An open letter to New Line and MGM –

Dear movie studio friends –

Welcome to the party! We – meaning fans of The Hobbit – have been sitting around waiting for you to show up since the minute The Return of the King ended at our local cinema and for many, perhaps longer than that. We have virtual balloons, streamers, banners, fireworks and of course, beer all prepared. We have just been waiting for you to arrive.

Variety makes it sound like a The Hobbit movie is going to happen and maybe relatively soon and as you may have guessed, we are thrilled. The little leaked tidbit – hidden in an MGM business story – poked the still very potent coals of the Lord of the Rings fandom. The heat that rests within these embers will glow white-hot for a good long time because the fires of passion for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien have been inspiring readers (and movie-goers) since there was only one World War. This bit of news gives us a little fuel for the fire, so thanks!

It is difficult for a studio or individuals in a studio to understand the real passion that readers have for the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Thanks to the vision of New Line Cinema and the work of Peter Jackson and his team, a whole new audience of impassioned fans was created. The films were adopted into popular culture to a degree not witnessed since the days when George Lucas shocked the world. We know you noticed this. You saw it at the box office; you saw it on MTV, at award shows, at the toy and poster aisles at Wal-Mart and everywhere else.

But you may not understand that we are far more than a gaggle of ear-wearing fanatics – as short-cut journalists often like to portray us. We are school teachers and we use Tolkien in the classroom. We are computer programmers and website developers. We work in Hollywood, we are opera singers, we are environmental scientists, we are students, we are accountants, we are readers; we are everybody and everything, but we are bound together by a love for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

So while New Line and MGM hold the rights to make and distribute The Hobbit we feel that we own it too. It is our story too. For many of us it has been an old friend for decades now. Not only is it part of our childhood, it is part of our adolescence and our adulthood. So, take good care of our story and we know – from decades of experience and lots of readings – our story will take good care of you. If you trust it, so will its fans. Trust the story.

While it does come down to that ultimately, we have so much more to say to you here in the infancy of the film. Please listen.

And by the way, we know you better than you might think. We may not know the day-to-day realities of movie studio business in Hollywood (and like how to make sausage, we don’t want to know) but at the very least we have a sense, as consumers, of who you are. Few LOTR film-fans don’t have a soft spot for New Line Cinema. We know the story of Robert Shaye saying “Why only two films?” to Peter Jackson when the films’ ultimate fate hung in the balance. We remember well the perception in 2000 when ‘the fate of New Line’ hung in the balance, again according to those short-cut media types. We also know you are home to Freddy Kruger and we were tickled when your Snakes On A Plane was all the internet rage. New Line means something to us.

And MGM, old friend, we admire you as well. Your lion and towering presence in Hollywood’s history can’t be missed. We are also aware of the business of being bought and sold and we have even visited your theme parks and casinos. While fantasy films aren’t exactly your biggest staple, we surely are giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Let me be clear that I don’t presume to speak for all fans and I couldn’t with any authority because we never all got together and took a vote on anything but I think, from my frequent and quality interactions with many other fans, that I can speak in broad terms and represent a sizeable segment of fandom.

So first things first, would somebody please call Peter Jackson? Now! Today! New Line and PJ still have this sticky lawsuit left over from the LOTR films so we are a bit concerned. Jackson has made it very clear, over and over, even again this week, that he has not yet been invited to the table to have Hobbit discussions. Let the lawyers handle the lawsuit and please, please, get the creative folks together immediately. And by the way, when we say “Peter Jackson” we actually mean Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Richard Taylor and even include conceptual artists Alan Lee and John Howe. Taylor and his Weta Workshop are the gold-standard in the effects industry these days and not just among LOTR fans. Did you see the visuals in King Kong? Actually, we know you did.

It was Taylor’s crew, empowered by Jackson, who made us believe so strongly that we did indeed see Middle-earth – the same one we read about – on the screen. Tolkien purist-scholars and critics of Jackson’s films can find fault, but can’t touch the images that felt like home to most of us. We realize “Jackson” comes as a package with Weta and Boyens and Walsh, but it is still is worth mentioning. We want the old gang back to make a film that feels like it fits right with the others. It should organically feel the same but you already know that, right?

Still, having said all that, The Hobbit isn’t The Lord of the Rings. Fans will not be looking for even bigger battles or another ‘even more epic’ quest. Resist the idea that there should be even more special special effects and if 100,000 orcs are grand then 200,000 is magnificent. For us, it is the character and heart that will lend this film magic and make it majestic. And while we are addressing characters, please don’t Disneyfy the dwarves. We want our Thorin Oakenshield brave and valiant (if a bit greedy) and we have had our fill of dwarf jokes. And don’t try to simplify the story by cutting a few out. For this story and this audience, that just will not fly.

It goes without saying that Sir Ian McKellen must return as Gandalf and our Gollum must be Andy Serkis, without a doubt. Casting for Elrond should also be finished and if I were producing I would ask Orlando Bloom to walk through the screen during the battle of five armies. Remember that Cate Blanchett and Martin Csokas sit on the White Counsel. In short, give us the Middle-earth, and its inhabitants, that we already know. Save the fresh perspectives and ‘new take on Tolkien’ for the 20 hour HBO mini-series called “The Silmarillion” or the inevitable and even welcome remake in ten years. Oh and don’t let us hear that you haven’t read The Quest of Erebor.

Just in case you wondered, ‘Star Power’ is a pointless exercise for this film so please doesn’t feel the need to drop a Tom Cruise into the cast. The only ‘name’ needed on the marquee is The Hobbit. (Although Clive Owen as Bard does sound brilliant!) Cast the perfect actors, not the perfect marketing strategy.

Another issue for fans is trust. We realize the whole internet-looking-into-films makes studios nervous, but don’t treat us like the enemy because we are anything but that. We are the best marketing tool you can hope to have and the only pay we require is some respect, trust and inclusion. Keep us informed and let us have a voice, even if you don’t agree or follow our suggestions. We don’t want to tell anybody how to make a film, but it might be wise to consider our opinions and take our counsel before some decisions are made. Consider us a collective advisor. We are the scouts that don’t need to know the battle plan, but who are uniquely positioned to report on the landscape. Treat our internet reporters as the legitimate news hounds they are and as we demonstrate our fairness and accuracy and ethics (and I don’t mean reporting-as-directed or pandering) give us the same access that you give traditional media. When media gather for a press junket we hope for the same invites, access and courtesy.

A final point: this ‘two movie’ phrase has us a little divided. Some see the possibility of the story being properly told over two films while others see the dangers of stretching a plot so thin that it gets distorted and padded. Again we ask you to trust the source and serve the story first, however that happens. If it takes two films to tell the story as well as it can be told, then we will enthusiastically support two films.

In short, trust Jackson, trust us and above all, trust the story.

Larry D. Curtis