It looks like the long and turbulent history of trying to bring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit to the screen has hit another bump in the road as director Guillermo del Toro, who has been working on the script and preproduction for the planned two films with Executive Producer Peter Jackson for close two years, today announced that he was dropping out as director. This was done as a statement to TheOneRing.net which follows:
"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. 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. I remain grateful to Peter, Fran and Philippa Boyens, New Line and Warner Brothers and to all my crew in New Zealand. I've been privileged to work in one of the greatest countries on earth with some of the best people ever in our craft and my life will be forever changed. The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project. Both as a co-writer and as a director, I wish the production nothing but the very best of luck and I will be first in line to see the finished product. I remain an ally to it and its makers, present and future, and fully support a smooth transition to a new director."
Executive Producer Peter Jackson added:
"We feel very sad to see Guillermo leave the Hobbit, but he has kept us fully in the loop and we understand how the protracted development time on these two films, due to reasons beyond anyone's control – has compromised his commitment to other long term projects. The bottom line 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. Guillermo is one of the most remarkable creative spirits I've ever encountered and it has been a complete joy working with him. Guillermo's strong vision is engrained into the scripts and designs of these two films, which are extremely fortunate to be blessed with his creative DNA."
"Guillermo is co-writing the Hobbit screenplays with Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and myself, and happily our writing partnership will continue for several more months, until the scripts are fine tuned and polished. New Line and Warner Bros will sit down with us this week, to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition, as we secure a new director for the Hobbit. We do not anticipate any delay or disruption to ongoing pre-production work."
The two statements seem fairly self-explanatory, but it's a shocking decision in the light of del Toro's recent statement on the project being on indefinite hold until the issues with MGM's ownership are resolved. The news is especially surprising considering how long del Toro has been in New Zealand already working on the project, forsaking numerous other projects which he hoped to direct after finishing Hellboy 2: The Golden Army two years ago. Jackson on the other hand seems confident they can find another director and keep things rolling forward, although the first movie has already been pushed back an entire year and there seems to be no end in sight for a resolution to the status of MGM, who owns the rights to "The Hobbit," part of which kept Peter Jackson from making that movie after his hugely successful "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Deadline has added more to the story, essentially confirming that Peter Jackson wouldn't step into the director's chair himself with a quote from Jackson's manager Ken Kamins:
"Peter has and has had obligations and commitments to other films that would make it impossible for him to direct The Hobbit at this time, even if it was offered, which it hasn't been. "I've been quietly working on setting up a film for him to direct while Guillermo would have been directing The Hobbit. What you saw in their respective statements must be taken at face value. All of that said, Peter and Fran's commitment to The Hobbit is total and they will do everything necessary to protect the franchise and the investment made by New Line, Warners and MGM."
Stay tuned for more developments on this highly-anticipated project if and when they arise.