Studio Briefing seems to be confused about the chronology, but it passes on the interesting news that, at least a week ago, producer Saul Zaentz told a German website that Peter Jackson will definitely direct The Hobbit — with or without New Line Cinema:
It will definitely be shot by Peter Jackson. The question is only when. He wants to shoot another movie first. Next year the Hobbit-rights will fall back to my company. I suppose that Peter will wait because he knows that he will make the best deal with us. And he is fed up with the studios: to get his profit share on the rings trilogy he had to sue New Line. With us in contrast he knows that he will be paid fairly and artistically supported without reservation.
It was only a few days after this that Jackson wrote his letter explaining why he and New Line were parting ways. But note the bit in his letter where he said New Line was “committed” to making the film within a year, with or without him, because “New Line has a limited time option on the film rights they have obtained from Saul Zaentz (this has never been conveyed to us before)”.
So let’s get this straight.
Zaentz says he can make the film with Peter Jackson — and presumably with any studio or financier that the two of them want — once the rights revert to him next year.
Meanwhile, New Line Cinema told Peter Jackson that they intend to rush the film into production, with or without him, before the rights revert to Zaentz — which happens to be next year.
It seems to me that Jackson and Zaentz are gambling that New Line will be unable to make the movie without them in the next 12 months. I mean, would Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm or any of the other actors whose characters appear in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings want to come back if Jackson was not on board? And who owns the digital code for Gollum, etc. — Jackson, via his companies Weta Digital and Wingnut Films, or New Line? And if New Line couldn’t get any of those cast or crew members back on board, then just how marketable could their movie version of The Hobbit be? Wouldn’t they face a major uphill battle, PR-wise? Wouldn’t they be taking a huge risk, cost-wise? Is that the sort of situation a major studio wants to rush into?
What would be really weird would be if New Line went ahead and made its own Hobbit movie, without all the elements that made their Lord of the Rings movies such a success, and then Zaentz and Jackson went ahead in the near future and made their own Hobbit movie — not unlike how Marvel is going ahead with a new version of The Incredible Hulk only a few years after Ang Lee’s film.