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Finally! ‘The Hobbit’ Gets A Green Light

Peter Jackson will direct the two films, which begin shooting next February in New Zealand

The story that started what would become the Lord of the Rings trilogy will finally get the big-screen treatment a decade — and a long, fought battle — after J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famous books were set to film.

And the man at the helm of “The Hobbit”? You guess it. Peter Jackson.

After months of delay, New Line, Warner Bros. and the embattled Metro Goldwyn Mayer, have given the thumbs up for production to start on “The Hobbit,” using sets that have been built for a while in New Zealand (with a $30 million price tag) and hopefully with some of the familiar faces we have grown to love.

Jackson already was involved with the films as an executive producer and as a writer, but the director’s chair was instead supposed to be filled by Guillermo del Toro, the famed filmmaker who had expected to give up a few years of his life on the project, but backed out when delays caused by MGM’s financial problems, increased that time to something completely unmanageable.

With del Toro gone, the studios had to figure out who could fill his shoes without alienating the fanbase even more. The fans spoke: It’s Jackson or bust, and the studios listened.

Also expected to return for the two films is Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade ago. However, he’s pretty much the only actor making that jump from the original films, since even the character of Bilbo Baggins is expected to be recast with a younger actor.

Even with a set schedule and a green light, don’t expect part one of “The Hobbit” anytime soon. Production could take at least a year, likely more, on a budget of $400 million. The first part is expected to premiere in late 2012 or early 2013.

MGM’s financial troubles aren’t over yet, as studio leaders try to figure out how to remove a $4 billion debt burden it carries. However, the studio submitted a plan earlier this week that would allow Spyglass Entertainment to take over management duties, and allow debtholders to trade in the amount they’re owed for an ownership stake in the company.

However, the parent company behind Lionsgate Studios has offered a direct merger of its own, complete with a 55 percent ownership stake in the new combined company by the creditors. A decision on which offer to take is expected to be made by the end of the month.

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