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True to its name, The Hollywood Reporter yesterday reported that Warner Bros. has taken Miramax into arbitration proceedings over four words in a 1998 contract that may—or, if you are a Warner Bros. attorney, most certainly does not—entitle Miramax and its former owners, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, to a cut of the profits from the shortly forthcoming The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and its follow-up, The Hobbit: There and Back Again. At issue, per THR's copy of the contract that sold Miramax's rights to the Tolkien books, is whether the words "the first motion picture" refer to just the opening salvo in Peter Jackson's unexpectedly verbose Hobbit film franchise, last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which netted Miramax a reported $12.5 million. Or, as Miramax's lawyers would have the arbitrator believe, the clause separates Jackson's film adaptations from future remakes, bringing all Hobbit films onto Miramax's side of this particular game of legal Red Rover.
Such parsing of microscopic legalese has become a habit with these rivals, having just gone all fisticuffs over the originality of the title The Butler. Oneupsmanship may be the stronger motivation here than a single-digit percentage of the box office. That would at least suggest that these antagonists have actually watched The Hobbit. No one wants to look like the dragon hoarding his massive pile of gold. That's just Scrooge McDuck levels of miserliness.