Guillermo del Toro Officially on 'Hobbit' Duty

Nearly four months after talks reportedly began between Guillermo del Toro and MGM and New Line, the "Pan's Labyrinth" director has finally signed on to direct both "The Hobbit" and its sequel.

According to media reports, del Toro closed a deal on Wednesday (April 23) to shoot the two J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations back-to-back, setting up at least a four-year commitment for the director.

Initial rumors had "The Hobbit" and its sequel, which will deal with the 60-year gap between "Hobbit" and the start of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, beginning production next year and hitting theaters in 2010 and 2011, but Variety now suggested that the release dates will actually be pushed to 2011 and 2012.

Del Toro began talks with the producing studios shortly after New Line settled a lawsuit with "LotR" director Peter Jackson over profits from the Oscar-winning blockbuster franchise. Jackson will executive produce the "Hobbit" films and is expected to work with collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, plus del Toro on the "Hobbit" scripts.

"The Hobbit" was first published in 1937 and introduced readers to the Baggins clan (particularly Bilbo), plus wizard Gandalf and an assortment of dwarves and elves and other Middle Earth denizens.

Other directing credits for del Toro include "The Devil's Backbone" and "Blade 2," plus "Hellboy" and its upcoming sequel.