A History of the Trouble with 'The Hobbit'

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The hobbits and elves of that far-away land Middle Earth New Zealand came out in throngs for Wednesday's premiere of the first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, which is due on our shores December 14th. And while by all accounts the premiere was full of merriment, the journey of An Unexpected Journey has not been without its perils, many of which seem to be self-inflicted as the franchise grows larger than Gollum's obsession with the One Ring. (We promise we'll stop at some point with the references.) Herewith, a look back at what's gone so bad so quickly, even before much of anybody has even seen the thing:

Part I: Guillermo Del Toro dropped out.
If you go back to the beginning of this saga, you might remember that at the helm was not supposed to be the Lord of the Rings hero Jackson at all but Del Toro, the "visionary" director of Pan's Labyrinth. Then Del Toro dropped out in May 2010, partly because of MGM's financial difficulties, but he also said this in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: "It was really the fact that every six months we thought we were beginning, and every six months we got pushed [back]. And before you could blink, it was a year, and then it was two years." Though initially it seemed Jackson would not take on the role of director, the Kiwi hero signed on in October 2010. Now Del Toro has a co-writing credit, but Jackson has said that his designs have for the most part been scrapped

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Part II: New Zealand trouble.
Because of a union-related dispute, there was a pretty good chance for a while there that Middle Earth would have ended up elsewhere. New Zealand Actor's Equity, a branch of an Australian union, demanded collective bargaining on the films, but Michael Cieply of the New York Times reported in October 2010 that "the producers and some New Zealand officials said such bargaining would violate the country’s laws, which treat group negotiations with contractors as a form of price-fixing." Jonathan Handel at The Hollywood Reporter explained that "the affair ended with Warner Bros. extracting an additional $25 million in incentives and advertising funds from the island nation and securing passage of anti-union legislation, apparently negotiated directly between the government and key Warners executives including New Line president Toby Emmerich and Warner Home Entertainment president Kevin Tsujihara." That said, bad blood still lingers. 

Part III: Early footage didn't look so hot.
In April of this year, fans got a taste of Hobbit footage at Las Vegas' CinemaCon, and it didn't appear as promising as they had hoped — despite being shot at a much-hyped 48 frames per second (the standard rate is 24 per second). One projectionist told the Los Angeles that it "looked like a made-for-TV movie." Josh L. Dickey at Variety wrote: "The realism gave CG characters a distinct presence, but human actors seemed overlit and amplified in a way that many compared to modern sports broadcasts (as high as 60 fps in HD) and daytime television." Which aren't exactly the comparisons Jackson and his studio were looking for. That said, per the Associated Press, apparently only 1,000 of the 25,000 theaters showing the film can show it at 48 frames. 

Part IV: Then came the animal deaths.
As we have previously reported, the trilogy is being implicated in the deaths of 27 animals working on the film after holding them in what's being called an off-set "death trap." Though producers and Jackson have countered claims, the story isn't going away: protestors showed up at Wednesday's premiere.

Part V: The other-other Hobbit 
The Hollywood Reporter reports that producers are suing the studio responsible for the Age of the Hobbits — a horrendous looking film that appears to have nothing to do with Tolkien's hobbits and stars Bai Ling. Producers enlisted Nielsen National Research to find out just how many people could associate The Hobbit with Warner Bros., Tolkien, and Peter Jackson without distinguishing Age of the Hobbits as a separate entity. When those surveyed saw the poster with the Age of the Hobbits name on it, 30 percent said thought it was made by "Warner Bros., New Line, MGM, Saul Zaentz Co., J.R.R. Tolkien, or Peter Jackson." That number dropped when pollsters showed them an alternate title. Seems like a small battle for such a big film, but, hey, this hasn't been easy.

Part VI: There are two more parts of this thing.
One book and some appendices will somehow end up as three huge, hugely long movies. While we haven't actually seen the first film yet, our Richard Lawson explained why this might not be such a good idea

So where does that leave us? Well, we still don't officially know how the movie turned out, though if producer Bryan Singer's Twitter account is to be trusted, it sounds like the answer is "pretty well." What we do know is that it's been a pretty long road for that little hobbit. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.