Under Spyglass' proposal, the company’s co-heads, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, will get a 4 to 5 percent stake in the company following the restructuring…Spyglass would continue to operate independently, while MGM will produce a handful of movies each year, among them Bond and ‘The Hobbit.'"One way or another, MGM seems certain to file for bankruptcy very soon and this issue should (though it’s not guaranteed) be resolved.
Del Toro is Out.
Honestly, when I first read about this development I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I had no real issues with Guillermo Del Toro sitting in the director’s chair since this was Peter Jackson’s project, with final say on the finished product. But in the time since the announcement of the films we’ve heard precious little from Jackson and whole lot from Del Toro. It seemed to me that he had at least inferred from his dealings with Jackson that he was going to have more creative control than I was comfortable with. Whether or not this was PJ’s intention or not it’s difficult to say.
In the beginning when this was supposed to be two separate films – “The Hobbit” and some kind of bridge movie to “The Lord of the Rings” – Del Toro was pretty clear that he felt like the first film was his baby. He expressed that the second film would require him to yield to Jackson’s vision but that the first film – all Hobbit – would be different in tone. He explained in an interview in Premiere magazine in 2008: “I plan to change and expand the visuals from Peter's, and I know the world can be portrayed in a different way.”
Change and expand, huh? Now Guillermo Del Toro has a body of work on which we can gather what these kinds of changes might look like. It’s hard to imagine Del Toro’s current palette of visual effects working their way into a more light-hearted story like “The Hobbit”. Do these ghastly things look like they belong in Middle Earth?
While it was encouraging that he met with the two Tolkien design experts that gave the trilogy such an authentic look and feel, Alan Lee and John Howe, it was clear he also wanted to bring on board Mike “Hellboy” Mignola and Wayne “Blade” Barlow. Frequent Del Toro actors were expected to be associated with “The Hobbit” (Ron Perlman as Beorn, Doug Jones as Thraduil perhaps). Also, Del Toro is a man – like Peter Jackson – who is used to wearing multiple hats (writer, director, producer) for his films.
It's worth noting that it was reported early on in the pre-production phase of Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban that Del Toro was approached to direct but was quoted as saying that he considered the film "so bright and happy and full of light, that [he] wasn't interested." Now, anyone familiar with the Harry Potter series can attest that the third book of the series turns a remarkably darker tone than the first two volumes in the series so either he hadn’t read Prisoner of Azkaban or it just wasn’t dark enough for him. And The Hobbit has potential here? Mmmm.
When it was announced that Del Toro was leaving the project this past June he cited the various delays and conflicts with schedules. This makes sense as he could be making other films while the production sits in development hell. However, I am left to wonder whether of not his departure had more to do with creative differences with Jackson. It looks as if the big “Tintin” project Jackson was producing with Steven Spielberg is mostly finished and due for release sometime next year. It’s my understanding that the script (at least the original draft) for the two films is complete. Perhaps at this point Jackson has had second thoughts about relinquishing the directing duties? We probably won’t know the real story for some time.
But suffice to say, if the project appears to now be freeing itself of delays it would difficult to believe that Del Toro’s schedule wouldn’t allow him to hold on a little longer. As we progress through the chapters I expect I will be unable to resist raising my concerns from time to time about certain aspects of the story that would worry me had Del Toro remained involved.
Red Light, Green Light.
Officially, the project has not been officially “green lit”. In other words, nobody’s committed to write the checks that are needed for setting timetables and production schedules.
There have been mixed signals from the producers, the studios, the media and even some of the actors (i.e. McKellan, Serkis and Weaving) as to whether or not this project has been given the OK to move forward. On the one hand, the official talking point is that, no, it hasn’t. On the other hand, some of the news bits leaking out from various sources (i.e. TheOneRing.net and others) is that a lot of the pre-production work is being done. Only Jackson and company know the real story. And once the MGM issue is settled, activity may very well “officially” hit its stride. Who knows?
So where does that leave us? Frustrated and a little angry. None of these developments seem to make any sense but most of us don’t live and work in Hollywood so what else can we do besides wait and hope? Nothing, really.
That being said, the reality of “The Hobbit” on film seems much closer and much more likely than it did a year ago. So, this increased anticipation has breathed new life in this current blog project for me and I’m committed to seeing through (I actually have the first draft of Chapter One completed). A warning, though. It will take a long time, longer than I had hoped. This is because of the amount of time I am able to give to it. But I’m hoping to make each entry worthy of your patience and only ever give it my best effort.
Based on my experience in creating this blog I can confidently say (to paraphrase Treebeard) that writing something that is worth reading takes a long time, so I prefer not to write anything unless it is worth taking a long time to do it.
Let's Go (take two)! - Chapter One: An Unexpected Party