Jackson is hobbled over 'The Hobbit' by legal action

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The Independent Online

The dedicated followers of one of our most revered authors of fiction, JRR Tolkien, are up in arms over plans to bring another of the great novelist's books to the screen.

The Hollywood film company New Line Cinema is currently preparing to cast a big-screen version of The Hobbit, a prequel to the much-loved Lord of the Rings books.

But to the disgruntlement of Tolkien fans everywhere, the studio has not sought the involvement of Peter Jackson, the New Zealand film-maker who recently directed the well received and hugely lucrative Lord of the Rings trilogy of films.

On Sunday, Jackson posted a message on the popular Tolkien website TheOneRing.net, confirming that New Line has told him he would not be asked to direct. The reasons for the snub are apparently down to an ongoing legal dispute the two parties are having over money Jackson claims he is owed from the first Lord of the Rings movie, Fellowship of the Ring.

"New Line [is] ... no longer requiring our services on The Hobbit," says Jackson. "New Line has a limited time option on the film rights ... and because we won't discuss making the movie until the lawsuit is resolved, the studio is going to have to hire another director."

While fans have posted outraged messages on the website, the matter has also attracted sympathy from Tolkien's great-nephew Tim.

"Peter Jackson did a sterling job on Lord of the Rings," he tells me. "Personally I consider it a loss to the project if he's not involved."

'Robotic' Hazel's Botox bother

The Labour Party chairman Hazel Blears was once, somewhat harshly, nicknamed "the android" by colleagues for her drone-like repetition of government soundbites.

But over the weekend, Blears was the subject of an altogether more mischievous taunt over her mechanical-like demeanour, courtesy of the maverick Westminster blogger Guido Fawkes.

"Guido has been told that Blears' inanimate robotic facial movements are the result of serious Botox over-use," he wrote. "Note how she is completely unable to move the upper half of her face."

A polite call to Blears' office on the matter is met with a bemused response.

"Until you mentioned it 30 seconds ago,this is the first I've heard of it," insists her spokesman.

Bond defeated by a bug

Despite the plaudits currently being dished out to Daniel Craig, and his skimpy blue swimming shorts, the latest Bond star stands accused of betraying his North-west roots.

Last week, Craig was due to appear in his home town of Chester as guest of honour at the local premiere of Casino Royale.

Unfortunately for locals, he pulled out of the gig at short notice citing a bug. As compensation, Craig's father, Tim, was hastily dispatched to go along in his place.

"It was all a bit disappointing," complains one guest.

"Apart from a few former Brookside actors, there wasn't much there in terms of glamour and we were all looking forward to catching a glimpse of Daniel.

"And as nice as it was to have his Dad there we see him all the time - he runs a recruitment company in the town centre."

No offence

Is the alternative comedian Stewart Lee controversial or just plain dull?

Yesterday, Lee got in touch about a story that I ran on Monday which claimed that Robbie Williams walked out of one of his performances last year because he was offended by its religious content.

Lee said he would like us to point out that the real reason Williams left early was because he said he was bored, stating Lee's voice would be " better suited to meditational relaxation tapes".

Williams apparently left the show before religious themes were discussed.

Westminster's bored blogger

Now that Tom Watson's failed coup against the Prime Minister is but a distant memory, Westminster colleagues are accusing the former Under Secretary for Defence of having too much time on his hands.

Watson, who was one of 12 Labour MPs who called for Tony Blair to stand down in the autumn, appears to have taken a maniacal interest in causing mischief on his personal blog. A few weeks ago, he delightfully used his website to "out" his colleague Hilary Benn as a candidate for the party's deputy leadership.

"Tom barely wrote a word when he was at the MoD," says one colleague. "Now you can't shut him up. He posts about five updates a day. Perhaps now he's off the front bench he's got a lot to get off his chest."

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