One Ring, Many Directors?

Ross has some doubts about the Peter Jackson produced Hobbit films (yes, there will be two) announced yesterday.

There are interesting tales to be told in the bridge years between the Battle of Five Armies and the Long-Expected Party. For that matter, there are interesting stories to be told about every epoch of Middle-Earth’s history, and they’re all helpfully written down in Tolkien’s copious appendices and histories and sagas. But none of them comprise readily filmable narratives in the way of Lord of the Rings; all of them would require not only heavy editing and reshaping, but also significant invention on the part of the screenwriter. And while I trust Jackson and Company more than I would trust anyone else in Hollywood where Tolkien is concerned, I can’t say that I was entirely wowed by the portions of Lord of the Rings where they veered dramatically from the original text. Which means the prospect of having them essentially manufacture a prequel – and if it does well at the box office, you know there will be others – leaves me a little cold, and a lot worried.

His concerns are legitimate, I think, though as a non-Tolkienologist (I confess to not having read a single Tolkien book), I’m not all that worried about problems of adaptation. There is, however, an even more pressing problem: Jackson, according to the release, is only set to Executive Produce the films, and that fact that the release made no mention of the possibility that he might direct leaves me thinking that it’s unlikely.

Now, Jackson may end up being a hands-on producer, but often enough, a name-brand Executive Producer simply serves as a way to impute a false legitimacy on a film. The studio gets to say “From the maker of that movie you thought was awesome!” And the Executive Producer gets to take home a fat paycheck without all the trouble of actually directing the picture. Luc Besson, the innovative French director behind The Professional and La Femme Nikita, has produced a slew of (at best) B-rate copycat films. John Woo and Michael Mann, just to name a few, have also been guilty of this.

I hope, of course, that New Line and Peter Jackson have the sense not to sully either the films they’ve already made (I consider the LOTR trilogy the most outstanding and impressive cinematic accomplishment of the last 25 years, though probably not the best films) or their original source material, but I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to see an upand coming tent-pole hack along the lines of, say, McG or Brett Ratner show up in the director’s chair for one of these films. Why not? Studio execs, with just a few exceptions, have rarely proven themselves willing or capable of supporting genuine directorial talent except as a result of dumb luck, mistake, or losing one Hollywood’s many complicated power games. And Jackson’s made his mark on the LOTR universe, and now has his own projects to work on. Why not take the money, show up at a few production meetings, and just shrug off the effort of fighting for a good product?

Maybe I’m worrying too much. Jackson, who from all accounts is a smart and passionate defender of good cinema, could well decide to shepherd the project through the system and make sure it gets done right. And I certainly hope this is the case. But I wouldn’t bet on it.