Long-awaited prequel to Lord of the Rings finally gets green light after MGM and New Line agree on production schedule

It has been a road almost as long as Bilbo Baggins’s legendary journey to the Lonely Mountain to battle Smaug the dragon. But according to reports, The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s long-awaited prequel to The Lord of the Rings, has finally been greenlit.

Deadline reported on Friday that shootingcould begin as early as February 2011, after studios MGM and New Line, which both have an interest in the two-film project, agreed on a production schedule. There remains the issue, however, of a dispute between producers and unions, which have called on actors to boycott the films if they are shot in New Zealand. Furthermore, MGM remains in the middle of a financial crisis that could see it merged with other companies to help pay off its estimated $3.7bn debt.

On a more positive note, Martin Freeman was reportedly moving closer to winning the role of Bilbo Baggins, while former Dr Who star David Tennant and Irish actorMichael Fassbender were in line to join the cast in unknown roles. Another Irishman, James Nesbitt, was tipped to play Bofur the dwarf, one of the 12 bearded homunculi who arrive at Baggins’s hobbit hole with Gandalf in JRR Tolkien’s classic fantasy tale.

Both films will be shot in 3D, something that original director Guillermo Del Toro had fought against. Jackson, originally on board as producer but now taking the reins following the Mexican film-maker’s departure, appears to have accepted the inevitability of such a move. The first Hobbit film will hit cinemas in December 2012, with the second arriving a year later.

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