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Excitement is mounting for this December's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will kick off a new trilogy of stories in Middle Earth and maybe give younger geeks their first chance to visit Tolkien's world on the big screen. But fantasy fans who are animal lovers might now need to pause before they buy their tickets. Though many of the creatures in The Hobbit are fantastical and created from CGI, many of them are real too-- and may have suffered through "death traps" for their participation in the movie.
According to a report at CBS News, animal wranglers involved in making the film claim the production is responsible for the death of 27 animals, including horses, goats, chicken and one sheep. Peter Jackson's spokesman, Matt Dravitzki, agreed that two of the horse deaths were avoidable, but also argued that some of the deaths were from natural causes, though it's not clear which he means. The CBS article, which includes interviews with four animal wranglers, describes all kinds of deaths, from horses who fell over bluffs on the farm to chickens who were left outside and mauled by dogs.
The main complaint in holding the production company liable is that the farm was not properly equipped to house horses, filled with sinkholes and broken fencing that made it easy for horses to break their limbs and require euthanization. Chris Langridge, hired as a horse trainer, quit after only a few months on the job, after seeing one miniature horse euthanized after breaking its back, and another cut badly after being caught in fencing. Langridge says he contacted the unit production manager to describe his concerns and provided her with more information, but was never in touch after that.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will carry the seal that promises no animals were harmed during the filming of the movie, but the American Human Association can't oversee where the animals are kept off set, which is where most of the injuries and deaths occurred. It's hard to argue that this kind of news can negatively affect a movie as big as The Hobbit, but it may very well cast a pall over the film when it opens next month on December 14.