Now add fire to the latest list of woes which have beset Peter Jackson’s pre-production on those back-to-back The Hobbit films. Flames yesterday engulfed his New Zealand workshop set which would have been used for the Tolkien movies. It took 50 firefighters three hours to quell the blaze in Wellington. All that’s left now is a burned-out warehouse at Jackson’s Portsmouth Miniatures Studio which had been used in the past as a specialist miniatures shooting facility, one of the few in the world, to create special effects for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. Meanwhile, there’s still a standoff between New Zealand and Aussie actors unions, joined by SAG and AFTRA and others, and Jackson, New Line, Warner Bros, and MGM. (SAG & AFTRA Nix Non-Union ‘The Hobbit’ and Peter Jackson Slaps Kiwi/Oz Unions and ‘Hobbit’ Producers Defend Peter Jackson Against Actor Union Allegations)

This is after MGM went bust, and after director Guillermo Del Toro quit the project only to be replaced by Jackson, who was previously just producing and co-writing. Little wonder that overseas news media are blaming The Curse Of The Hobbit for all the bad breaks. Meanwhile, Hollywood insiders confirm to the Los Angeles Times that the films could start shooting by mid-January even with the new rash of setbacks. There’s no doubt they’ll be expensive: estimates are $43 million reportedly has been spent on the films already in just pre-production and that to finish both pics could bust a $500M budget. There’s still more financing to secure, and more underlying rights to setle. But the hope is to have the first Hobbit released by the end of 2012 and the second pic a year later.

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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