Peter Jackson, New Line Kiss and Make Up; Jackson to Produce Two Hobbit Films

And there was much rejoicing in the Fanboy Shire.

Rejoice, nerds! Peter Jackson is heading back to Middle-earth!

Yes, you read that right -- the day we've all been waiting for has finally arrived. In a joint statement issued today, Jackson, MGM's Harry Sloan, and New Line's Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne have announced that they've formally buried the hatchet, leaving Jackson free to fulfill his cinematic destiny. Read on:

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson; Harry Sloan, Chairman and CEO, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM); Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, Co-Chairmen and Co-CEOs of New Line Cinema have jointly announced today that they have entered into the following series of agreements:

* MGM and New Line will co-finance and co-distribute two films, The Hobbit and a sequel to The Hobbit. New Line will distribute in North America and MGM will distribute internationally.

* Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will serve as Executive Producers of two films based on The Hobbit. New Line will manage the production of the films, which will be shot simultaneously.

* Peter Jackson and New Line have settled all litigation relating to the "Lord of the Rings" (LOTR) Trilogy.

Said Peter Jackson, "I'm very pleased that we've been able to put our differences behind us, so that we may begin a new chapter with our old friends at New Line. 'The Lord of the Rings' is a legacy we proudly share with Bob and Michael, and together, we share that legacy with millions of loyal fans all over the world. We are delighted to continue our journey through Middle Earth. I also want to thank Harry Sloan and our new friends at MGM for helping us find the common ground necessary to continue that journey."

Bob Shaye, New Line Co-Chairman and Co-CEO comments, "We are very pleased we have been able to resolve our differences, and that Peter and Fran will be actively and creatively involved with 'The Hobbit' movies. We know they will bring the same passion, care and talent to these films that they so ably accomplished with 'The Lord of the Rings' Trilogy."

With principal photography tentatively scheduled for 2009, we can reasonably expect The Hobbit to reach theaters in 2010, and the sequel the following year -- giving us plenty of time to dish about a potential cast. We already know Ian McKellen is up for another round as Gandalf, and Andy Serkis needs to come back as Gollum -- but what about the rest of the cast? By the time the Hobbit sequel is released, Ian Holm will be 80 years old -- is he still the right actor to play Bilbo Baggins?

And then there's the question of who'll play Thorin, or any of the dozen other dwarves on the quest. You thought we were having fun speculating about the casts of Star Trek XI or Justice League of America? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

All this excitement about a movie that's at least three years away might seem a little excessive, but that's the kind of attention you earn when you're developing prequels to a trilogy that has racked up over $3 billion worldwide. Critics have also been kind to the Lord of the Rings films -- Fellowship of the Ring boasts a 93 percent Tomatometer rating, while The Two Towers and The Return of the King stand tall at 97 and 94 percent, respectively. The Hobbit will have some big shoes to fill, in other words -- but with an average Tomatometer rating of 87 percent, Jackson seems uniquely qualified to live up to his previous work. Let the countdown to 2010 begin!

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