The Hobbit: the long, strange trip of Bilbo Baggins

Ron finds out what's going on with The Hobbit - from rights disputes to Guillermo del Toro...

Hobbit

The Hobbit has a long and strange history when it comes to being in production limbo. People have wanted to make a Hobbit film for years now, and the only person so far to manage to even bring the film into production is animation company Rankin-Bass’s absolutely horrible 1977 version. The less said about that the better, though absolutely horrible is a good description of it. However, now that Peter Jackson has made more money than Titanic at the box office with his loving tales of hobbits and various and sundry creatures, it looks as though the long strange trip for Tolkien’s first work will see the big screen.

But it’s been a trip.

Fresh off his Oscar nomination for 1994’s Fierce Creatures, a little-known and cult film maker named Peter Jackson, known for bizarre special effects, splattering bodily fluids, and a rotund physique, approached the holders of the rights to The Hobbit in 1995. Unfortunately, the production rights were owned by New Line Cinemas, but the distribution rights were owned by United Artists, which was later bought by MGM. Confused yet?

Fast forward 10 years later.

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New Line had announced that Peter Jackson would be going back to Middle Earth to adapt The Hobbit, since MGM smelled money in the water and were finally willing to deal with their competition. Meanwhile, a few months later, Peter Jackson is suing the company that paid for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Line, for profits he felt he was owed from video games, video sales, and all the other stuff studios use funny accounting on to steal from the people who are owed points on the back end. Things get messy, and by January 2007, New Line co-founder Robert Shaye tells Peter Jackson to take a long walk off a short pier.

Then, New Line loses a metric ton of money on a bunch of expensive, mostly crappy movies during the summer blockbuster season. Things are so bad that, by August, New Line is smooching Peter Jackson’s kiwi behind, and by December, Jackson is back in charge of The Hobbit once more, with not one, but two movies to make. MGM came up with the bright idea of making two Hobbit movies using the now-familiar Roger Corman format: film two movies at once while you have everyone there, reduce crew costs, spend a lot more time on location, and have the sequel in the bag so you don’t have to waste much time in production.

But, while Peter Jackson is involved, he won’t be directing. I went to him to ask him what the deal was, and this is what he told me.

“The deal is, mate, that when I did the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I had a great big beard and I weighed a great deal. But since then I’ve gone on a diet, gotten a trainer, shaved my face off, and am now looking pretty damn sexy. Because I feel that the Tolkien universe should only be envisioned by fat, bearded nerds, I’m not longer fit for the project, but I know someone who is. Now, I don’t know how you got in here, but you’d be leaving before I have my Nazgûl bodyguards throw you out.”

So, after spending the past two weeks in the hospital, it’s been announced that the suitably portly and bearded Guillermo Del Toro will be taking the extra-extra-large director’s chair for the upcoming pair of $150 million movies, with all the Lord of the Rings crew lining up to be a part of the next pair of films. Peter Jackson will be busy with the Tintin trilogy being executively-produced by Steven Spielberg.

Of course, since the movies haven’t been finished yet, everything is subject to change. Sam Raimi is also showing interest in getting a piece of this film franchise, which… would’ve been awesome news before Spider-man 3, but now kind of fills me with dread. The way this franchise is working out, Peter Jackson will be available to direct again by the time they actually start filming. More than likely, The Hobbit will be coming to a movie theater near you in 2010, with or without Peter Jackson. After all, the unfilmable book series has already been filmed, so why not The Hobbit?

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As a fat, bearded guy, Ron Hogan is a perfect fit to direct The Children of Húrin. Go check out more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics.