TIMELINE: The Hobbit's Troubled 75-Year Journey From Page to Screen

On Monday, somewhat incredibly, The Hobbit finally started filming. Amid the seemingly weekly reports of turmoil and lawsuits surrounding the two-part Hobbit film over the last few years, it's easy to forget just how long this movie has been in production -- and the minor miracle it is that not only is The Hobbit being filmed, but Peter Jackson is behind the camera. So let's take a quick look back -- a "Dummy's Guide," if you will -- at the timeline associated with the long, torturous journey that finally got us to where we are today.

The Players

Ralph Bakshi: Director of the 1978 The Lord of the Rings animated movie

Guillermo del Toro: At one time the announced director of The Hobbit

Peter Jackson: Director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit

Miramax: Studio originally set to make The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with Peter Jackson

MGM: Studio that purchased United Artists, which own the distribution rights to The Hobbit

New Line Cinema: Studio that produced The Lord of the Rings trilogy and is co-producing The Hobbit

Arthur Rankin: Director of the 1977 The Hobbit animated film

Bob Shaye: CEO of New Line Cinema

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books

United Artists: Distribution rights holders for The Hobbit since 1966

Saul Zaentz: Oscar winning producer who purchased most of the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

The Timeline

1937: J.R.R. Tolkien releases The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.

1954-1955: J.R.R. Tolkien releases the sequels to The Hobbit: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King (also known, together, as The Lord of the Rings).

1966: Tolkien sells the film and merchandising rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists.

1976: Oscar-winning producer Saul Zaentz (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The English Patient) purchases the full rights to The Lord of the Rings and partial rights to The Hobbit. The terms of this deal are tricky, which would lead to a lot of the future problems. Zaentz's partial Hobbit rights entitle him to produce a film based on Tolkien's source material, but not to distribute a Hobbit film. United Artists kept those rights (hold this thought).

1977: Unrelated to Zaentz, an animated Hobbit film is released as an NBC special, produced and directed by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass (Rankin is best known for his holiday specials that include Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman). This adaptation was not particularly well-received.

1978: Zaentz produces an animated version of The Lord of the Rings, directed by Ralph Bakshi, that tells the first half of the three-book story, amid controversy: What was always intended as a two-part story was never revealed to audiences, leading to dissatisfied movie goers who were not expecting the story to end halfway through. Though the film was a financial success, the second part was never completed.

1980: An unofficial animated sequel, The Return of the King, was released by Arthur Rankin.

1981: MGM purchases United Artists

1995: According to his biography, Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey, Jackson first inquires about directing an adaptation of The Hobbit for Miramax, envisioning a three-part movie: one based on The Hobbit and two based on The Lord of the Rings. During negotiations, Jackson discovers that Zaentz does not have the distribution rights to The Hobbit. United Artists, thinking that The Hobbit would be the book first subject to a possible film adaptation, retained those rights in the 1978 deal with Zaentz.

1996: Again according to his biography, Jackson decides to put The Hobbit on hold and film a remake of King Kong with Universal.

1997: Also from Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey, Universal cancels that particular King Kong remake. Jackson reaches an agreement with Miramax to produce two The Lord of the Rings movies.

1998: Because of cost concerns, Miramax proposes condensing the two Lord of the Rings movies into one film. Jackson declines and approaches New Line Cinema, which suggests a trilogy instead of two films. Jackson is not allowed to use the scripts presented to Miramax, so three new scripts are written.

1999: On Oct. 11, filming begins on The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

2001 - 2003: Three live action movies based on The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King -- are released over a three-year period. Combined, the three movies gross almost $3 billion worldwide.

2003: After overwhelming success of the first two films, the first signs of backlash from a cast that feels New Line wasn't particularly generous with sharing the profits start to arise.

2004: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King wins all 11 of its Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

2004: Saul Zaentz (yep, he's still involved) files suit against New Line over royalties. Also, Peter Jackson, as his contract with New Line stipulates that he can, requests an external audit of New Line's finances in conjunction to The Lord of the Rings. This creates a strain between Jackson and New Line CEO Bob Shaye.

