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Lawsuit of the Rings

This is old news by now, but still quite unsettled news. If you hadn't heard, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh published an open letter to fans, explaining why they will not be returning to make a film of The Hobbit, nor a second planned film that takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I recommend reading the letter firsthand, but in a nutshell, Jackson has had a pending lawsuit against New Line for quite some time, now, over some millions of dollars of revenue for The Fellowship of the Ring. Details are not well-understood, least of all by me, but the point is that Jackson and Walsh feel that New Line has cheated them out of a lot of money, and that does not make for a good working relationship until that matter is settled. Jackson's stance was, let's resolve the lawsuit one way or another, and then let's do The Hobbit.

The trouble is that New Line does not have indefinite rights to make The Hobbit. They have to do so within a certain period of time, or the rights revert back to Sal Zaentz, a pretty big time producer with such upscale credits as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The English Patient, and...the Ralph Bakshi version of Lord of the Rings, not that I really think that should be held against him.

So New Line did what corporations do and added the directorial reins of The Hobbit to the equation. Settle or dismiss the lawsuit, and you can direct The Hobbit, but otherwise we'll have to go with another director. Jackson said no, that's the wrong way to resolve a dispute and the wrong reason to make a movie.

That's more or less how things stand now. My personal opinion is that this was a bluff, and Jackson threw New Line for a completely unexpected loop by refusing to play. Now New Line is stuck with the choice to follow through with a new director or recant and exchange an optimal settlement for keeping Jackson as an asset.

In the days since then, news transpired that Sal Zaentz said that the rights to The Hobbit will revert to him before New Line can get underway with a new director, and then Zaentz will hire Jackson to direct The Hobbit (and the second prequel) for him. That news has been partially debunked, because the quote from Sal Zaentz was determined to predate the New Line news by at least a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, it is true that New Line's deadline will end next year if they haven't begun production (I don't know how far along they have to be to qualify for holding onto the rights past the deadline), and the potential is still that Zaentz could find himself with the rights again and hire Jackson.

What will happen? What won't? It's anybody's guess at this point. My own personal opinion is that Jackson worked a minor miracle with the original trilogy, filming the unfilmable. I read another movie-related board, wherein a surprising number of people seem to have forgotten this. Lord of the Rings was, and is, unfilmable -- and yet, somehow, inexplicably, Jackson pulled it off anyway. I don't care how much you like Bryan Singer or Sam Raimi or whatever other action fantasy director you care to name. There is no rational reason to guess that the Lord of the Rings movies, under anybody else's directorial hand would have worked. Indeed, before the Fellowship of the Ring trailer came out, there was no reason to assume Jackson's films would be anything of value either.

Now that Jackson has laid the groundwork and set the tone -- and also since The Hobbit is a less ambitious story -- it's a bit more conceivable that another director could step in and come up with something passable. But it's a roll of the dice, and you don't win the lottery twice. In my opinion, The Hobbit should be done by Jackson or not at all, at least not for another generation. And I also think that New Line, or at least many officials within New Line, must see that The Hobbit would be far and away more valuable to them with Jackson than without. And it's not just Jackson, either. If Jackson is forced out of the series, how likely are Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis going to be enthusiastic about reprising their roles? Regardless, Jackson has the kind of allegiance among fans that hasn't been seen in the world of movies in a generation, and he will have it right up until he makes his Phantom Menace.

Of course that brings up an interesting point. What if Jackson finally does The Hobbit, and it goes over like The Phantom Menace? Well, if it happens, it happens. Jackson is human and fallible, and more directors than not eventually lose their edge. But when Lucas made The Phantom Menace, 16 had passed since he had produced a Star Wars movie, and 22 years had passed since he'd directed anything at all. Few directors can produce greatness over that length of time. So don't make Jackson wait until 2023 to make The Hobbit, and I suspect we'll be ok.

So what are your thoughts on a Jacksonless Hobbit? Can it work? Should it happen? Will it?

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