With only just a few days having passed since it was officially announced the Guillermo del Toro would direct the adaptation of J R R Tolkein’s The Hobbit, with Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson producing, casting news is already starting to break on the film. In an interview with Tolkein fan site TheOneRing, del Toro has confirmed that “all bureaucracy pending,” Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis will be back to reprise their Lord Of The Rings roles of Gandalf the wizard and the tortured and twisted Gollum.
Both McKellen and Serkis are already listing the film on their websites, so it is probably safe to assume that any pending bureaucracy will be quickly cleared away, Del Toro also stated that several key creative people who worked on Lord Of The Rings should be back as well including composer Howard Shore, special effects supervisor Andy Taylor and conceptual artists John Howe and Alan Lee.
In the interview, del Toro stressed that he will be keeping The Hobbit very much in line with what Jackson had already established in his films, but extrapolating how things were in Middle Earth fifty years before the tumultuous events of Rings. Not surprisingly, del Toro also stated that he wants to use more animatronics to create many of Middle Earth’s beasties.
The only thing I will be pushing for more in these films that the other three are full animatronics and animatronic creatures enhanced with CGI, as opposed to CGI creatures themselves. We really want to take the state-of-the-art animatronics and take a leap ten years into the future with the technology we will develop for the creatures in the movie. We have every intention to do for animatronics and special effects what the other films did for virtual reality.
One name that does not appear in the interview is Christopher Lee’s, who played Gandalf’s fellow wizard Sauruman, who became slowly corrupted by the influence of the evil Sauron. Del Toro states that the as yet untitled film to follow The Hobbit will help to fill in what transpired in the 50 years between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, and anyone who is familiar with the background that Tolkein developed for his books can tell you, Sauruman is an important figure during that time. Lee is a self-professed fanatic for Tolkein’s Middle Earth, so I doubt he would turn down this last chance to contribute to a cinematic recreation of that world.
But while the continuing flow of new about The Hobbit film has been greeted warmly and enthusiastically through most sectors of the geek press, Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir has risen as the loudest, and most rational, voice of dissent. Where some have dismissed the news with the usual Internet bile, O’Hehir has outlined some interesting arguments as to why del Toro is not the ideal choice for the films. (That said, I’d point out that del Toro didn’t set aside his other projects like his adaptation of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness to make The Hobbit as O’Hehir suggests so much as they were set aside for him by dint of not being able to secure the studio financing they would need.)
O’Hehir argues that since Jackson’s busy schedule finishing off The Lovely Bones and plunging into his collaboration with Steven Spielberg to adapt the European Tintin comic strip into a trilogy of films, del Toro was hired simply to serve as a “Jackson surrogate” on the set and that he would not have any degree of creative control. To hammer the point home, he invokes the name of George Lucas, perhaps in a hope to recall in movie fans’ minds the accusations that Lucas worked director Richard Marquand like a puppet on the set of Return Of The Jedi. An interesting analogy, but one that ignores one crucial fact- The Empire Strikes Back. If Lucas was in the habit of hiring directors who would simply do his bidding, why did Irv Kershner’s work on the middle film of the original Star Wars trilogy stand out so strongly compared to the two other films?
I think with only the merest bit of pre-production work having been done, it might be a little too early to say that del Toro is going to be Jackson’s sock puppet on these films. While there approaches to fantasy films may be different, I think that del Toro and Jackson have a lot more in common than just being two hefty guys with beards. If the time comes where it may be obvious that del Toro took the gig just for the money and to get some juice to get his other projects greenlit, and I admit that may be a remote possibility, than I’ll be one to stand up and say so. Until then, let’s enjoy the anticipation of the best of what these films can be.