‘The Hobbit’ to be three films instead of two

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On Monday, “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson announced on his Facebook page that “The Lord of the Rings” prequel would be split into three films instead of two. There had been speculation of a third film at Comic-Con last month, when Jackson teased fans with the idea. Entertainment Weekly reports that after weeks of discussing logistics with Warner Bros., Jackson finally made the announcement.

“It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made… We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: Do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes,’ ” Jackson wrote.

“The Hobbit” takes place 60 years before the start of “Lord of the Rings.” It follows a young Bilbo Baggins — who will be played by “Sherlock” star Martin Freeman — from the Shire in an expedition led by Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and its treasure from the dragon, Smaug. Unlike “Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit” is only one book, though author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a number of appendices.

Jackson directed all three “Lord of the Rings” films, which came out in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” arrives in theaters on Dec. 14, 2012; “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” will be released a year later on Dec. 15, 2013; and the yet-to-be titled third film is set to come out summer 2014.

“It has been an unexpected journey indeed,” Jackson added, “and in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, ‘a tale that grew in the telling.'”

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