By now you probably know the sad news: Guillermo Del Toro has left The Hobbit. I will always wonder what Guillermo Del Toro’s version of The Hobbit would have been like.

Almost every movie fan site is full of chatter about this. Whose fault is it? Should Peter Jackson replace him?

I had hoped never to see a big-screen version of the film. The book’s tone is just too delicate, too playful, to perfect. It would require grand special effects and note-perfect casting. But it would also require a director who could restrain himself from turning the story’s modest adventure scenes into bloated Peter-Jackson action frenzies. Goblins are not orcs; they’re funnier, scrappier. Trolls are bumbling and funny. And there is nothing so dark and horrifying as the violence of The Lord of the Rings. And that director would have to respect that The Hobbit is more like a children’s story than an epic romance.

Del Toro was the one director I could imagine pulling it off.

Without him, I’m inclined to hope the whole thing goes away. But I doubt that’s possible. Too much creative energy has been invested in it.

So my mind turns to a few possible, but not entirely satisfying possibilities.

Peter Jackson? No. Just… no. He’s too heavy-handed. He’d try to make it a Return of the King-level epic. It wouldn’t be The Hobbit.

Alfonso Cuarón is a possibility. But he’s not known for respecting source material. He’d probably write his own story.

Brad Bird? Andrew Stanton? Hey, I’d love to see either of them try it. I just haven’t seen what they can do with live action films yet. But they know how to make a great all-ages adventure films, and how to fill action with character development and comedy. If I were choosing a director, I’d go to the two of them first.

As I was thinking this through, I arrived at another idea – a casting possibility I hadn’t considered before.

A lot of discussion over the past few years as focused on the casting of Bilbo. Most people think Ian Holm is too old for the role. I don’t think so; they can make actors look younger very effectively these days, and the character is supposed to look the same in The Fellowship of the Ring as he looked in The Hobbit, according to the text.

I’m not crazy about the idea of James McAvoy, although he’s one of the better suggestions that’s been made. Martin Freeman? I don’t think he’s strong enough to carry a movie. (He certainly didn’t make a strong impression in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

I know this won’t be a popular idea, but as I watched Alice in Wonderland yesterday, it occurred to me that Johnny Depp – with those wildly enhance orange eyes – looked like he was related to Elijah Wood.

Then I thought, You know, he might do a decent impression of a young Ian Holm.

Then, the more I thought about Holm’s performance as the older Bilbo, the more it seemed just the right kind of semi-comic turn that Depp does so well. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a nuanced lead performance from him. I miss the pre-Jack-Sparrow Johnny Depp, the one who played Gilbert Grape.

And now, I can’t think of anybody I’d prefer to see in the role of Bilbo. He really would feel like an uncle to Elijah Wood’s Frodo – older, wiser, idiosyncratic, capable of playing a homebody who needs to be drawn out to become an adventurer. I’d give anything to see him face off with Serkis’s Gollum. He’d be strong enough to carry the movie and make the performance register when surrounded by special effects. And it would draw him out of the mode of Tim Burton clowns and into a character with a real arc and range of emotions.

If the movie must be made, I’m casting my vote.

Johnny Depp as Bilbo.

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