Yesterday afternoon, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit hit its first scandalous speed bump after the AP spoke to several animal wranglers who claimed to have witnessed the deaths of at least 28 animals housed at a Warner Brothers-owned Wellington farm that was being used as a holding pen for the film’s four-legged characters.
After the leak about the avoidable demise of horses, sheep, goats and chickens, all there is left to do is find out who will fall on their mighty Glamdring for this PR disaster.
So far, the likely candidates include:
A) The owners of the Wellington training farm, a k a Warner Brothers, which housed 150 animals in conditions that have been described as “death traps”;
B) Peter Jackson, for putting his film before the well-being of the animals that may or may not be featured in the final version;
C) The American Humane Association, for pulling another Luck and falling asleep on the job by not monitoring the safety of the animals involved in the film;
D) The “disgruntled” wranglers themselves;
From the damage control done so far, we can eliminate B and C from the list: Peter Jackson and the producers have already released the following statement, claiming that the wranglers that brought up the allegations were angry ex-employees who were fired from The Hobbit over a year ago.
STATEMENT FROM PETER JACKSON & THE HOBBIT PRODUCERS
The producers of The Hobbit take the welfare of all animals very seriously and have always pursued the highest standard of care for animals in their charge. Any incidents that occurred that were brought to their attention as regards to this care were immediately investigated and appropriate action taken. This includes hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011.
The producers completely reject the accusations that twenty seven animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films. Extraordinary measures were taken to make sure that animals were not used during action sequences or any other sequence that might create undue stress for the animals involved. Over fifty five per cent of all shots using animals in The Hobbit are in fact computer generated; this includes horses, ponies, rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, deer, elk, mice, wild boars, and wolves.
The American Humane Association (AHA) was on hand to monitor all use of animals by the production. No animals died or were harmed on set during filming.
We regret that some of these accusations by wranglers who were dismissed from the film over a year ago are only now being brought to our attention. We are currently investigating these new allegations and are attempting to speak with all parties involved to establish the truth.
Meanwhile, the AHA is busy covering its own ass, claiming (like Jackson) that it went above and beyond its duty to ensure that animal safety was the top priority … both on and off set. The last thing it needs is another Luck on its hands:
AMERICAN HUMANE ASSOCIATION CALLS ANIMAL DEATHS
ON ‘THE HOBBIT’ UNACCEPTABLE; RENEWS CALL TO EXTEND MONITORING
OFF THE SET AS WELL AS ON
“There are too many incidents off set and they must stop,” says AHA President
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 19 — American Humane Association, which has protected more than a million animals in film during the 70+ years of its famed “No Animals Were Harmed®” program with a 99.98 percent safety rate on set, called the injuries and deaths of animals living at the working farm where some of the animal actors from “The Hobbit” were also being housed needless and unacceptable. The organization renewed its call to the entertainment industry asking for additional jurisdiction and funding to keep animal actors safe not only while they are working on set, but off set as well to address illegitimate suppliers of animals and to ensure proper training, housing and retirement of these important and beloved co-stars of film and television. In January 2012, American Humane Association sent letters to industry leaders seeking ways to work together to improve the welfare of animals off the set as well as on.
“We are currently only empowered to monitor animal actors while they are working on production sets,” says American Humane Association President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert. “We do not have either the jurisdiction or funding to extend that oversight to activities or conditions off set or before animals come under our protection. There are too many incidents off the set and this must stop. It is vital that we work with the industry to bring the kind of protection we have for animals during filming to all phases of production.”
Because of American Humane Association’s monitoring of the animal action which included having a licensed veterinarian on the scene, no animals were harmed on set during filming of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” However, upon learning of injuries and deaths of animals while being housed at a working farm 186 miles from the main set and 26 miles from the soundstage, American Humane Association went beyond its jurisdiction and authority to visit, examine and make safety recommendations and improvements to the farm. These recommendations were implemented a year ago, bringing a higher level of animal welfare to all animals living on the site into the future.
Which leaves just the animal wranglers, or the orcs. (And possibly Warner Brothers, who we assume are the “producers” referred to in Jackson’s letter, although it makes no mention of them owning the farm where the beasts were living.)
Except a closer reading of both Jackson and the AHA’s press statements reveal a level of hand-washing that would make Lady Macbeth proud.
For instance, Jackson’s letter claims: “Any incidents that occurred that were brought to their attention as regards to this care were immediately investigated and appropriate action taken. This includes hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on upgrading housing and stable facilities in early 2011.”
Which, in real-speak, means that there were events precipitating unnatural deaths in the animals … at least enough to raise alarm bells for the producers, who were suddenly willing to shell out “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in 2011 to change and upgrade their facilities. That’s not something most producers are willing to spring for over some “natural deaths” … the only kind Jackson claimed to be aware of.
So no, it doesn’t hold water that Peter Jackson and the producers are just finding out now about the one wrangler who had to bury three horses, six sheep, six goats and about a dozen chickens … all before “early 2011,” when the film company sprang for more hospitable living conditions thanks to the AHA alerting them.
The timeline is also dubious, because the wranglers who stepped forward to identify themselves to the press–Chris Langridge, Lynn Langridge and Johnny Smythe–had all complained about the conditions of the animals during 2011, and were either fired for arguing with their bosses, or quit in frustration after getting no reply from management about the letters they sent. Letters about horses with broken backs and sliced-open legs, and mysterious cover-ups on autopsy reports.
Then there’s the fact that the AHA letter highlights the physical distance between the farm and the set (186 miles) in order to prove how extra-diligent they were for even investigating the matter, without mentioning once that the establishment happened to be owned by the film’s producers, Warner Brothers.
Jackson’s spokesperson declined to tell the AP who currently owns the farm, or whether the animals who live there may be used for another Hobbit film in the trilogy. However: “Jackson himself adopted three of the pigs used.”
Which is all not to say that Jackson, the producers or AHA is necessarily responsible for the animals’ deaths. After all, this does fall into a murky gray area for the AHA, which is supposed to investigate the background of animals used on-set, but doesn’t have much authority beyond telling producers not to use those from a certain breeder or seller. And it’s understandable that The Hobbit’s creators might overlook a couple routine fatalities off-set, as they were focused more on the safety of the animals on-set than the ones housed 186 miles away that might not even be used in the film.
Still … yikes, what a mess. PETA, obviously, is planning to protest the film. And with the premiere edging closer by the day, the most the filmmaker and Warner Brothers can hope for is that when the blame is finally done shuffling, it’s the Orcs who are left holding the hot potato.