Image Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/PR PhotosSome day, someone is going to make a movie about the attempt to make a movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, but instead of wizards and swordplay and stirring derring-do, it’ll be filled with lawyers and picket signs and angry e-mails. Today alone, director Peter Jackson and producing-and-life partner Fran Walsh reportedly issued a blistering statement condemning the local New Zealand actors’ union, NZ Actors’ Equity, which last month had called on fellow international actors unions (including SAG) to boycott The Hobbit to pressure the production for a new contract for local actors. Jackson and Walsh called the union leadership “gutless” and “self-centered,” and noted ominously that next week execs from Warner Bros. “are coming down to NZ to make arrangements to move the production off-shore.”
Within hours of that statement, NZ Actors’ Equity, along with the larger Screen Production and Development Association, issued their own statement announcing that they would not boycott The Hobbit, and they were imploring all other actors unions to follow suit.
Which would be great news, if the first line of Jackson and Walsh’s earlier statement did not start with this declaration: “The lifting of the blacklist [i.e. boycott] on The Hobbit does nothing to help the films stay in New Zealand.”
Their point: The damage is already done; Warner Bros. execs are “quite rightly very concerned about the security of their $500 million investment.” Jackson and Walsh conclude with this rather tepid rally cry: “We will continue the fight to keep the film in NZ, but ultimately this decision belongs to Warner Bros.”
So. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and New Zealand can still call itself Middle Earth when the first of the two planned Hobbit films start shooting as announced this February. But good grief, PopWatchers. Back in the bygone Age known as the Early 2000s, I thought The Lord of the Rings was a Hollywood miracle, what with its then-obscure cult director and seemingly gutsy back-to-back-to-back filming schedule and the utter lack of any successful fantasy feature films this side of Willow. Apparently, massive critical and commercial success, tremendous global audience interest, and an equally beloved prequel novel with a comparatively simpler story make a feature film production more difficult to mount, not less.