We’re not going too far out on a limb when we predict that Peter Jackson’s upcoming “Hobbit” trilogy will be one of history’s biggest franchises—we’ll almost definitely end up seeing it this Christmas. But the series may have to forgo the usual “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” claims, because several wranglers who worked on the New Zealand production before quitting in protest now blame the production company itself for the deaths of dozens of barnyard creatures.
While the American Humane Association claims that no animals were harmed during filming, Jackson’s spokesperson acknowledged that “horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died” at a farm used to house wildlife actors with bit roles in the movie, calling the horses’ demise “avoidable” but claiming that producers worked to improve safety measures after the deaths (most of which occurred due to the sinkholes and steep cliffs surrounding the farm).
Will any significant changes come of this incident? In a statement, the AHA acknowledged that “what happens off-set remains a blind spot in its oversight” and that it may need to review the system it uses to approve practices on various productions.
Will it create a PR headache for “The Hobbit”? PETA plans to protest premieres in New Zealand, The US, and the UK, but we can’t see the story doing too much damage to the Hobbit brand—these films are far too big to lose any real box office over a few protests, no matter how well-organized they may be.
But it may damage Hollywood’s sometimes-shaky reputation as an animal-friendly town. And this isn’t a trivial issue; remember that HBO cancelled its brand-new horse racing show “Luck” earlier this year after several animals died on set.