Real Hobbits vs. Fake Ones

Middle Earth's legal muscle is going after the producer of Hollywood's most shameless ripoffs.

The Hobbit has fallen victim to a troll. The Asylum, a low-budget director-to-home video studio notorious for making so-called "mockbuster" knockoffs of Hollywood blockbusters, is prepping a film called Age of the Hobbits -- which (surprise!) is headed to VOD and DVD on Dec. 11, just three days before the Dec. 14 release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Creating knockoff movies and marketing materials is legal thanks in part to a 1993 court ruling over an Aladdin ripoff, and Burbank-based Asylum has released such familiar-sounding films as Transmorphers and Almighty Thor. But sources tell THR that New Line Cinema and The Zaentz Co., which owns trademark rights to the J.R.R. Tolkien book, are threatening Asylum with legal action if it doesn't ditch its Hobbit title. After all, "hobbits" has referred to Bilbo Baggins and his brethren since the Tolkien novel first was published in 1937, right? Not so, argues Asylum, which tells THR in a statement that "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. As such, the use of the term 'hobbits' is protected under the legal doctrines of nominal and traditional fair use." A synopsis of Age of the Hobbits does, however, read a bit Tolkien-esque: "In an ancient age, the small, peace-loving hobbits are enslaved by the Java Men, a race of flesh-eating dragon-riders." Asylum lawyers are vowing to fight any title change, but the company has backed down in a few recent legal spats. This summer, Universal sued Asylum over its Battleship clone American Battleships, arguing that the name and similar marketing materials would confuse consumers. Asylum altered the name to American Warships. Last year, at the request of Sony Pictures, Asylum changed its 2011 title Battle of Los Angeles, released alongside Battle: Los Angeles, to Attack Los Angeles.