The Hobbit Steps Into a PR Crisis

Director Peter Jackson

Less than four weeks away from the release date of the highly anticipated Peter Jackson film The Hobbit, producers of the movie may soon be running afoul of animal rights groups. 

Animal wranglers involved in the making of The Hobbit say the production company, owned by Warner Bros., is responsible for the deaths of up to 27 animals, largely because they were kept at a farm filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other "death traps," reported the Associated Press on Nov. 19.

Though some of the deaths did come from natural causes, one wrangler told the AP that over time he buried three horses, as well as about six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens.

A spokesman for Jackson said the deaths of two horses were avoidable, and that the production company moved quickly to improve conditions after they died. Clearly, however, those improvements weren't enough. Wranglers said they repeatedly raised concerns about the farm with their superiors and the production company, yet it continued to be used. They say they want their story aired publicly now to prevent similar deaths in the future.

It will be up to Warner Bros. and Jackson to communicate how similar animal deaths can and will be avoided on future projects, and publicly state that this is a learning experience for the entire movie industry. While Jackson's spokesman said he didn’t know if animals will be needed for future filming in the trilogy, he did add that Jackson himself adopted three of the pigs used.

Perhaps that side story, along with a new strategy to handle shortcomings in the movie industry's animal oversight system (which monitors film sets but not the facilities where the animals are housed and trained, according to the AP) and other efforts to raise awareness for the humane treatment of animals will be integrated (quickly) into Warner Bros.' massive marketing & PR machine.

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg


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