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Del Toro To Direct The Hobbit

PAN'S LABYRINTH director Guillermo del Toro has signed on to direct THE HOBBIT and its sequel for New Line-MGM.

This is a major step forward for the LORD OF THE RINGS prequels, which had been held up in litigation for several years.

The official announcement came Friday from executive producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, New Line president Toby Emmerich and Mary Parent, chief of MGM's Worldwide Motion Picture Group.

Del Toro will move to New Zealand for four years to work with Jackson and his Wingnut and WETA production teams, directing the two films back to back. The sequel deals with the 60 year time period between THE HOBBIT and THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and will draw from source material and footnotes.

New Line is overseeing development and will manage production. Both films will be co-produced and co-financed by New Line Cinema and MGM. Warner Bros. will distribute domestically and MGM will distribute internationally.

Emmerich said in a statement, "Guillermo has a proven ability to bring fantasy worlds to life in a compelling and emotional way. He is the ideal filmmaker to work with Peter and Fran to bring Tolkien's beloved Middle-earth back to the screen."

PAN'S LABYRINTH, nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Screenplay (Del Toro), is the highest grossing Spanish-language film release in U.S. box office history. It was released through New Line's Picturehouse.