Del Toro Doing Hobbit Films

Guillermo del Toro is in talks to direct back-to-back installments of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” for New Line and MGM says The Hollywood Reporter.

One of the most anticipated literary adaptations of the past decade in the wake of the success of “The Lord of the Rings”, New Line has to tread carefully to not upset its billion-dollar franchise or its fanbase.

The resolution of a lawsuit in December put the project back on track, but ‘Rings’ director Peter Jackson could not take on writing and directing roles due to other commitments – instead he’ll serve as executive producer.

Tolkien’s 1937 prequel to ‘Rings’ centered on Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who joins a group of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf on a quest to find the treasure of a dragon named Smaug.

Del Toro however commands a lot of respect thanks to a large geek fanbase, a love of the source material, and most notably an acclaimed sense of fantasy filmmaking seen in such films as the Oscar-nominated “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Hellboy” and “Blade 2”.

Because of the strike, no writer has been hired yet though that process will be fast-tracked once it’s resolved. Del Toro and Jackson will oversee “Hobbit’s” writing.

Both films will be shot simultaneously during 2009 for a total production budget of $300 million (the original ‘Rings’ trilogy cost an economically modest $270 million). The release of the first film is slated for 2010 and the second in 2011.