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Warner Bros. Sued By Tolkien Estate, Peter Jackson Responds To Animal Care Claims On 'The Hobbit'

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist November 20, 2012 at 8:59AM

Perhaps it was Peter Jackson's uncanny concealment of the initial LOTR trilogy's production, or maybe just a smoother process the first time through, but as the December release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” draws closer, the ominous swirl of technical criticisms and corporate meddling above its head only grows larger. Unfortunately, that cloud continues to increase today, with the news that J.R.R. Tolkien's estate has taken legal action against Warner Bros., while elsewhere Jackson and co. are under scrutiny for their handling of animals on the set.
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The Hobbit, Martin Freeman

Perhaps it was Peter Jackson's uncanny concealment of the initial LOTR trilogy's production, or maybe just a smoother process the first time through, but as the December release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” draws closer, the ominous swirl of technical criticisms and corporate meddling above its head only grows larger. Unfortunately, that cloud continues to increase today, with the news that J.R.R. Tolkien's estate has taken legal action against Warner Bros., while elsewhere Jackson and co. are under scrutiny for their handling of animals on the set.

Trying the old reliable terms of “exploitation” and “infringement” back on for size, Deadline reports Tolkien's estate has just filed an $80 million lawsuit against WB over digital merchandising rights and online slot machines. According to them, the studio has -- alongside New Line and the Saul Zaentz Company -- ignored the limits of its 1969 contract, namely in regards to the obvious technological revenue streams not yet invented at the time. WB has yet to comment, but considering that they coughed up a fair amount of cash in a previous suit from the Tolkien estate, they're likely to be considering a similar response here.

Meanwhile, Peter Jackson and his production team now stand accused of animal mistreatment by PETA. The animal rights organization first claimed that 27 animals -- located on a New Zealand farm 180 miles from set and 26 miles from the nearest soundstage -- suffered from poor conditions and died over the course of production, but now the film's producers have struck back saying they “completely reject” the allegation. The American Humane Association was on-set monitoring animal safety, but aside from calling the rumored events “needless and unacceptable,” they have also acknowledged their limited funds available to monitor such remote activities or the facilities where animals are housed during a production (where some of these deaths are alleged to have occurred). Jackson's full statement on the issue, posted to Facebook last night, is below.

The investigation into the case has only just begun, and at this point it's clear that the film just needs to be released before it attracts any other pre-release attention. Luckily, just in case the notion of an actual motion picture behind these controversies has faded, a brand-new TV spot has just cropped up online, before “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” hits theatres December 14th. Check the spot out below. [Deadline]

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.

The production has been inundated with calls of support as regards to this matter, including the following statements:

FROM: DR JULIA BRYCE BVSc “From December 2010 till July 2012, this practice was the primary Veterinary care giver for the horses and livestock in the care of “Three Foot Seven”.

During this period we were consulted promptly in cases of injury and illness. We were also consulted routinely about ongoing veterinary care and preventative medicine.

If referral was required to a specialist clinic or Massey Equine Clinic, this occurred promptly. As occurs in normal practice there are incidences and injury which may result in an unfavourable outcome and others that recover completely; like the young goat who fractured a front leg but recovered completely after 6 weeks in a cast and hospital rest, or the rooster who spent two weeks at our clinic with a foot infection.

These and other animals in the care of Three Foot Seven Limited received the best available treatment to ensure their recovery, their welfare and return to good health was paramount to those in charge. At no time were we concerned about the welfare and on-going treatment of animals under our care.”

FROM: JOY GRAY - FARMER “I was appalled to hear of the wild claims being made in the media by PETA. I and my family own the farm which the Hobbits used to train their animals. Myself, my manager, my children and grand-children saw nothing to make us uncomfortable or give us cause for concern. We all had totally free access to all activities at all times. In fact, the animals were wonderfully looked after, being well-fed, well-housed, and well-treated. As both farmers and dedicated horse people ourselves we would have stood for nothing less. I myself ride horses, all my children rode competitively and now my grandchildren ride.

I was involved in Pony Club for many years and was District Commissioner for the Wellington Pony Club. My manager was totally aware of all that was happening with the Hobbits and he is outraged at these false claims.

The sixty horses, the cattle, oxen, sheep, goats, dogs, pigs, hens etc. were given professional and humane treatment.”

FROM: JED BROPHY - ACTOR (NORI) “As an actor and animal trainer who has worked on large scale productions here in New Zealand, in particular The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and more recently, The Hobbit, I am flabbergasted to read this morning of the accusations levelled at the production by PETA. With a production as large as The Hobbit, filmed over such an extensive period the care of the animals used in filming was exceptional. The entire time we were on set, and when we were training with the animal wranglers employed to look after and train the animals for filming, I observed no mistreatment - in fact the opposite is true.

The animals were treated with the utmost care and responsibility. The farm in which they were housed had excellent facilities for the care and maintenance of the animals’ health. So much so that I moved my own horse on site so I could ride him for training exercises. At all times on set we had experienced Wranglers and Animal health Authorities on hand and Vets to monitor the welfare of the Animals working for the film. It has been my experience working for this film company that they take every conceivable precaution and employ the very best practitioners in every department and that includes the animal department.

I feel that there is a certain amount of personal vindictiveness levelled at the production from individuals with their own agenda. As is often the case in these situations, organisations will leap at the chance to gain publicity for their cause without seeking the truth. Being an experienced horseman and having worked as a wrangler and rider in the past, I would not have allowed myself to be a part of any production that knowingly employed unsafe practice in the workplace in this way. I can say with absolute certainty the production went out of their way to treat animals with the upmost respect and care.”

This article is related to: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Warner Bros.


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