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Frodo Franchise pre-orders and other updates and tidbits

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Kristin here–

The Frodo Franchise

The Frodo Franchise, my book on the Lord of the Rings film phenomenon, is now available for pre-order from Amazon [1] or directly from the University of California Press [2]. It should be in bookstores in August. The cover illustration above is by the wonderful caricaturist Victor Juhasz. Check out another example of his work here [3]; I especially like the image of Jack Nicholson.

(In New Zealand, The Frodo Franchise will be published by Penguin New Zealand, also in August. I’ll add a link to their website when pre-orders become available.)

I’ll be writing more about the book and the Lord of the Rings film between now and August, including, I hope, reporting from Wellington during David’s and my visit to New Zealand in May.

The Hobbit: Faint signs of movement

The April issue of Wired (I can’t find this on their website as of now) has a brief interview with Bob Shaye (p. 88), whose second feature film as a director, The Last Mimzy, was released on March 23. Naturally the subject of the Hobbit film gets mentioned.

On October 2 [4], in the infancy of this blog, I discussed Peter Jackson’s other projects and whether they allowed him enough leeway to take on directing The Hobbit. I suggested that he had built considerable flexibility into his apparently crowded schedule. At that point it looked as though he might well get the offer.

Then, on January 13 [5] I reported on Shaye’s recent declaration that because Jackson was suing New Line concerning money possibly owed him from Fellowship of the Ring and its related products, the director would not be making The Hobbit for New Line (and MGM, which is co-producing the film).

Since the flutter of anger expressed over that decision, there has been virtually no news on the subject. Now, asked by Wired about his January statement, Shaye replied, “You know, we’re being sued right now, so I can’t comment on ongoing litigation. But I said some things publicly, and I’m sorry that I’ve lost a colleague and a friend.”

Wired then asked, “Is The Hobbit still a viable project?” Shaye responded, “I can only say we’re going to do the best we can with it. I respect the fans a lot.”

Given that a large majority of the fans consider Jackson’s direction key to the film being the best New Line could do, perhaps we’re getting a hint that Shaye is relenting.

Matt Zoller Seitz and friends in Newsweek!

Matt’s site The House Next Door sends us business every now and then, and it was a treat to see it mentioned in “Blog Watch” in the April 9 issue of Newsweek (also online) [6]: “‘The Sopranos’ returns to HBO on April 8, and mob fans can’t wait to get deep inside the remaining episodes. For insightful commentary, check out mattzollerseitz.blogspot.com.”

A variety of commentators contributed to the “Sopranos Week” daily postings: April 3 [7], April 4 [8], April 5 [9], April 6 [10], April 7 [11], and April 8 [12].

Congratulations, Matt and company!

David’s film-viewing activities do not go unnoticed

Lester Hunt, who teaches philosophy here at the University of Wisconsin, has been blogging about students who don’t take notes in class. He considers, not unreasonably, that they should take notes. Not everyone agrees with him, however.

Lester defends his position staunchly in a new post, “Why you should take notes [13],” citing David’s note-taking and shot-counting during movies as evidence to bolster his case. As the one who often sits beside David during his very active viewings, I can testify that Lester’s description is quite accurate.

Ebertfest coming up

Jim Emerson’s Scanners [14] blog provides information about the upcoming Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival [15] (next year to be officially renamed what many of us call it anyway, “Ebertfest”), April 25-28. As Jim mentions, David and I are among the guests, and you can read the opening of my program notes for this year’s silent-film-with-live-musical-accompaniment presentation, Raoul Walsh’s Sadie Thompson. Along with others, we’ll be pitching in to try and fill in for Roger as he continues to recover from his health problem of last summer.

Fortunately Roger will be able to attend. As he writes in his recent description [16] of his progress, “I think of the festival as the first step on my return to action.” The first of many such steps, I hope. We all look forward to 2008, when he will move once more to center stage as the heart and soul of Ebertfest.

Aardman’s new home

Finally, I have groused about how DreamWorks failed to exploit the potential of British animation company Aardman’s product. (See here [17] and here [18].) Distributing films like Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit and Flushed Away, Dreamworks showed little inclination to try and turn Aardman into a brand comparable to Pixar.

Now, after the January split between DreamWorks and Aardman, Variety [19] announces that the latter has signed a three-year, first-look arrangement with Sony Pictures Entertainment. The deal sounds promising, with Aardman expanding its Bristol facilities and stepping up the rate of production. The plan is to release a film every 18 months.

[Added April 11:

The print version of the Variety article (April 9-15 issue) is distinctly longer than the online one linked above. Author Adam Dawtrey’s description of DreamWorks tends to confirm my belief that the company handled its Aardman deal badly: “If you knew nothing about British toon studio Aardman except what DreamWorks saw fit to tell Wall Street every quarter, you might wonder why Sony was so eager to pick up where Jeffrey Katzenburg left off … Yet the multi-Oscar-winning claymation specialist had no shortage of suitors before settling on a new three-year deal last week with Sony Pictures Entertainment.”

Dawtrey points out that Chicken Run grossed $225 million worldwide, the Wallace & Gromit feature took $192 million, “and even the maligned ‘Flushed Away’ managed $176 million. The fact that Aardman’s pics … do the majority of their business outside the U.S. clearly bothers Sony much less than it did DreamWorks.”

The first two films cost less than $50 million apiece to make, while Flushed Away cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $140 million. Dawtrey adds, “The fact that Aardman execs don’t even know the precise cost of ‘Flushed Away’ betrays just how much control they ceded to DreamWorks by moving production to Los Angeles. It was a doomed attempt to find a transatlantic compromise that would salvage the relationship, but the result left both sides frustrated.”]

DreamWorks Animation decided to “concentrate on just two major releases a year.” That means just blockbusters, with no need for the more eccentric Englishness of Aardman.

Sony, on the other hand, wants to expand its animation and family-oriented product. The CEO and chairman of SPE, Michael Lynton is quoted as saying, “Aardman Features is enormously popular around the world. We believe that their strength is their unique storytelling humor, sensibility and style and we plan to bring their distinctive animated voice to theaters for a long time to come.”

Of course, intentions are always good at the beginning. Whether Sony can let Aardman be Aardman and help the company’s films achieve the success they deserve remains to be seen. I certainly hope so.

Plus it’s good to hear that one of the four features Aardman has in development is another Wallace and Grommit project. Break out the Wensleydale!