The HobbitBy now, Peter Jackson's acclaimed 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy is so beloved, it's almost hard to imagine J.R.R. Tolkien's novels before it. But 'LOTR' wasn't our first introduction to those crafty little Hobbitses, of course.

In 1937, Tolkien published the children's book 'The Hobbit, or There and Back Again,' which told the story of Bilbo Baggins, a vertically challenged fellow who traveled from his Shire to the lair of the fire-breathing dragon Smaug. Along the way, he met a wise wizard, dodged a few goblins, slew the dragon and found -- and pocketed -- a magical ring. The book ended up being so popular, Tolkien's publishers requested he write a sequel ... which became 'The Lord of the Rings.'

Though less complex than 'The Lord of the Rings,' 'The Hobbit' has long been considered a literary classic, and (aside from a 1978 animated TV movie) the book has never been adapted for the screen. But after the success of Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' films, it seemed inevitable that a movie version of 'The Hobbit' would follow. And now, at last, it will.

The legal issues have been worked out, the casting is underway, and it won't be long before the pain of our 'LOTR' withdrawal is eased. So what do we know so far about the long-awaited 'The Hobbit' movie? Read on. The HobbitBy now, Peter Jackson's acclaimed 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy is so beloved, it's almost hard to imagine J.R.R. Tolkien's novels before it. But 'LOTR' wasn't our first introduction to those crafty little Hobbitses, of course.

In 1937, Tolkien published the children's book 'The Hobbit, or There and Back Again,' which told the story of Bilbo Baggins, a vertically challenged fellow who traveled from his Shire to the lair of the fire-breathing dragon Smaug. Along the way, he met a wise wizard, dodged a few goblins, slew the dragon and found -- and pocketed -- a magical ring. The book ended up being so popular, Tolkien's publishers requested he write a sequel ... which became 'The Lord of the Rings.'

Though less complex than 'The Lord of the Rings,' 'The Hobbit' has long been considered a literary classic, and (aside from a 1978 animated TV movie) the book has never been adapted for the screen. But after the success of Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' films, it seemed inevitable that a movie version of 'The Hobbit' would follow. And now, at last, it will.

The legal issues have been worked out, the casting is underway, and it won't be long before the pain of our 'LOTR' withdrawal is eased. So what do we know so far about the long-awaited 'The Hobbit' movie? Read on.

Who's directing? Though Peter Jackson, who helmed all three 'Lord of the Rings' movies, isn't directing 'The Hobbit,' there's no doubt his mark will be seen on the final product. He's still executive producer, and his pals at Weta Workshop will be doing the special effects, as they did for the 'LOTR' trilogy. The actual director of 'The Hobbit,' Guillermo del Toro, is no stranger to fantasy: His weirdly wonderful 'Pan's Labyrinth' was hailed as one of the best films of 2006.

Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro

Structure: The story will be spread out over two movies, 'The Hobbit' and a sequel. As for where the first will end and the second will begin ... well, if you're a fan, apparently you already know. "When you read the book, there is only one place to break it really," del Toro somewhat cryptically told MTV News. "And everybody knows it. It's been discussed in forums and there's a lot of people that are right. That's where it's going to break ... We have the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin and all the dwarves, [and] there is a logical place for that relationship. There is a moment in the book where something is accomplished that allows us to say, 'Okay, on to the next one after this.'" We'll take his word for it.

Release date: New Line, which released the 'Lord of the Rings' movies and is now a division of Warner Bros., currently expects to release 'The Hobbit' in December 2011, and its sequel in December 2012.

Ian McKellen Hugo Weaving and Andy Serkis

Casting: The crucial lead role of Bilbo Baggins hasn't been cast yet (more on that in a minute), but fans of the 'LOTR' trilogy, rest assured -- you'll see a host of familiar faces. Del Toro recently confirmed (via BBC Radio 5) that Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond) and Andy Serkis (Gollum) will all be reprising their roles for 'The Hobbit.' Del Toro also told MTV that he has a role in mind for frequent collaborator Doug Jones, but wouldn't reveal what it was. We're going to go ahead and guess that it involves makeup.

Who will play Bilbo Baggins? Ah, the million-dollar question. Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in the 'LOTR' movies, is too old to play the young Hobbit -- after all, he's 111 years old at the start of 'Fellowship' -- and so in 'The Hobbit,' the role will go to someone entirely new. A number of names have been floated, including James McAvoy, Ewan McGregor and Martin Freeman (Tim on the British 'The Office'), but those are all just casting rumors.

James McAvoy Ewan McGregor and Martin Freeman

The wait is nearly over, though: del Toro recently revealed to MTV (wow, he sure is tight with those guys) that he's narrowed the short list of four names down to one, and that we should expect an official casting announcement in the next couple weeks, after the actor is offered the role -- and, presumably, accepts. (Anyone who would say "no" to the role of Bilbo Baggins in 'The Hobbit' could safely be considered, in a word, crazy.)

More 'Hobbit' news is sure to come from July's Comic-Con, where Peter Jackson is scheduled to make a rare appearance. He'll be promoting 'District 9' but will in all likelihood drop a few choice 'Hobbit' nuggets (such as the Bilbo casting news?) as well. Meanwhile, all we can do is speculate. Where will del Toro separate the novel? Which elements of 'The Hobbit' will transition well to the big screen, and which won't? And who should play Bilbo Baggins? Sound off about all things 'Hobbit' in the comments below
-- By Patricia Chui


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