Del Toro in Talks to Direct Hobbit Films

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Guillermo del Toro is in talks to direct back-to-back installments of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which is being co-financed by New Line and MGM, says The Hollywood Reporter.

Few filmmakers have the cachet that del Toro has, as well as a deep love for the source material, an assured grasp of fantasy filmmaking and an understanding and command of geek culture as well as its respect. Del Toro has built that goodwill through such films as the Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Blade 2 (which was made by New Line) and The Devil’s Backbone.

Because of other commitments that included The Lovely Bones and Tintin, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy director Peter Jackson could not take on writing and directing roles, opting instead to become an executive producer with approval over creative elements of the pair of films.

Because of the strike, no writer has been hired to adapt Tolkien’s children’s classic, though that process will be fast-tracked once it’s resolved. Del Toro and Jackson will oversee the two films’ writing.

Principal photography for the films, which will be shot simultaneously, is tentatively set for 2009. The production budget is estimated at $150 million per film. The release of the first film is slated for 2010 and the second in 2011.

The Hobbit is centered on Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf who go on a quest to find the treasure of a dragon named Smaug. Tolkien went on to write “The Lord of the Rings” 17 years later.