Now that director Guillermo del Toro has bowed out of directing The Hobbit, who should pack their bags and head for Middle-earth next?
It's a tricky question. For one thing, The Hobbit still does not officially have a green light to start shooting. While the scripts have been finished, production designs mapped out and special effects developed, the continuing financial problems of partial rights owner MGM keep the movie from advancing to the shooting stage, which is the official reason why del Toro left in the first place.
There's word that MGM's situation may be resolved by the end of summer, which would mean the movies could start shooting in the fall and still make the first release date (Christmas 2012). But a new director has to be willing to spend the next three years in New Zealand, and without a firm start date it may be very hard to entice someone into the project.
But let's assume that all gets sorted out and cameras can roll. First, who is available? Directors, especially well-known ones, often have films lined up for the next several years, like del Toro himself. But even if a batch of A-list directors happen to be free, who would be the right person to tackle The Hobbit? Just because someone is a great director, it doesn't mean they're right for this. The Hobbit has to be faithful not only to J.R.R. Tolkien's story, but also to the vision already established by Jackson with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Del Toro, just like Jackson, read and loved the book, and had a feel for it.
With all that in mind, here's some of the big-name directors out there and whether they're available, plausible and, most importantly, suitable to make The Hobbit. Feel free to come up with some suggestions of your own!
The A-List: start looking for an apartment in Hobbiton
Should he do it? Jackson is the obvious choice—he set the standard with The Lord of the Rings that any other director would have to follow anyway. We know he was disllusioned by a nasty financial feud with New Line Cinema over Rings, but that version of New Line isn't even around anymore. Let's face it, the fans would love it and he knows the terrain inside and out.
Could he do it? Jackson is committed to directing the second Tintin movie after Steven Spielberg completes the first one, and also reportedly has at least two other projects he's contracted to direct beyond that. While it's not likely, Jackson has not ruled out returning, if only to preserve the movie and the studios' investment.
Should he do it? Cuaron makes the most sense if Jackson doesn't come back. His close professional and personal relationship with del Toro could make for a relatively smooth transition creatively, and he is comfortable with fantasy (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which many still consider that series' best), epic yet thoughtful storytelling (Children of Men) and intimate character moments (Y Tu Mama Tambien). If you can't have del Toro, Cuaron might just be the man.
Could he do it? He's just gearing up to direct Robert Downey Jr. in the 3-D sci-fi flick Gravity this summer, but if he has to wait a few months anyway, he might be able to pull it off. C'mon, Alfonso!
Should he do it? Raimi is a geek at heart and, by all accounts, finished second to del Toro in the first search for a Hobbit director. Only thing is, his natural visual style is a little zany—but so was Jackson's back in the day, and look at how that turned out.
Could he do it? Free now of the Spider-Man franchise, Sam has a couple of irons in the fire with World of Warcraft and a new version of The Shadow. But does yet another video-game adaptation or a dated pulp hero really compare to The Hobbit?
Should he do it? Blomkamp's debut work on District 9 was nothing short of brilliant. He proved he could handle spectacle, action and character, and he even did it on a budget about the size of the catering bill for The Hobbit. Plus he's already in the Jackson camp. At the same time, Blomkamp has spoken publicly about his desire to make smaller sci-fi pictures, and a $250 million fantasy epic might not be what he has in mind.
Could he do it? Blomkamp is right now working on his next project in secret ... and it ain't The Hobbit. But hey, if his filmmaking godfather, Peter Jackson, needs a favor, can he refuse?
Should he do it? Verbinski directed three effects-laden behemoths with the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and he proved adept at it (you can't really blame him for the scripts being so rotten). When he gets good stuff, like the Ring remake or even his dark character study The Weather Man, his game gets much better.
Could he do it? Verbinski just directed three effects-laden behemoths pretty much in a row, so he might be looking to take a rest. Wouldn't you? (He's actually working on an animated film called Rango.)
The B-List: make sure your tickets for Middle-earth are refundable if necessary
Should he do it? A tough one. Action, effects, big set pieces, creating an entire world—Spielberg's got it all down. But most of his projects tend to lean sci-fi, and his one major fantasy—Hook—didn't turn out so well, did it?
