Will Producer Peter Jackson Step In?
For almost a year, Lord of the Rings fans have assumed the ongoing MGM bankruptcy threat would not seriously affect the two Hobbit movies, currently in pre-production down in New Zealand. No confirmed casting news on who will play Bilbo? No problem! Scripts still not finished? It’s okay! No official green light from Warners/New Line or filming date? Don’t worry about it!
Well, now there’s a big problem. Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) announced Sunday on the uber-LOTR fan site TheOneRing.net that after two years of pre-production work he is leaving the project as director, though will remain on board as a co-writer alongside producer-writers Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh. The reason stated for his shocking (and no doubt heart-breaking) decision was the ongoing delays in green lighting the films and setting a start date for filming.
MGM, which owns part of the rights to The Hobbit, has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for a year, awaiting a buyer. (This situation has also put an indefinite hold on the start of a new James Bond film.) Even though Warner Brothers/New Line is the primary studio and money-supplier behind production of the new Hobbit films, Warners has been reluctant to green light the films until the MGM financial situation is settled. (The irony is that, according to Deadline Hollywood, insiders suggest an MGM purchase could be imminent.)
The problem for del Toro is he has a massive (and very promising) slate of his own film projects in the works with Universal Studios, including a new takes on Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and adaptations of Dan Simmons’ Dickens novel Drood, and–most excitingly–H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. What had originally been scheduled as a three-year project in New Zealand with The Hobbit was now going to be a six-year stint.
“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. 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,” said del Toro’s statement, adding, “The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project.”
In a separate statement yesterday, LOTR director and Hobbit producer Peter Jackson made it clear he wasn’t interested in taking over the directing reins, but less than 24 hours later he’s now apparently saying he would consider helming the project if it was the only way for it to continue. The catch is Jackson has contracts for other films with other studios that he may not be able to get out of. Certainly Jackson would be the fan’s choice–as well as that of the nervous money folks at Warner. And for the director himself, a sure-fire creative “win” after the box-office stumble of The Lovely Bones last winter would probably be tempting.
Other director’s names being bandied about (by fans, not by the studio so far) include Sam Raimi (who lobbied hard to get the Hobbit gig in the first place, only to be rejected and sign on for World of Warcraft instead), Jackson protege Neil Blomkomp (District 9), del Toro’s fellow “Three Amigo” Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men), and Gore Verbinski (who amicably retired from helming the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). Other names on fans’ “dream lists” include Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien Resurrection, Amelie, MicMacs), Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch/Daywatch, Wanted), Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy) and Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers). (Of course, like Jackson, not all of these dream-team directors are currently free to drop everything and go work in New Zealand for the next three years. Hitfix.com has a full breakdown of who’s who and who’s available.)
As much as I love Jackson’s LOTR, I’m the first to insist that frame-for-frame del Toro is a much better director than Jackson, and I was very excited to see what he was going to do with Middle Earth. However, with him out, my personal choice would be Jackson again–this far along in the process, bringing anyone else in would just be work for hire and, in my opinion, the films would suffer from a lack of heart and creative ownership in the director’s chair. (Though if I had to pick another, I’d definitely go with Cuaron.)
Whatever decision is made, it has to be made fast–especially if it ends up being someone other than Jackson, someone who would have to get up to speed on the project. Warner Brothers/New Line has set Decembers 2012 and 2013 as the release dates for the two Hobbit films. If those dates are going to be met, filming has to begin by the fall.
More redblog coverage of The Hobbit: