Mike Fleming

I saw yesterday’s breathless reports that Peter Jackson is close to a deal to direct The Hobbit – and I am bewildered how anyone slaps an “exclusive” tag on a story Deadline broke back on June 25th. That’s when Jackson moved from co-writer/producer into the director’s chair. Recent reports by the LA Times and NY Times have added some nice details, but I laid out back then the chain of events that are unfolding now. Even before Guillermo del Toro withdrew as director, Warner Bros and MGM had set December 2012 and December 2013 as release dates, replicating the release pattern of the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Production has to begin in January or these pictures would get pushed back an entire year — and who knows if Jackson would have stayed? Deadline advised that MGM’s creditors needed to get their heads out of their you-know-where’s and either commit funding or step aside to let Warner Bros  pay for the films. It was clear those decisions would precede a long-planned prepackaged bankruptcy that won’t play out until year’s end. 

The 3D discussion also goes back before Del Toro departed, but I can confirm a NYT report that they’re locked into a 3D two-picture shoot that will cost around $500 million. Unless a third party steps in, Warner Bros most likely funds production because MGM can’t. The movement on The Hobbit doesn’t help James Bond, which is post-bankruptcy business. If Spyglass partners Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber close the deal and turn MGM into a stripped down production entity, they will have every studio chasing 007. While Warner Bros, Fox and especially Sony Pictures Entertainment will be players, I hear Paramount stands a good chance. Birnbaum and Barber have a great relationship there as co-financiers of Star Trek, and Paramount can certainly use the films as its distribution deal with Marvel winds to a conclusion.

The big part of The Hobbit story that interests me is how much the 3D decision spurs Warner Bros to convert the original LOTR trilogy into 3D, injecting new life and revenue cycle into the original films. I yawned at the announcement that George Lucas’ six Star Wars films will convert to 3D, maybe because I found the prequel underwhelming. But the prospect of a 3D revisit to Middle Earth, the Mines of Moria, Mordor, The Shire, Lothlorien and the epic battles of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith? Yes, please.