Guillermo del Toro Leaves The Hobbit
In what is only the latest setback for the debt-wracked MGM Studios, Guillermo del Toro has decided to step down as director of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien's prelude to The Lord of the Rings. The two-part Hobbit prequel, which is being produced by Peter Jackson, is still slated for release in December of 2012 and 2013, but the delays caused by MGM's financial troubles were too much for the auteur director of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy, who had several other projects queued up, including possible remakes of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
MGM co-owns the rights to the The Hobbit with New Line Cinema, the studio that produced the first three Lord of the Rings movies. The Hobbit tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo's (Elijah Woods) uncle, who is tricked by Gandalf (hopefully to be played by Ian McKellan again) into helping a band of dwarves steal a treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo steals from Gollum the One Ring, helping to set in motion the series of events that take place in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Although Del Toro had signed on for what he realized could be a half-decade commitment in New Zealand, he became increasingly frustrated with MGM's inability to greenlight production. "In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming 'The Hobbit,' I am faced with the hardest decision of my life," Del Toro said in a statement released Sunday on the Lord of the Rings fansite TheOneRing.net. "After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures… The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project."
"We have been caught in a very tangled negotiation," del Toro continued. "Now I have been on the project for nearly two years. We have designed all the creatures, the sets, the wardrobe, animatics and planned action sequences and we are very, very prepared for when it is finally triggered. We don’t know anything until the MGM situation is resolved."
MGM was recently granted another extension on its massive 3.7 billion dollar debt by the hedge funds and creditors that now essentially control the company, which should keep the industry titan afloat for a few more years. Production of The Hobbit is now scheduled to continue as before, with principal photography beginning this winter. Sources say that del Toro's departure is not anticipated to alter the start date.
"The bottom line," said producer Peter Jackson recently, "is that Guillermo just didn't feel he could commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years." However, Del Toro will continue to co-write the script with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson.
Although Jackson said Monday that he could potentially step in to direct The Hobbit if it was necessary to "protect Warner Bros.' investment," Jackson's manager, Ken Kamins, told Entertainment Weekly today that "As for Peter directing, that’s not something he can consider at this time as he has other commitments to other projects.”
Those "other commitments" are probably the three back-to-back Tintin movies that Jackson is making with Steven Spielberg, based on the well-known children's comic. Spielberg has reportedly finished motion capture photography for the first film, and Jackson will be directing the second beginning next year. As for The Hobbit, Jackson was unsure as to when the studio would greenlight production. “I just don’t know now until we get a new director. The key thing is that we don’t intend to shut the project down…We don’t intend to let this affect the progress. Everybody, including the studio, wants to see things carry on as per normal.”
Speculation has already begun as to who will be tapped to fill del Toro's shoes. The Hobbit has always been The Lord of the Rings' more fay, fantastical cousin; a director who could couple the book's lighthearted tone to the darker Middle Earth of Jackson's imagining would be ideal for the project. Unfortunately, that director was probably Guillermo del Toro. Still, there remain a number of directors who have experience successfully adapting fantasy novels: Alfonso Cuarón, who directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as well as Children of Men could be a winner, as could the redoubtable Tim Burton. (Although what part would Johnny Depp play? One of the Twelve Dwarves? Smaug?) For more of our take on who could replace del Toro, check out 5 Directors Who Could Helm The Hobbit.
Losing del Toro is a major setback to be sure, but there's still reason to hope that MGM will be able to look past its debt-ridden ledgers to create a prequel worthy of the source material and Peter Jackson's trilogy. Let's just hope that as the deadline for The Hobbit approaches, the project's execs take the time to find a director who is right for this film, not just one who is available.