Why you should be happy Del Toro left The Hobbit

Illustration for article titled Why you should be happy Del Toro left The Hobbit

Not everybody is sad that Guillermo Del Toro isn't going to be directing The Hobbit after all. Lauren Panepinto, creative director at Orbit Books and Yen Press, explains why she had misgivings about a Pan's Labyrinth-style Hobbit.

Back when Guillermo Del Toro was announced as the director of The Hobbit, my initial response was an unenthusiastic groan. Immediately after this thought I felt some intense fangirl guilt - wasn't Pan's Labyrinth a fabulous and visually original movie? Absolutely. Isn't Del Toro one of the most visually stunning directors working today? Undeniable. Is he one of barely a handful of producers today that can get fantasy movies done without the studios screwing them up? A resounding Yes. But what I immediately thought was: "If I see one guy with eyeballs in the palms of his hands, I am going to lose it."

See, I'm a huge Hellboy comics fan, especially of Mike Mignola's art, and Del Toro's handling of the films really left me cold. The first film was a cautious adaptation, in much the way Singer's lukewarm first X-Men film was. But that was fine - there's only so much freedom you can squeeze out of a big studio when trying to adapt something so unique, and as downright strange, to the screen as a big red demon ghostbuster. And all while worrying about making enough money to greenlight a second film. But with Hellboy II, Del Toro had all the freedom to push the visual style into something really fabulous, and we got... Pan's Labyrinth with a big red demon ghostbuster. Don't tell me you all didn't think it when you saw the guy in the cave with the wings and the palm-eyeballs. You know you did.


Is it unfair to expect a director to be able to perfectly adapt a comic's visual style to the screen? Some would say yes, but Robert Rodriguez did a damn fine job with Sin City, and Zack Snyder absolutely nailed the visual translations of both 300 and Watchmen. There is a difference between directing a story of your own creation, and an adaptation of a property that is already loved and lauded for its visuals. Peter Jackson was so careful to stay true to so much of the visual library built up over the decades since Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, and it paid off in the universal joy of fans everywhere. I just couldn't bring myself to trust that Del Toro would be able to follow P. J.'s lead and resist remaking the movies in his style. Maybe Peter Jackson will direct, maybe not. Certainly there are a lot of candidates, and there are plenty of directors better suited to working within an established visual language. I'd take Alfonso Cuaron in a hot second.

Del Toro has an imagination with his own creations that I will pay to see again and again. And truly, this is the best thing about Del Toro leaving The Hobbit. He can get back to the creative freedom of his own stories. That is where he truly shines. And now I can stop wondering which Tolkein characters were most likely to end up with the eyeball treatment. (My guess was the trolls.)

Image by Lauren Panepinto.


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This is *exactly* how I felt about the Demon Bazaar (or whatever it was called) in 'Hellboy 2' — it looked like a horde of 'Pan's Labyrinth' extras on lunch hour. The author has it right — adapting something to the screen in such a way that you capture its essence (while pushing your own style into the background if necessary) is a separate skill entirely, and one that Peter Jackson has in spades.

Of course visual style is only one element of directing a film — there's also pacing and composition and all kinds of other stuff. None of which I know a whole lot about, since I'm not a director — but in my opinion, once you set aside the worldbuilding and visual style, Jackson's direction on 'Lord of the Rings' was serviceable, but not particularly memorable. Which is fine, really, since it's not *bad*, and the film succeeds for other reasons. I don't know how Guillermo del Toro would have been from that standpoint — but I will say that I had pretty much the same opinion about his direction on the 'Hellboy' films. Then again, perhaps it's a matter of genre — he seemed a lot better on 'Pan's Labyrinth', and 'The Hobbit' might be closer to what he's good at than urban comic book action.

Then again, there's probably people out there who loved his direction on the 'Hellboy' films. Besides, it's all moot now. I wonder who they'll get to direct 'The Hobbit' though...