Kicking the Hobbit

June 4th, 2010

It’s official: Guillermo del Toro has ‘ankled’ Middle Earth, at least in terms of directing the long-awaited “The Hobbit.” Although visionary director del Toro (“Hellboy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”) had been working on pre-production in New Zealand for a two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel  for the last 2 years, the lack of a greenlight from New Line Cinema and financially-strapped (and still for sale) MGM has caused him to leave the project. In Tuesday’s “Daily Variety” del Toro is quoted as saying “In light of delays in setting the start date for filming “The Hobbit,” I am faced with the hardest decision of my life. After two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures.”

Executive producer Peter Jackson immediately exercised damage control, as did New Line. A New Line spokesperson insisted “The impending MGM sale has nothing to do with this project.” Jackson announced he’s continuing to work on the two pictures, and will meet with the studios to hire a new director. As for directing the films himself, it would be a tight fit, since Jackson has a full slate of upcoming directing commitments, including a sequel to the upcoming 3-D movie “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn,” which he produced with Steven Spielberg (who also directed) and Kathleen Kennedy.

To his credit, Guillermo del Toro is highly supportive of Jackson and his writing/producing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and wishes “The Hobbit” films every success. Del Toro will continue to work on the films’ scripts, but could not turn what was supposed to be a 3 year stay in New Zealand into a 6 year one. Although he has not expressed what his next film will be, del Toro signed a long term agreement with Universal in 2008, and has several films in development, including an adaptation of Dan Simmons’ “Drood,” remakes of “Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and George Roy Hill’s 1972 “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

With “The Hobbit,” MGM’s money woes are two-for-two in terms of stalling valuable film franchises; the next entry in the Bond series, ‘Bond 23,’ has been placed on hold pending the resolution of MGM’s precarious financial situation. Ironically, ‘the Lion’ announced recently it is ramping up its domestic TV production slate with a 12 episode order of “Teen Wolf” for MTV, based on the 1985 film, and has put in place a number of movie channels around the globe which exploit the company’s extensive, if aging, movie library, as well as touting its ‘This TV’ digital cinema service.

One thing seems certain: unless MGM can refinance or find a solid buyer (either for the whole studio or its participation in the stalled films), the fates of James Bond and Bilbo Baggins will remain shrouded in mystery…

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