Could he do it? Well, Spielberg is still neck-deep in the Tintin movie, but since his collaborator on that is Peter Jackson, that makes sliding over to The Hobbit a little less awkward. But Spielberg has got plenty of other projects on his "to-do" list as well.
Should he do it? With Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on his resume, Wright's got plenty of genre cred (and wouldn't you like to see Nick Frost as a dwarf?). But none of those pictures have the magnitude, budget or sheer complexity of The Hobbit.
Could he do it? Wright's got a few projects in development, including Marvel's Ant-Man, but nothing's far enough along yet that he couldn't tackle The Hobbit.
Should he do it? When part two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out next summer, Yates would have been the man behind the camera for four of the eight Potter films, also known as four of the most successful fantasy flicks of all time. Still not sure if he's got real flair or is just a glorified traffic cop, but the man has plenty of experience with magic and wizards.
Could he do it? Yates has only a war drama called St. Nazaire in development for 2012. But if you were him, would you want to switch right from one fantasy mega-franchise to another?
Should he do it? The creator of Brazil and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus certainly knows his way around fantasy, and he has a wonderful visual style to match. But the fairly traditional storytelling of The Hobbit might be too mainstream for him. And there's also that little issue of all his movies running over budget ...
Could he do it? Gilliam is obsessed with making his passion project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but if that gets scrapped for the umpteenth time his schedule is suddenly wide open.
Should he do it? The Australian Weir has been moving between the mystical, the dramatic and the adventurous his whole career, with films ranging from Fearless to The Truman Show to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. But he's never plunged into full-on fantasy and might not have a taste for it.
Could he do it? Weir's The Way Back is in post-production, and he hasn't announced his next project. Then again, this is a guy who takes five or six years between movies, and he might not want to jump into Hobbit mode so fast.
Should he do it? He's got a quirkier sensibility than most of the other guys on this list, but Jonze also proved he could handle the emotional truth in fantasy with Where the Wild Things Are. Whether he can apply all that to the kind of grand storytelling required by The Hobbit is another question.
Could he do it? Sure he could. According to IMDB he's got nothing lined up for his next directing gig yet. He's focusing instead on shorts and documentaries ... it's that "quirky" thing.
The C-List: don't pack, 'cause you're not going to Middle-earth
Should he do it? Old Ridley's got the epic battles and massive scenery down cold. But his way with those intimate emotional moments leaves us less than warm. Plus, he hasn't made a fantasy film since 1985's Legend and hasn't exactly been pining to return to the genre.
Could he do it? Scott's got tons of projects going all the time, but right now he seems focused on making the Alien prequel. Frankly, we prefer he stick to that.
Should he do it? Zemeckis lives and breathes special effects, especially motion capture, but all his recent movies sort of feel like cold, lifeless assembly-line products (maybe because they have no real people in them).
Could he do it? Zemeckis just locked himself into doing an animated update of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, and he doesn't feel like a guy who would be passionate enough to relocate to New Zealand for three years.
Should he do it? See the Robert Zemeckis entry, only keep the "cold, lifeless assembly-line products" part and ditch the motion capture. Howard is technically a solid craftsman, but he makes slick, fairly bland movies that you tend to forget about by the time you get to your car.
Could he do it? He's making a movie now called Cheaters and is dabbling with doing a horror/adventure flick based around writer H.P. Lovecraft. Let's just let him dabble with that.
Should he do it? Sure, he did Zathura and even made a movie called Elf (just not the kind one associates with Tolkien), but we still can't envision big, blunt Jon Favreau running around Middle-earth. His movies now have a different, more contemporary feel.
Could he do it? He's tied up for the next year with Cowboys and Aliens, which rules him out anyway.
Should he do it? Once upon a time, Tim Burton was an interesting and imaginative filmmaker. Now every movie he makes feels like an uninspired cash grab or a pale imitation of himself. And what part could Johnny Depp possibly play in The Hobbit, anyway?
Could he do it? Burton's next project is probably Dark Shadows—gee, another rehash, how shocking!—and he's likelier to stick with that instead of doing something that might actually challenge him.
Should he do it? No way. Nolan's movies, even his superhero ones, are all rooted in some form of contemporary "reality." We can't quite see him directing traffic for trolls, dragons and dwarves.
Could he do it? The man is just getting Inception out the door and is going to turn his attention next to Batman 3. We love our Tolkien, but NOTHING is getting in the way of Batman 3.