A Tale of Two Hobbits

Don't jack Peter Jackson's style; you'll get sued.

Don't jack Peter Jackson's style; you'll get sued.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of big budget, blockbuster movie franchises, it was the age of the opportunistic “mockbuster” hack, it was the epoch of The Hobbit, it was the epoch of The Age of the Hobbits

Peter Jackson and company don’t think those epochs can coexist peacefully, and they’re going to court to stake their claim.

The folks behind The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which hits theaters December 14, claim that The Asylum studio, producer of The Age of the Hobbits, is simply trying to capitalize on the popularity of the film adaptation of the classic Tolkien literary staple. From their complaint:

“The Asylum has been and is promoting and advertising its low-budget film using the confusingly similar and misleading title Age of the Hobbits, in an intentional and willful attempt (i) to trade on the popularity and goodwill associated with the Tolkien novels, the extraordinarily successful Lord of The Rings film trilogy, and the famous HOBBIT mark, (ii) to free-ride on the worldwide advertising campaign in connection with the forthcoming Hobbit films, and (iii) to divert customers and potential customers away from the Hobbit films.”

They argue that the packaging of The Age of the Hobbits imagery that is strikingly similar to that of The Hobbit, and that consumers might be confused as to which is the big budget production, and which is of lower quality. They did a study to bolster their claim.


When presented with image one, over a quarter of participants, when asked who they thought distributed the film, answered along the lines of Peter Jackson or Warner Brothers. Upon presentation of the second image, with “Hobbit” changed to “Java Men,” only 6.4 percent pinned the movie as coming from a major studio. Producers of The Hobbit concluded that about a quarter of potential consumers were susceptible to this sort of “ambush marketing.” This was after The Asylum tweaked the cover art in a half-assed effort to clear up confusion. Fail.

Nonetheless, The Asylum studio counters that the term “Hobbit” is a “fair use” term, even used in the scientific community, thus they are not infringing upon any rights that may be held. The studio responded with the following: 

“Age of the Hobbits is about the real-life human subspecies, Homo Floresiensis, discovered in 2003 in Indonesia, which have been uniformly referred to as ‘Hobbits’ in the scientific community,” noted Asylum in a statement, adding that it is therefore “protected under the legal doctrines of nominal and traditional fair use.”

They have also added, “They’re not Tolkien’s Hobbits, They’re Real” to their cover to further differentiate the films. This wasn’t enough to placate the plaintiffs, so a  judge is expected to rule on the case some time this week. 

For the uninitiated, The Asylum is behind such classics as Transmorphers: Fall of Man which was released on DVD curiously close to the debut of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. And Snakes on a Train corresponded to the 2006 release of Snakes on a Plane — a source of much internet gold. The also gave us The Da Vinci Treasure, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies

You get the gist.

While the studio does not deny riding on the most profitable coat tails, they prefer the term “tie-in” over “mockbuster.” This is even though the movies never have any tie-in value as any sort of supplement to the more mainstream release.

Maybe calling it a “tie in” helps them sleep at night. Or feel better about themselves. Or feel more productive. I don’t know, but whatever works, my friend.

The Asylum does have mainstream support. The financially troubled Blockbuster stocked their shelves with The Asylum’s take on War of the Worlds. SyFy even aired a couple of their movies, like Battle of Los Angeles, which drew from 2011’s Battle: Los Angeles. But then, SyFy has been getting the side-eye from me since it aired Serenity at the same time that the Science Channel was running their Firefly marathon, leading up to the 10th anniversary special, Firefly: Browncoats Unite. They pulled the same antic when they aired the B-level flick Zombie Apocalypse during The Walking Dead‘s Sunday night time slot, and yet another, Rise of the Zombies, when TWD re-aired that night. I see you, SyFy. You’re not fooling anyone. But I digress…

Anyway, I guess The Asylum has found their niche as a studio. Get in where you fit in, but don’t be sore when the major players call you out on dipping into their cash flow.

The Age of the Hobbits, starring Teal’c Christopher Judge and Bai Ling: Coming to a $5 bin near you December 11th.

About the author

Imayen Etim

Imayen Etim is a freelance writer and GameSkinny contributor based in Gainesville, Florida. She can be contacted at imayen.e [at] gmail.com