What 'The Hobbit's 27 Animal Deaths Mean for Movies

'The Hobbit'

The first movie in Peter Jackson's highly anticipated The Hobbit trilogy, which opens Dec. 14, has a running time of two hours and 45 minutes.

Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. deny on-set troubles as the Humane Society pushes for oversight into what happens when the cameras stop rolling.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The furor over animal deaths during production of The Hobbit is prompting the CEO of one of the country's top animal-rights groups to call for reforms.

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In an interview with THR, Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States says Hollywood's system of self-oversight and on-set monitoring by the American Humane Association never has functioned effectively because animals aren't safeguarded when the cameras stop.

"Even if the on-set observations were scrupulous and properly informed," says Pacelle, "the program would still fall far short of fully guaranteeing animal welfare."

The Associated Press reported Nov. 19 that three horses, six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens used in The Hobbit's New Zealand shoot had died at a ranch where they were housed between takes.

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Director Peter Jackson and studio Warner Bros. emphatically deny mistreatment and point out that they paid to improve substandard conditions at holding facilities, an argument that likely will not appease activists set to protest at the film's Nov. 28 premiere in Jackson's home country.

But while Pacelle stops short of agreeing with PETA's call for the replacement of live animals in films with CGI creations, he believes the issue has taken on new urgency. "We really need to sit down with all the stakeholders and figure out a better program, with certain animals forbidden for use," he says.

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POLL: Do the animal deaths make you less likely to see The Hobbit?

According to a THR/Penn Schoen Berland poll, 85 percent say the deaths would have no impact on their desire to see the Hobbit films, though young people are more likely to not see them because of alleged animal abuses.