The Breaking of the Fellowship: Guillermo’s Departure From “The Hobbit”

Two weeks and change have passed since TheOneRing.net’s announcement of Guillermo del Toro’s decision to relinquish director’s duties on the adaptation of The Hobbit currently brewing in pre-production. With the initial impact of the unfavorable turn of events wearing off, the time seems ripe to examine the positives and the negatives of his departure. To that end, I’m teaming up with the illustrious Darren from the m0vie blog to pick apart this development (so make sure to check out his article too!) from two sides to better understand the consequences– for good or bad– of losing the full-on GDT touch for the highly-anticipated Lord of the Rings prequel. And I can’t think of a better way to kick this discussion off than to simply say, point-blank: Man, this sucks.

Not very scholarly of me, I know, but what else do you say in response to news of this magnitude? The best thing that comes out of del Toro’s exodus should be obvious: He’s no longer shackled to the project and can now begin making his own original films again (and/or adapting Lovecraft stories), but that optimistic glimmer falls under Darren’s bailiwick and far be it from me to muscle in on his part of the gig. From where I’m sitting, the breadth of the fallout is so great as to completely smother the positives.

If that’s a bit much for you to swallow, consider all that’s taken place since Guillermo hopped on board back in April of 2008. This isn’t just a case of a director changing his mind and leaving a fledgling project before getting his hands dirty: del Toro and his family actually moved down to New Zealand and planned to stay there for four years to work with executive producer Peter Jackson and his production teams at Wingnut and Weta (source). And prior to saying adieu, del Toro and the crew completed an enormous amount of pre-production work that inform the tone and the vision of the finished film (source), constituting creature, set, and costume designs among other things.

Guillermo made an impression on The Hobbit before principal could begin– or hell, before casting could even be decided. As of now– according to TheOneRing article linked at the start of this post– he’s still working on polishing the script with Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh. But when the film hits theaters, his vision will have been brought to fruition by the efforts of someone else.

Somehow, that just seems wrong.

Consider Guillermo as an artist. Among contemporary directors, he ranks among the most creative and imaginative of the bunch. He possesses a limited but respectable number of director credits to his name and in each has managed to leave his undeniable signature as a filmmaker, which can be called singular. Think about it– who makes films, and who has a vision, like del Toro? Perhaps he can be compared to other modern filmmakers like fellow Mexican Alfonso Cuarón, but del Toro’s films are uniquely his own; you know, unmistakably, when you’re watching a picture directed by his hand.

So with all of the gushing for del Toro out of the way, I come to my point. How can another director be expected to respectfully and properly realize Guillermo’s vision? Acknowledging that many of the directors who could fill in for him don’t have that same spark of madness/genius (depending on who you ask), all of del Toro’s work could be diluted by a lesser talent breathing life into the ideas and concepts forged over the course of two years. Of course, I’m not by any means suggesting that any replacement chosen will lack the ability to make a cohesive movie based on Guillermo’s blueprints. What I am saying is that whatever Guillermo conjured up for his interpretation of Tolkien’s classic novel won’t make it to the screen pure and unspoiled. In short– and here I’m stating the obvious– del Toro through the eyes of another isn’t del Toro at all, and I cannot imagine the outcome of his substitute meddling with his creations being completely successful. Maybe the prequel films for The Exorcist aren’t the best examples, but they do show exactly how badly things can go when a film’s initial creator has his vision usurped by someone else. And while I don’t at all think that The Hobbit will suffer a similar fate, the number of cases where a movie has been significantly rearranged and reshaped for the worse due to directorial musical chairs is so large that it’s hard to feel optimistic about the chances of Guillermo’s intentions being properly honored by his surrogate.

Of course, with Jackson on board, the odds that a director in possession of a vision vastly different compared to del Toro’s are considerably low. Even less likely is the chance that Jackson would possibly agree to put someone at the helm of his film that he flat out doesn’t think could fill his friend’s shoes. So all of the above could be considered panicking over nothing…which brings me to the two most problematic scenarios, made more troublesome due to their higher chances of coming to pass.

