So, no sooner does the news come that New Line and Jackson seem to have settled on a director for the forthcoming HOBBIT film (unfortunately not Jackson himself, though we can still hope this will change) than the news comes down that the Tolkien Estate has filed a $150,000,000 dollar lawsuit against New Line. There are many versions of the news story available online; I found the most helpful to be Kristin Thompson's account, which links to the basic announcements and has some thoughtful commentary on their implications.
Basically, the Tolkien Trust (representing the Tolkien Estate) and HarperCollins (as Tolkien's publishers) are suing for unpaid royalties (7.5% of the films' gross), as well as unspecified punitive damages (they're charging the studio with having destroyed records, fudged accounts, and general recalcitrance over the last six years -- in short, 'Hollywood Accounting' at its worst). Finally, they're asking for the right to cancel any HOBBIT movie if they can show that the studio violated their agreement. Those wanting to see the actual Complaint filed by the plaintiffs, which is full of interesting details, can find it at
(my thanks to Wayne Hammond for posting this link on the Mythsoc list).
Given that this lawsuit comes at a point when New Line is said to be reeling on the brink,* if they didn't pay the Tolkiens back in 2001-2004 when they were rolling in money it seems unlikely that they'll be able to do so now. So the likely outcome seems to be that the HOBBIT movie will get put on hold, New Line's option will lapse, the rights will revert to Zaentz, and he'll re-license it to another studio, probably with Jackson and his team still involved. We'll see.
*at least in part because they expected THE GOLDEN COMPASS to be another blockbuster. Instead, it's only made back about half of what they spent to make it. Too bad. The Catholic League is claiming its 'boycott' was responsible; given that almost no one knows they were even trying to prevent folks from seeing the film (on the bizarre grounds that the director had taken out all the references critical of Christianity in the original story), I find this, in the words of Lewis Carroll, 'a sentiment subject to doubt'. In fact, I strongly suspect if the director had had the guts to film something closer to what Pullman actually wrote they'd have done better. Now we'll never know.