Peter Jackson

There's good news, J.R.R. Tolkien fans: The movie version of his beloved fantasy novel "The Hobbit" is in development.

This week, New Line Cinema officials and Peter Jackson announced that they've finally kissed and made up. The two sides have feuded for a couple years over profits from the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy.

New Zealand filmmaker Jackson even threatened court litigation against New Line at one point. And the studio was also involved in a dispute with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer over which of them actually had the film rights to Tolkien's Rings "prequel."

Nearly all of those squabbles have been resolved. New Line and MGM will co-produce and release the film. And Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh, will serve as the movie's executive producers.

Actually, make that movies. According to the press release, there will be two "Hobbit"-related movie projects. The first will adapt the book. The second will fill in the blanks about what happened in between those events and those in the subsequent "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

The plan at this point is for both movies to be be shot back-to-back, as the "Rings" films were. If principal photography can begin in 2009, "The Hobbit" would be released in 2010. The sequel would follow in 2011.


You'll notice there's no word on who's actually going to write or direct the movies.

"Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi had been rumored to be a candidate, and he has apparently expressed some interest in the material. But what about Jackson, who occupied the director's chair for the "Rings" movies?

MGM Chairman and CEO Harry Sloan acknowledged Jackson's considerable contributions, saying that the screenwriter-director "has proven himself as the filmmaker who can bring the extraordinary imagination of Tolkien to life. We wholeheartedly agree with the fans worldwide who know he should be making 'The Hobbit.'"

Jackson added that he and Walsh are "delighted to continue our journey through Middle Earth." However, he gave no indication about whether he's been approached to direct "The Hobbit."

He's busy directing a movie version of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel "The Lovely Bones," but his directing slate is clear after that. Hmmm ...


The other lingering question is whether New Line officials were motivated to settle their differences with Jackson after the studio's pricey fantasy "The Golden Compass" flopped.

After two weeks, the film version of Philip Pullman's novel has grossed $41 million and appears to be sinking fast.

There's still a chance the film could break even, because it's doing better in Europe. But it cost $180 million to make — and some reports claim that's a conservative estimate.

And New Line desperately needs a hit, since outside of "Rush Hour 3," nothing on its 2007 slate has even approached $100 million. So it's no wonder the studio is trying to milk its biggest cash cow again. The "Rings" trilogy earned more than $1 billion in the United States alone.