2005: Zaentz's lawsuit is settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Peter Jackson files suit over New Line not providing requested records in a timely matter. According to Entertainment Weekly, the major sticking point was how New Line distributed The Lord of the Rings to other internal Time Warner companies like Warner Bros. and Turner. Jackson felt that there was a possibility of lost revenue if he could prove these were sweetheart deals. Jackson's King Kong is released.

2006: New Line, as part of an overall settlement, approaches Jackson about filming The Hobbit. Jackson declines. MGM (who, remember, still owns the United Artist distribution rights) announce that they would like to work with Jackson and New Line in making The Hobbit film a reality. New Line publicly announces that Jackson is fired from The Hobbit. Peter Jackson writes an open letter on TheOneRing.net declaring, "the studio is going to have to hire another director."

2007: Bob Shaye, CEO of New Line, writes to Sci-fi Wire, "I don't care about Peter Jackson anymore. He wants to have another $100 million or $50 million, whatever he's suing us for. He doesn't want to sit down and talk about it. He thinks that we owe him something after we've paid him over a quarter of a billion dollars." In September, New Line is fined $125,000 for not providing financial documents requested.

2007: In December, somewhat surprisingly, it's announced that New Line and MGM would co-finance a two-part Hobbit film with Peter Jackson as the executive producer. Jackson explains that it was his own decision not to direct. The estate of J.R.R. Tolkien sues New Line for 7.5 percent of all profits from The Lord of the Rings films and blocks production of The Hobbit.

2008: Warner Bros. absorbs New Line. Guillermo del Toro is hired to direct The Hobbit. In April he is interviewed about his plans as director by TheOneRing.net. In August, preproduction finally begins on The Hobbit.

2009: The suit from the Tolkien estate is settled" for an unspecified amount. Jackson's The Lovely Bones is released.

2010: Citing MGM's financial troubles causing delays, del Toro leaves The Hobbit. In June it's announced that Jackson himself is in negotiations to, once again, be the director of The Hobbit. In October, the announcement is made that Jackson will indeed direct both films and direct them in 3-D. Even with MGM's financial woes, The Hobbit is green lit for filming to begin in early 2011.

2010: In October, a fire destroys a New Zealand warehouse where many of the miniatures used in the film are stored. Unions protest the production of The Hobbit and Jackson levies the threat of leaving New Zealand. An agreement with the unions and the New Zealand government is quickly reached. Casting for the film -- including casting a large portion of the cast from the Lord of the Rings trilogy -- begins.

2011: Warner Bros. (New Line's parent company) reaches a deal with the troubled MGM that gives WB sole worldwide distribution rights of both installments of The Hobbit.

March 21, 2011: On Monday, the first scenes for The Hobbit are shot on location in New Zealand. The first Hobbit film is set to be released in 2012, followed by the second in 2013 -- but, at this point, we just never quite know for sure, do we?

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  • ety3 says:

    Surprised there was no mention of Leonard Nimoy's "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins."
    Or at least an off-handed reference to The Beatles' attempt to make a "Lord of the Rings" film. Paul as Frodo; Ringo as Sam; George as Gandalf; John as Gollum ... amazing.

  • Uncle Ernie says:

    I wonder if Jackson will butcher this book the way he did if the first three books? I'd rather watch Bakshi's version!

  • jvsett says:

    The statement that the 1977 Hobbit was not "well received" is, at best, misleading. In fact, it was VERY well recieved. It was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. It RECEIVED a Peabody Award. While there may be problems with the film, as a contempory wrote: "Whatever its flaws, this television version of "The Hobbit" warrants attention. " (NY Times, 11/25/1977).

  • Hmmm. I disagree with Uncle Ernie. I thought Jackson did a great job with the first 3. Now, Jacksons work after Lord of the rings is something to be questioned. Lovely Bones, King King - I thought both of those films suffered from horrible direction. But, Jackson has proved himself overall as a great director & producer. I'm pretty pumped for the Hobbit - not so much that it's another LOTR type movie where it will most likely be in 19 parts spanning 5 years of my life in waiting.

  • daveed says:

    Let's not forget that in the early 70s, John Boorman was developing a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which he abandoned for Excalibur.
    OT, but as for the recent film adaptations, the purist edits floating around the Interweb Machine are far superior...

  • Lara says:

    We have seen in past as well. The adaptations from books have been quite interesting. The movies have been hit. But the only thing one should look into is, there should be some amount of movie based liberty.