First, it’s essential to keep in mind that Guillermo walking away means the search for a director has to begin anew, which could easily mean that the film stalls for even longer (though between MGM getting its cash together and Jackson finding a director, you can guess which actually represents the bigger roadblock for the film’s production). The Hobbit has already been plagued with delays and of course the aforementioned financial troubles; it stands to reason therefore that to avoid another element that could prolong the film’s production any further the studio must immediately begin searching for a new director who fits all necessary criteria, being:

a) They have to have the talent and vision to fit into the world Guillermo and his team created, along with Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens.

b) They have to have two years at least to dedicate to the film from start to finish.

Frankly, between the two, I’m not sure which is more challenging or critical to the success of The Hobbit. Of course, now you may be asking why, if the film has already been pushed back, further delays are that big of a deal; and since I’m prepared to consider that this question might come up, I’ve got a snappy answer already planned. Almost as exciting as Guillermo’s involvement is the potential involvement of actors from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, notably Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, and Cate Blanchett among others. Being able to include these players in the production of the prequel films is an unprecedented opportunity of continuity that would tie the entire series together; that window grows slimmer and slimmer the more that The Hobbit is pushed back as returning cast members find work elsewhere or, in the case of actors like McKellen, outgrow their ability to participate in the film at all. More than another director taking over for GDT, losing that connection between the two works seems like a huge deal. Who can play Gandalf but Gandalf himself?

But while holding onto as many of the original cast members as possible seems pretty essential to the world-building of The Hobbit, director continuity could actually be detrimental. While this is entirely speculation based off of nothing, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Jackson will end up having to direct both films himself if a suitable replacement can’t be found in a reasonable period of time. (Yes, I did read the rumor-mongering regarding Neil Blomkamp’s whispered ascension into the director’s chair for the two pictures, and I neither think that the lead amounts to much nor that he’s a good choice for the material.) Why is this such a problem? After all, he directed the bejeezus out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and made them into instant classics that will be remembered for a long time to come, but that’s exactly the problem: The Lord of the Rings books, tonally, differ greatly from The Hobbit, the latter a truer to form fairy tale full of whimsy and charm in comparison to the much more somber and adult mythology of the former. That disparity in atmosphere should be kept intact to differentiate the two stories from each other, and therein lies the exact reason why Jackson shouldn’t get behind the camera. The films need to share a clear relationship without feeling identical; the best way to allow for that to happen organically is to keep Jackson from directing. Jackson has made it clear on a number of occasions that he has no interest in directing the films, but if a replacement can’t be found, he may wind up having no other choice– after all,  what filmmaker knows Middle Earth better than he?

Everything I’m saying here could be totally wrong. In fact, if asked point-blank I’d probably tell you that the likelihood is slim that any of the above will come to fruition. But whether or not it will happen isn’t the point; the point is that with Guillermo off of The Hobbit, the chance that these things could happen has been introduced. Losing del Toro puts the film in jeopardy, plain and simple, even if the worst case scenarios only have a small chance of transpiring. And in the event that the best outcome is reached– MGM’s monetary woes are miraculously resolved (and again, that’s way more of a threat to the film than the loss of del Toro), a new director is found right away, production goes forward without a hitch, and the film ends up being more amazing than anyone could have hoped– the loss of del Toro leaves an indelible mark upon the movie that will give some of us pause to wonder what could have been had he stayed on board.

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4 thoughts on “The Breaking of the Fellowship: Guillermo’s Departure From “The Hobbit”

  1. I think you may have blown me out of the water. I do not agree, however, that Blomkamp would be a bad choice. I think there was a very Jackson-esque vibe off District 9, and arguably one that would better suit The Hobbit feeling like a follow-up to The Lord of the Rings than a Del Toro version. I think The Hobbit is in a difficult position of needing to be “the same, but different” and I’d suggest that Del Toro was perhaps too different for the director’s seat.

    Great article.

  2. Some of the more devote Rings fans I asked about the project were hoping it would be more similar to Jackson’s works. Del Toro’s vision may have alienated them.

    • Darren– I’ve already mentioned this but I think you’re giving me too much credit and yourself not enough. For Blomkamp, I really think he’s too close to Jackson aesthetically to really be a good choice for a movie that should be much more light in tone, but I do think that they could pick a worse director than he. So if he does take the gig and if the movie does go forward, I’ll give him my confidence.

      Fitz– I guess I’m not surprised to hear that, though I think again that people expecting The Hobbit to feel like LotR are making a mistake in assuming that the two films should be tonally similar at all.

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