'Hobbit' Coming Soon: 'Rings' Director Peter Jackson, New Line Reach Two-Movie Deal

After a lengthy legal battle, Jackson agrees to exec-produce the films, so the search is on for a new director.

For years, it's been one of the biggest questions in Hollywood: Will Peter Jackson ever return to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien?

We now have the answer, with official word coming that the fan-favorite auteur will indeed be rejoining the billion-dollar franchise that spurred three blockbuster films and garnered 17 Academy Awards.

According to a joint announcement from MGM and New Line, Jackson will executive-produce two pics based on "The Hobbit," with a tentative release date of 2010 for the first and 2011 for the sequel. The movies will be shot simultaneously.

The agreement means the end of a lengthy legal battle between the super-producer and New Line Cinema that had previously stymied any efforts to get "The Hobbit" off the ground. Acknowledging that he was pleased "to put our differences behind us," Jackson said in a statement that he was "delighted to continue our journey through Middle-earth."

The recent box-office disappointment of "The Golden Compass," New Line's great hope for a new fantasy franchise, had many in Hollywood theorizing that a change in leadership might be due for the studio. Clearly, this announcement will have many at New Line breathing a little easier, as two "Hobbit" films are as close to a sure thing as it gets at the multiplex these days. And indeed, even at the premiere of "The Golden Compass," New Line Co-CEO Michael Lynne told MTV News that "The Hobbit" was "in the future."

With Jackson sticking to producing duties, the search is on for a director. Those in the running could include "Spider-Man" helmer Sam Raimi, who told MTV News in October that he'd "love to be considered for the project" should Jackson give up the director's chair.

"The Hobbit" follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who embarks on an adventure with Gandalf the Grey that results in the discovery of the One Ring, the chief subject of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Of course, that could mean the return of some familiar faces for the new movies. Cate Blanchett, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and Sean Astin have all expressed an interest in working with Jackson again, regardless of whether their characters technically appear in the original Tolkien novel. But with the second film rumored to bridge the gap between the books, it wouldn't be wise to count anyone out at this point.

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