The production history of The Hobbit has been a troubled one, and just saying that sentence seems almost absurd. The three other films in the series – The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King – have cumulatively won 17 Academy Awards, commanded a budget of $285 million, featured actors such as Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Viggo Mortensen and many others, and currently rank as the fifth higest grossing film franchise of all time with around $2.9 billion in box office receipts. Critical and audience adulation is almost unparalleled.
Why, then have the highly anticipated prequel films run into such trouble, and what has the road to their production been like to date?
Back in 1995, Peter Jackson’s original plan was to adapt The Hobbit as the first part of a trilogy. The remainder would be adaptations of the Lord Of The Rings books. This, however, was nixed by a combination of factors, with different rights holders retaining different parts of the franchise. Harvey Weinstein, unsuccessful in his attempts to secure the rights to The Hobbit, persuaded Jackson to press on with an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings.
Widely thought to be unfilmable at the time, The Lord Of The Rings, made with New Line Cinema, was an incredible success. Talks about adapting The Hobbit were present even throughout filming, and in 2006, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) made public their interest in making the films, having acquired United Artists, and thus, the filming rights.
The earliest bumps in the road came due to a forced audit of New Line Cinema, pushed through the courts by Jackson, who wanted to investigate whether New Line had deprived him of revenue from the Lord Of The Rings films. Although it was an audit as opposed to a full lawsuit, New Line co-founder Robert Shaye took a very public exception to the move, and stated that Jackson would never again direct a film at the studio, effectively and literally putting the kibosh on the director helming the prequel adaptation. Harry Sloan, however, the MGM chief, was adamant that Jackson had to direct the film and halted pre-production as a result. Shaye was forced into an embarrassing climb-down by the August of that year, and by December, Jackson was announced as the executive producer of the film, which was now going to be a two-parter.
Although New Line had been fined for failing to provide documents request by the court audit, and the fractious relationship between Jackson and the studio had been repaired to a degree, that was by no means the end of the problem for The Hobbit. The Tolkien Estate, acting through The Tolkien Trust and HarperCollins, sued New Line to the order of $220 million in February 2008, claiming breach of contract, as well as fraud. Their suit also attempted to bar the production of The Hobbit films.
Next: Del Toro, settlements, and sudden shocks.