It's been more than two years since Middle Earth president Peter Jackson announced that he would produce a big-screen version of The Hobbit, and yet our cinemas are still alarmingly free of short, hairy-footed adventurers (Ben Stiller notwithstanding). What gives? Since Jackson and co-writer/director Guillermo Del Toro are turning J.R.R. Tolkien's one book into two movies, you'd expect the problem to be the screenplay. But according to fansite The One Ring, the script is fine. The trouble can be summed up in three letters: MGM.

MGM owns distribution rights to The Hobbit and has partnered with Warner Bros. to get the films made. But MGM is also a few billion dollars in debt and is up for sale, which makes it difficult to get major projects like a two-part Hobbit movie off the ground. No one wants to embark on something huge when, in a few months, MGM and all its properties could be owned by someone else, or out of business entirely. You don't want a lot of uncertainty when you're doing something that's gonna cost a couple hundred million dollars.

Calling the information "rock solid" and citing an "absolutely reliable (anonymous) source," The One Ring reports that MGM's money woes are the major cause for the delay in production. "At this stage we are all working and hoping for the best case scenario," the source said. "Without a doubt, the MGM situation carries great importance."

So when will the movies get made? Not until MGM gets sorted out. A few studios have bid on it (including Time Warner, which owns Warner Bros., which would make things a lot easier), but at this point MGM's debt-holders appear likely to reject the offers. Getting the first film done in time for a late 2011 release is possible but unlikely; right now 2012 seems like the earliest -- a full nine years after the third Lord of the Rings movie. As in all things, I blame the fat hobbit.

[Via The Playlist.]