The makers of “The Hobbit” trilogy aren’t too happy about a low-budget direct-to-DVD knockoff.
Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and producer Saul Zaentz have filed a lawsuit against production studio the Asylum over its low budget direct-to-DVD “mockbuster” “Age of the Hobbits” that’s designed to draft off consumer interest in the eagerly awaited “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Both are scheduled for release in December.
Zaentz owns the trademark for author J.J.R. Tolkien’s “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” books for use in films and other media. Warner and MGM plan to release three “Hobbit” films over the next three years, all from director Peter Jackson.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday, claims that “Age of the Hobbits” is designed not to parody “The Hobbit” but rather “for the purpose of creating consumer confusion and capitalizing on the multi-million dollar worldwide marketing campaign for Plaintiffs’ highly anticipated Hobbit Films.”
The complaint notes numerous similarities between the logo, poster and box art made by the Asylum and Warner’s promotional material for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, to which its “Hobbit” movies serve as a prequel.
The Asylum sent a crew to Cambodia this summer to shoot “Age of the Hobbits” on a budget of less than $2 million. Photos posted on the website Flickr by the Asylum indicate that the cast is made up largely of short native people from that country.
In October, the plaintiffs complained to the Asylum, according to the lawsuit. In response the Burbank-based defendant changed some promotional artwork and added a tagline beneath the title of the movie that reads “They’re not Tolkien’s Hobbits... They’re Real.”
In their lawsuit, Warner, MGM and Zaentz asked the court to order the Asylum to stop using any marketing material that could cause confusion with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and destroy any such existing material. In addition, the plaintiffs asked that the Asylum be ordered to turn over any profits derived from use of the “Hobbit” title along with compensatory damages.
Earlier this year, Universal Pictures sued the Asylum over its “Battleship” clone “American Battleships.” The two sides quickly settled and Asylum changed the title of its movie to “American Warships.”
Asylum executives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
[Updated at 2:08 p.m. Nov. 8: In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the Asylum said, “The term ‘hobbits,’ which predates Tolkien’s use, has entered the public discourse with a meaning beyond the identity of Tolkien’s characters as evidenced by the term used by the scientific community in readily-identifying the diminutive Homo Floresiensis. Further, it is a legally recognized fair use to employ a trademarked term as a point of reference.
“The Asylum has produced and released over 100 films and we have been sued twice for trademark infringement. The first action we won outright and in the second we came to a mutually beneficial settlement with a longtime partner.
“We like our record on these matters and intend to vigorously defend our rights.”]