Friday, October 15, 2010

Why Peter Jackson signing on to direct The Hobbit is a tragedy.

I've been down this road before, but now that it's official, it's worth repeating. After years of speculation and attempted pawn-offs, Peter Jackson is in fact directing The Hobbit. As of today, MGM and Warner Bros. have reached a deal to fund two films based on The Hobbit at an absurd cost of $500 million. First of all, at $250 million apiece, each film will basically have to perform like The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring just to break even. Each film will basically cost what the first two Lord of the Rings films cost combined, and the whole two-film project will cost around $100 million more than the original three films cost back in 2001-2003. I suppose this is exciting news for the hardcore fans of the original series, as well as JRR Tolkien fans in general. While I firmly believe that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the most impressive film achievement of the just-finished decade, I can't help feeling a little depressed at the news. This isn't a case of Peter Jackson returning in glory to a franchise that made him a legend. This truly feels like a case of Peter Jackson, unfairly marginalized because of one wrongly-lambasted box office smash (King Kong) and one genuine misfire (The Lovely Bones), begrudgingly returning to Middle Earth because he had no where left to go.

Even as a prequel defender, there is no doubt that the Star Wars prequel trilogy would have been better had George Lucas actually had any successes post-Return of the Jedi outside of the Indiana Jones series. Had Howard the Duck, Willow, The Radioland Murders, etc actually been critical and commercial successes, Lucas's plunging back into the Star Wars universe would have been a triumphant return rather than a resigned escape. Does anyone think that Ghostbusters III isn't going to be a depressing grasp for former glory from Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and whomever else is coerced into coming back? Despite occasional threats of a return, does anyone truly think that Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi can recapture the seat-of-their-pants dazzle of the first two Evil Dead pictures with a fourth film nearly twenty years after Army of Darkness? And does anyone really believe that Ridley Scott would be helming an Alien prequel if Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies, Robin Hood, Matchstick Men, and/or A Good Year hadn't financially and/or critically underperformed?

There are exceptions; instances where a filmmaker returning to their famous franchise can yield worthwhile results (Wes Craven's New Nightmare and Sylvester Stallone's shockingly effective deconstructions of his Rocky and Rambo franchises are the ones that come to mind). But generally speaking, when a filmmaker returns to a long-dormant property and/or retakes the reigns of a series that has passed him by long ago, it is not a decision born of artistic inspiration, but desperation. For years, we've been hearing how Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro, and other geek-friendly filmmakers were all set to direct The Hobbit, with Peter Jackson merely producing in a capacity that would theoretically allow him to tackle other projects as well. But following MGM's financial difficulties and the failure of The Lovely Bones, it appears that Peter Jackson has apparently resigned himself to being 'that guy who makes Middle Earth movies' for the rest of this career. Even if The Hobbit turns out to be a worthwhile two-film prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this news is not cause for celebration.

Scott Mendelson


Jihad Punk 77 said...

I agree. and I do think Ghostbuster 3 is an atrocity and a disgrace. These actors and Ivan Reitman better have dignity for themselves than doing the sequel after more than 20 years have passed. How pathetic.

R.L. Shaffer said...

Pretty much everywhere I've read has stated a $400 million cost, not $500.

Scott Mendelson said...

I've read $500 million in several places (Playlist, Forbes, MTV, New Zealand Herald, etc) and $400 million in others since I published (notably The Wrap). In case Playlist and others are wrong, $400 million is a slightly less absurd figure. But it's still staggering when you consider that the two Hobbit films will cost about what the three Lord of the Rings cost, and that the budget up-charges on parts 2 and 3 only occurred after Fellowship of the Ring exploded across the worldwide stage. Not saying the films won't be good and they will flop, but $400-500 million is a lot to spend on a somewhat past-its-prime film property, and Jackson's seemingly reluctant return doesn't bode well thus far. As always, we'll see...


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