class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-25077″ style=”margin: 10px” src=”×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”150″ />Last week, Pans Labyrinth and Hellboy director Guillermo Del Toro dropped a bombshell when he revealed that he has resigned his position as helmer of the two Hobbit movies. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson, made a combined total of $3 Billion at the worldwide box office and each movie sits highly in numerous greatest films lists. Despite the time that has now passed since Return of the King was released, the Middle Earth franchise is still huge, with the potential to still make massive amounts of money. This news is bad.

It is bad because Del Toro was such a perfect fit for the job. He has shown both a talent for great storytelling, and working with unreal and mystical creatures. Make no mistake, working with otherworldly beings in film is not easy, it takes a keen eye and a particular mindset, and Del Toro has shown all these abilities.

The reasons behind Del Toro’s decision are perfectly understandable, and i don’t think anyone should be angry at him. There is currently a lot of turmoil at MGM, with financial issues, no buyer in sight and the cancellation of the proposed Bond 23. The Hobbit has already been in development for a couple of years, and the proposed shoot in New Zealand has increased in duration. Del Toro is in demand, and has personal projects he wishes to pursue, making a six year commitment to two movies impractical, particularly with the potential threat of being shut down for monetary reasons. What this all means is that now, the search is on for his successor.

It’s a tough position to fill. Del Toro has done a lot of prep work, and with the development looking to be long over estimates already, the producers won’t be keen to see Del Toro’s output thrown out. They can’t afford for anyone to start from scratch, and they need someone who is willing to take on Del Toro’s ideas to complement their own, without ending up with a total hack. As well as the inevitable calls for Peter Jackson to step up, there have been several names thrown around as the obvious contenders, and all are perfectly reasonable.

Alfonso Cuaron is a friend of Del Toro, and a great filmmaker. He has previous experience with literary adaptation, have been responsible for the best of the Harry Potter movies. Combined with the fantastic Children of Men, another film based on a novel, Cuaron has displayed a great feel for world building. Also, as a cinematographer at heart, he would be more than capable of making the world of Middle Earth look fantastic, with a distinctive style of camera work. He is currently working on Gravity

Another name in the frame is Ridley Scott. Scott’s Gladiator is a great representation of why he would be a good choice. An epic, with battle scenes, a layered storyline and great personal drama, having already worked with swords and skirts is a strong qualifier. In fact, if Robin Hood hadn’t turned out so badly, he might have even been the front-runner. Scott’s slate currently includes an Alien prequel project.

One man who immediately springs to mind, having worked with fantastical characters and unique worlds his whole career, is Terry Gilliam. His ability to construct a compelling world is second to none, and he would certainly give a uniquely dark flavour to JR Tolkien’s work. Gilliam however is currently busy with his Don Quixote project, which isn’t a short prospect. More than this, my concern would be his track record. Don’t get me wrong, his movies are fantastic. But imagine what mishaps could befall the man on a shoot of such a long duration!

A name came to my mind quite quickly when i heard of Del Toro’s departure, but i haven’t so far seen his name mentioned in connection with the job. Quite why, i’m not sure, but i feel that Kenneth Branagh may be the obvious solution that so far everyone has missed.

Branagh is best known for literary adaptations. He has made several movies based on the work of another great author, that being one William Shakespeare. These movies have also covered the same ground as The Hobbit. Big battles, personal conflicts, set in a historical period. I guess technically Middle Earth isn’t part of real history, but you get my point.

Branagh hasn’t really done a whole lot as a filmmaker in recent years, and his appointment as director of Marvel’s Thor was certainly a surprise. It was definitely an interesting choice though, and indicates that maybe he is looking to get back into the directors chair on a full time basis. If he IS looking to rebuild his directorial career, a six year stint on a shoot overseas is definitely a good way to expand your skill set.

But is he up to the job? He has certainly shown in the past that he is a very capable filmmaker, and obviously his time on Thor will have brought him back up to speed with the most modern techniques and technology, and given him a taste of CGI, which presumably he has had no use for in the past. The Hobbit is a big shoot, with a lot of money at stake. But with Peter Jackson and the rest of the experienced LOTR crew behind the scenes, he’ll definitely have a lot of great support.

I think one of the biggest advantages would be his desire to succeed. After so much time away from the job, Branagh would be keen to do well. He is a solid director, and i believe he would be able to use the material Del Toro has left behind, and use it in conjunction with his own ideas and style. He is also British, which shouldn’t really matter, but many of those speculating about who could take over the job seem keen to have someone from these shores take the reigns, to ‘bring Tolkien’s vision home’.

Possibly the biggest stumbling block is his work on Thor. Shooting is currently in progress, and the film will keep Brannagh busy for several months to come. No director worth his salt will be available immediately however, and if Jackson and the studio execs want the movies to succeed, they will have to be patient enough to wait for the right man (or woman).

I think Branagh could very well be that man, and i’d like to see him given the chance. With no recent work to recommend him on though, it might be a tough sell. A decision will need to be made far in advance of Thor’s release. And it is of course entirely possible that Thor won’t be very good, in which case he certainly would not be the right man for the job. And i’ll end up looking very stupid. I’m looking forward to seeing who IS chosen for the job, and i hope they get it right. There are a lot of Middle Earth fans out there, and it would be a real shame if they didn’t get the movie the source material deserves, or worse, if the project collapses altogether.

What do you think? Who do you think is the right man for the job? Head over to the related thread on our forum here, and join the debate.

Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at