Peter Jackson is probably hoping the old saying, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” applies to his current predicament. The Hobbit is currently swirling in midst of two very different controversies. The first is allegations of animals dying on production of the films, the other involves unauthorized merchandising not limited to, but including Lord of the Rings slot machines. Jackson has issued a statement on the former.
Probably the more volatile of the two is the animal deaths and that’s mostly because PETA is getting involved. They’re planning to protest the premiere after hearing 27 animals housed at a farm over 100 miles from the set died. The animals in question weren’t being used in the film at the time but the ranch itself was said to be unsafe with sinkholes and steep bluffs. The American Humane Association has also gotten involved and went outside their usual jurisdiction, usually only the set, to check on the conditions and try to improve them.
Meanwhile, Jackson and the producers took to Facebook to make a statement:
The Hobbit production has always instituted swift and immediate investigations in to any concerns of any kind over the treatment of animals under its care. A prompt and thorough investigation into the recent unsubstantiated allegations by the American organisation, PETA, in to the ‘hobbling’ of a horse during the making of The Hobbit was undertaken. No evidence of such a practice was found to have occurred at any time. Further, the production contacted the owner of the horse concerned who provided the following statement: “I am 100% happy with the return of Shanghai and his condition. In the term that he was leased he was picked up and returned to me two times. On both occasions there was not a mark on him and he was healthy and happy. He has shown no signs of ill-treatment. I would not hesitate in leasing him to the movie again.”
To date, the only horse wranglers whose treatment of animals fell below the production’s standard of care seem to be the two wranglers who have chosen to level this new accusation on the eve of the premiere of the first Hobbit film and who were dismissed by the production over a year ago. Reports of their actions are documented in several written statements dating back to October 2011.
The production regrets that PETA has chosen to make such a serious accusation, which has distressed many of the dedicated Kiwis who worked with animals on the films – including trainers, wranglers, care-givers, farm workers and animal health care professionals – without properly vetting the source from which they received this information.
They also included several statements from others supporting them, which you can read here.
The other issue right now is with the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien. They are suing the producers for overstepping their merchandising rights. The Hollywood Reporter writes, “The Tolkien estate and its book publisher HarperCollins claim that Warner Bros., its New Line subsidiary and Rings/Hobbit rightsholder Saul Zaentz Co. have infringed the copyright in the famous books and breached a contract. The crux of the suit is the estate’s contention that a decades-old rights agreement entitles the studio to create only ‘tangible’ merchandise based on the books, not an ‘online slot machine’ or other digital exploitations that the estate calls highly offensive.”
The problem here seems to be, no one predicted the digital age would come so fast and never bothered to update the contract. So the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game and other similar products that already exist or are in planning stages are a big no-no. This includes downloadable video games and other apps.
Warner Bros. has yet to comment.