“A simple Google search of Hobbits and archaeology reveals dozens of articles containing the term ‘Hobbit(s)’ in the title.”
When a Hollywood producer made legal threats against a Southampton pub named The Hobbit earlier this year ahead of the release of Peter Jackson’s latest JRR Tolkien fantasy trilogy, the drinking hole picked up support from thousands of members of the public as well as actors Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry. A university lecturer was recently prevented from using the word “hobbit” to describe Homo floresiensis, the “little people” discovered in Indonesia. Now Saul Zaentz and his studio partners have a new target, albeit one less likely to elicit sympathy from fans of hairy-footed Shire-dwelling homunculi: low-budget flick Age of the Hobbits.
Zaentz, along with studios Warner Bros, New Line and MGM, which collectively own the screen rights to Tolkien’s works, yesterday filed suit against specialist “mockbuster” production company The Asylum. The latter plans to release Age of the Hobbits – hopefully subtitled “They’re not Tolkien’s Hobbits … they’re real” – in cinemas on 11 December, three days before Jackson’s trilogy kicks off with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
“The Asylum has been and is promoting and advertising its low-budget film using the confusingly similar and misleading title Age of the Hobbits in an intentional and wilful attempt to trade on the popularity and goodwill associated with the Tolkien novels, the extraordinarily successful Lord of the Rings film trilogy and the famous Hobbit mark,” reads the legal complaint. It further alleges that the California-based production company is aiming “to free-ride on the worldwide advertising campaign in connection with the forthcoming Hobbit films, and to divert customers and potential customers away from the Hobbit films”.
The Asylum, meanwhile, counters that its Hobbits have nothing to do with Middle-earth, being instead the “real-life” variety of diminutive humans discovered by scientists nine years ago on an island near Java in the Lesser Sunda Islands archipelago. “Age of the Hobbits is about the real-life human subspecies Homo Floresiensis, discovered in 2003 in Indonesia, which have been uniformly referred to as ‘Hobbits’ in the scientific community,” a spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter. “As such, the use of the term ‘Hobbits’ is protected under the legal doctrines of nominal and traditional fair use. Indeed, a simple Google search of Hobbits and archaeology reveals dozens of articles containing the term ‘Hobbit(s)’ in the title.”
The Asylum is known for its series of “mockbuster” films, including 2009’s The Terminators, 2010’s Titanic II and 2011’s Almighty Thor, which trade off the success of genuine blockbusters. Age of the Hobbits’ hopes of proving that it is about different, non-Tolkieny hobbits seem rather undercut by the film’s storyline, which features dragons. Tolkien’s The Hobbit centres on a quest by a group of dwarves, a wizard and a “halfling” to wrest a spectacular treasure trove from the great wyrm Smaug.
Age of the Hobbits’ synopsis reads as follows: “In an ancient age, the small, peace-loving Hobbits are enslaved by the Java Men, a race of flesh-eating dragon-riders. The young Hobbit Goben must join forces with their neighbour giants, the humans, to free his people and vanquish their enemies.”
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