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Hobbit Headache for New Line?
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Tolkien Estate Prepared to Block Studio's Bid for Fourth Film

Faithful followers of Peter Jackson's film trilogy will undoubtedly view the Return of the King with mixed emotions: While longtime Tolkienites and uninitiated newcomers have made the Lord of the Rings franchise one of the most successful in Hollywood history, those who have been anticipating its third and final installment ever since the 2002 release of The Two Towers may be reluctant to bid farewell to characters like Frodo, Gandalf, Sam and Aragorn -- and not just because of star Viggo Mortensen's rugged good looks.
 
Those clamoring for another helping of Hobbit might get their wish, if New Line Cinema has anything to say about it. At the Dec. 1 world premiere of Return of the King in Wellington, New Zealand, Rings executive producer Mark Ordesky hinted that his production company was not yet finished exploring Tolkien's Middle-earth.
 
"There could be a movie about The Hobbit," he announced at a pre-screening press conference.

It might be easier said than done. Christopher Tolkien, the custodian and literary executor of his late father's estate, presents a potentially insurmountable obstacle to a Rings prequel. Tolkien has already clashed with director Peter Jackson by refusing to lend his blessing to a Rings museum in Wellington, and he reportedly believes that his father's original work, The Hobbit, cannot be translated adequately onto the screen. To date, he has maintained his distance from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, itself made possible only by a 1969 deal in which J.R.R. Tolkien signed away his rights to the epic tale for a paltry 10,000.

For now, a deal between the Tolkien estate and New Line seems unlikely, much to the dismay of those involved with the Rings movies.

"The difficulty everybody has is the Tolkien estate," said Jackson, in an interview with the Sydney-based newspaper The Australian. "(New Line executives) haven't talked to me about The Hobbit, and I know there's some difficulty with the rights. If they wanted to talk to me about it I'd be keen."

Sir Ian McKellan, who plays Gandalf, also voiced his displeasure with the stalemate. "I hope the Tolkien estate relent," he said.

Ordesky hinted that a prequel could be a few years off, due not only to the legal complications but also to Jackson's schedule. His next project, tentatively scheduled for release in 2005, is a remake of King Kong, rumored to be starring Naomi Watts. -- Rossiter Drake

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